Do You Believe? Your Answer May Surprise You

You’ve listened to people ask, “Are you a believer?” 

Some answer, “I trust in Him. I believe.”

The word belief is often attached to religious faith. Those who do not have such convictions are called agnostics or atheists. But the word has a broader scope.

Those who deny faith continue to believe differently.

Allow me to explain.

Perhaps unaware of it, they appear to rely on others in a manner similar to how religious people depend on a deity. This is not to say true believers lack the same everyday bolstering backstop found in non-believers.

Consider the pedestal occupied by physicians, especially those doctors we appreciate through long familiarity. They earn our trust if they are confident, knowledgeable, and kind. We turn to them for the maintenance of our lives and health. We entrust them with the well-being of our children.

Their role is godlike, without the ritual, ancient scripture, prayer, and attendance at a house of worship.

Such women and men provide confidence and strength, the ability to persist, the knowledge we are not alone, and, often, that all will be well. Healing us is their business, and sometimes we consider our survival miraculous.

Ah, but perhaps you recall times when a physician did not save you from disability or someone you love from dire illness.

Then you may have a crisis of faith in him, not unlike the intrusion of doubts about God. You might reject one or both, but not everyone does. Many recognize the medical profession’s limitations and continue to hold on to their confidence in a doctor’s value. Or, they might search for another practitioner to take his place.

The human response to tragedy is not so different in those who are religious. Blaming your God or yourself is common. Uncertainty frequently arises about why the misfortune was permitted by an all-good and all-powerful being.

“What did I do to deserve this?” can be followed by self-incrimination or pointing the finger at a deity. Just as the atheist might seek another doctor, the believer may seek another sect — or none.

Yet many — perhaps more — recover their belief and reliance, and the shaken trust regrows. The New Testament provides consolation and an alternative view of adversity:

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

Regardless of the particular religion, the sufferer might accept the limitations of a superior being alongside the strengths attributed to him.

The need for assurance provided by a cosmic entity or influential person on our side is vital. To be without faith in anyone, mortal or immortal, is a lonely and terrifying human experience. 

We desire others we can trust with parts, if not the whole, of our well-being. They come to recapitulate our parents’ role as protectors in our early lives, if not to the same extreme.

Unfortunately, the urge to lean on someone or something more substantial can also be misplaced.

Some are vulnerable to the allure of charismatic, persuasive political leaders who disguise their corruption with smoke and mirrors. They offer much the same sense of caring about us, defending us from real or imaginary enemies as our mom and dad did, and offering the belief in a better future. To an extent, these individuals might be perceived as the agents of the actual deity, doing HIS work on Earth.

If officeholders are unscrupulous, sound evidence of their iniquity is sometimes shrugged off. More than a few followers find the need to believe is more essential than being alone without a worldly savior. The tricksters can appear as necessary as a God in the heavens and reinforce the thought HE has willed the anointed one’s presence.

Facts fail to defeat our reliance on a dynamic and persuasive duplicitous leader if his departure would leave us with no substitute champion to fill his role. This woman or man stands unique and extraordinary, occupying a position reminiscent of the physician or loved caretaker.

We live in hope and belief.

In their search for someone or something more extraordinary than themselves, the faithful and the faithless are not as different as they sometimes think.

In a world of uncertainty, we are thereby sustained.

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Both of the photographs were provided with the kind permission of Laura Hedien: Laura Hedien Official Website. Both date from this year. The first captures a Sunrise in the Italian Dolomites in early September. The second offers the Dolomites in the Clouds.

Reframing Your Life to Recognize Opportunities

The present-day offers much talk of freedom and rights, both worth discussing.

What about opportunities?

The emotion-infused conversation of our time sometimes leaves out ways of improving our lives that are less conflictual and more within our control.

Considering the following as a reframing of how to change your personal world. It involves the art of possibility, but first, let me tell you a story:

Two shoe salesmen were sent to Africa over 100 years ago by two different British shoe companies. Back then, Africa was a very primitive place, and these men were sent to its most primitive locations.

The salesman from the first company wrote back to his home office in despair:

SITUATION HOPELESS. PEOPLE DON’T WEAR SHOES HERE!

The second salesman also contacted his office, but his message was rather different:

GLORIOUS OPPORTUNITY. THE PEOPLE HERE DON’T HAVE SHOES YET!

We are talking about what is in your hands and how you look at things. You might think of the list below as an incomplete catalog of chances to be framed, chosen, and enacted by you.

You needn’t ask permission except from yourself.

YOU HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO:

  • Be kind.
  • Share your good fortune with others if it comes your way.
  • Learn you can do hard things by doing them, not waiting until you feel perfectly ready.
  • Look at your possible errors or mistaken ideas before you blame someone else. The mirror is handy.
  • Grow in your capability and humanity.
  • Realize life is short. Make the best of the time you have.
  • Do the thing you think you cannot do.
  • Know yourself.
  • Seek support in a difficult time.
  • Make yourself known to others by speaking, smiling, and joining. Friendships will follow.
  • Know Rilke’s poetic wisdom: “You must change your life.” So he wrote to all of us.
  • Take chances without certainty of the results. Realize there is never certainty.
  • Smile at the people who serve you and call them by name.
  • Say no when necessary, but say yes to life.
  • Grow, especially from challenging experiences. Challenges are relative. Choose your starting point.
  • Make others happy and pleased to see you without becoming a doormat.
  • Tell people you love they are loved.
  • Explain your gratitude and appreciation for their presence in your life.
  • Offer help to those in need.
  • Recreate yourself as one who commands respect without instilling fear in others.
  • Defeat your fears.
  • Make yourself able to be reckoned with in thoughtful discussions without becoming rude.
  • Learn to tell a joke.
  • Laugh, including at yourself.
  • Learn how and when to become a listener. Both are important.
  • Embrace your fellow man.
  • Treat yourself with kindness.
  • Tell the truth.
  • Get used to being rejected. It is part of the human condition.
  • Seek sexual enjoyment, but do not objectify your partner.
  • Search for love and look for what is lovable in others.
  • You will be defeated. This is another outcome we all share. Keep trying.
  • Enrich your life — learn from great books and free virtual classes* where you can hear stirring speeches, discover history and nature, and follow tutorials on making things.
  • Discover visual art, stunning photography**, and music.
  • Provide your children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews the gift of leaving them a beautiful home: the Earth.

Please add your own items.

Then, before the thought escapes you, begin!

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* You can enjoy and educate yourself online. Check out https://www.coursera.org/ It offers many free virtual classes taught by instructors from some of the most outstanding universities in the world.

If your local public library subscribes to Kanopy.com/, you can watch some of the greatest (and hardest to find) domestic and foreign films, both recent and classic, on the Kanopy website.

A library card will allow you to watch as many as 10 per month without charge.

**The two photos above display the artistic gifts of Laura Hedien, with her permission: Laura Hedien Official Website. Both date from this year.

The first offers a Summertime Sunset on the Great Plains, while the second is from the Italian Dolomites. Consider these another of many discoveries and opportunities on the World Wide Web.

Love, Fate and the Role of Acceptance in Achieving Well-being

Things happen — sometimes planned, sometimes unplanned. According to several philosophers, making the best of jubilation and tragedy is essential to a life of equanimity, given the inevitability of both.

Nietzsche put it this way in The Gay Science:

I want to learn more and more to see as beautiful what is necessary in things; then I shall be one of those who makes things beautiful.

Amor fati: let that be my love henceforth! I do not want to wage war against what is ugly. I do not want to accuse; I do not even want to accuse those who accuse. Looking away shall be my only negation. And all in all and on the whole: some day I wish to be only a Yes-sayer.

Of course, Nietzche didn’t live every day as he tried to, but he offers a helpful description of a much-needed way of achieving a well-balanced life. This man understood all kinds of joys and sorrows would be unexpected, haphazard, and absurd.

The German philosopher suggests we come to terms with whatever happens to us — the fluctuating experience of our human life no matter what. Positives and negatives come close to being guaranteed in any long lifetime.

Dean Martin’s rendition of That’s Amore (Italian for romantic love) reminds us that chance meetings often drive affairs of the heart. Amor (Latin) also means love but applies to many things, including fate, as in the expression Amor Fati or love of fate.

That is what Nietzche expresses: accepting the nature of life as a first signpost to the emotional overcoming and acceptance of disappointment, failure, and unfairness.

The Stoic philosophers additionally referred to the limits of what we can change and must concede. They believed our brief lifespan gives us a silent push to make the best use of our finite opportunities and a reason for adherence to the highest values.

Professor Luke Timothy Johnson said the following about the difference between the worldview of a man like Marcus Aurelius, the Stoic “philosopher/king” of second-century Rome, and our way of thinking about “the good life:”

Marcus Aurelius was obsessed by the transitory character of all existent things. We (by contrast) take our institutions for granted. We think that life is long. We assume that we should be healthy.

Marcus Aurelius spurned pleasure and sought duty. We are driven by the notions of feeling good, and the pursuit of happiness is often identified with the pursuit of pleasure. Marcus Aurelius identified freedom as a call to virtue and duty, whereas in present day America, we often think of freedom as the most radical form of individualism and doing what we like.

The writing of the Englishman Wordsworth, too, reminds us to make the best use of our abilities in worthwhile actions:

The world is too much with us; late and soon, Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers …

Camus, the French writer, Existentialist, and political activist, goes beyond the conventional notion of acceptance in The Myth of Sisyphus. His title character, a figure from Greek mythology, was a man in extreme distress who achieved equanimity, triumph, and nobility despite it. 

The gods condemned Sisyphus to spend the rest of his life pushing a large rock up a tall hill. Of course, the boulder rolled down each time, requiring him to walk down and repeat the meaningless act.* 

In the view of Camus, this man does not rage against the gods for his misfortune nor forever despair at his sentence to such a life. “His fate belongs to him” to the extent he can look at it for what it is. This target of the gods has to realize “there is no sun without shadow, and it is essential to know the night.”

In taking on the job required of him as his own, “Sisyphus knows himself to be the master of his days.” The creative sufferer buys into what is inescapable. 

The last line of the writer’s essay reads, “One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

Captives in war, like Vice Admiral James Stockdale, relied on the teaching of the ancient Stoic philosopher Epictetus when imprisoned and tortured during the Vietnam conflict. The brave officer thereby found a way to endure seven years of captivity. 

The following is from Wikipedia:

James C. Collins related a conversation he had with Stockdale regarding his coping strategy during his period in the Vietnamese prison. When Collins asked which prisoners didn’t make it out of Vietnam, Stockdale replied:
Oh, that’s easy, the optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go.

And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again.And they died of a broken heart.

This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.

Collins called this the Stockdale Paradox.

The idea of finding solace in the infamous “Hanoi Hilton,” so-called by the U.S. prisoners who inhabited and mocked it, also seems absurd. Yet the message is affirmative: the experience could be endured, the awfulness would cease, and life would go on. 

Think of chronic pain, another matter of endurance, as comprised of two parts. 

The first is the physical affliction itself, the signals your body sends to you from the site of the injury. The second part, however, is where your agency — your control — can be found, depending on what you do with the “idea” of suffering. 

Suppose you focus forever on your distress, worry it will intensify, think how unfair it is, rage at what caused it, and despair at what you have lost. In that event, your psychological state and unhappiness will grow. 

Instead, imagine you learn to meditate and calm your mind, concentrate on your breathing, engage in mind-capturing tasks, or distract yourself with T.V., computer games, and other pastimes. 

In that case, the possibility exists of overcoming a significant aspect of your misfortune.

One more thing. In your attempt to understand Stoicism, realize they did not dismiss the need for grieving. Rather, they added something to it.

I am not suggesting you or I share the fortitude of either the mythic Greek or the heroic Congressional Medal of Honor winner Stockdale. At times pain triumphed even for the Stoics.

I have tried to offer an awareness of an uncommon way to approach the act of living and consider whether it may include something both true and worthy. If you think it might, perhaps it will change your life. 

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*Please do not confuse the legendary Sisyphus and his punishment with the origin of “Rock and Roll.” I hope you get the pun. Imagine Sisyphus laughing from the hilltop.

The three images below the youtube video are all of the same Amor Fati Coin, available from the Stoic Store U.K. and easily found online. I have no financial or other involvement with this product or those who manufacture and sell it.

Presumably, it is used by some of those attached to Stoic philosophy as a reminder to seek the love of fate.

Why Does Suffering Happen?

Good and bad, up and down, things happen. We prefer wins over losses and joy rather than sadness. While treatment often helps with suffering, reducing distress isn’t sufficient for a thoughtful therapist or client.

Most of us attempt to understand why we suffer. The attempt to reckon with this fact of life is called a philosophical approach to suffering, as described by Professor Edith Hall in discussing ancient Greek Tragedy.

Many answers have been offered, of which Dr. Hall mentions the first two below:

  • The individual who experienced a tragic event did something “stupid.” The person made a mistake. “He should have known better,” we might say to ourselves. In other words, the man made an error in judgment.
  • The misfortune goes far beyond what can be fully explained. The Professor cites Oedipus as an example. This king is arrogant and impulsive, not inclined to listen to advice or display kindness, but hasn’t earned the horror that befalls him.

  • A more satisfying answer can be found in the New Testament. Romans 8:28 tells us, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” In other words, something positive will come from misfortune.
  • What is commonly referred to as Bad Karma is thought to be the result of your behavior in present or previous lives. Hindu sects suggest you must improve your actions and thoughts through successive reincarnated lives until you reach perfection. Doing so allows you to escape the cycle of death and rebirth on earth.
  • Some fundamentalist religions ascribe misfortune to a failure of your personal faith. They sometimes point to your misunderstanding of what God requires, leaving the directives of their “only true religion” unfulfilled.
  • Stoic philosophers tell us misfortune occurs within the regular unfolding of human existence. We suffer because we are mortal, subject to worldly events. Hurtful challenges offer opportunities to improve ourselves but aren’t fashioned by divine authority. We are left with the necessity of growing and taking on life as it is, not as we wish it could be. The Stoics encourage reminding ourselves of life’s brevity, living with the urgency such awareness imposes, and focusing on what we control. Since we cannot change the conditions, they suggest we accept them.

  • Speaking in a general way, Buddhism tells us life is suffering. To endure the pain and reach an elevated state (Nirvana), one is advised to empty himself of wanting and desire, two sources of unhappiness. The aim is to surrender our sense of individuality and merge with a higher state of being, a spiritual awakening known as “no self.” Meditation helps. Hinduism and Buddhism take various forms, as many religions do.
  • Let’s not forget the devil, a creature sometimes blamed for our catastrophes. Unfortunately, once we begin calling people “evildoers” or similar names, we move closer to harming them and becoming like the individuals we hate.
  • I’ll limit this list to one more cause of adversity: poor luck, randomness, or a lack of discoverable reasons. You walk down the block, and a falling brick strikes you. A shame.

Any solution to the “why” question must offer comfort. We’d probably be less inclined to keep asking such questions if they provided a satisfying and lasting answer. Watching dramatic enactments or reading books that keep the issue before us indicates we don’t easily let go of our preoccupation.

One way we try to quell our worries is to find heroic defenders. A strong mate, a gifted physician, and a charismatic political leader can serve this purpose. History tells us about injured soldiers in every war crying for their mothers.

Outside of reliance on others, most attempts to quiet the fear of suffering require regular “practice.” For example, Bible reading, the Stoic’s daily reminder of his mortality, and the Buddhist’s quiet meditation. All attempt to soothe or dismiss the looming possibility of future hardship.

Still, we are left with some related concerns. When misfortune occurs to someone else, do we feel better? Perhaps, if we believe their “mistakes” offer us the confidence we will not duplicate what they did.

The religious answers suggest some order exists in the universe. On the other hand, the presence of random unpredictability tends to be unsatisfying at least, terrifying at worst.

Do we blame others more than we blame ourselves when things go poorly? That is consistent with my observation, though not true of everyone. Humans are gifted with psychological defenses against full awareness of their flaws.

Is there any advantage to asking the question of why we suffer? I’d say yes. It can prepare you for unexpected events.

Considering the question may also raise your level of compassion and kindness, not setting you above the remainder of humanity.

Thus, the topic inclines us to embrace our universal circumstances as fellow suffers. As one might say, “There but for the grace of God go I.”

We are all mortals — every living being on the planet. We share the need to join together to make enlightened use of our fleeting time on earth. To do otherwise will leave us vulnerable to circumstances beyond individual control.

The question of philosophical suffering is optional, of course. There is no requirement to think about it or provide a specific answer.

One could argue too much preoccupation with such thoughts carries its own distress. If you think about how we live, no small part of our time is spent worrying about trivial issues. Much of our attention is put into self-distraction or various forms of entertainment.

It is your life to do as you wish. Choose wisely.

This fellow human wishes you the best life possible.

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The top image is a Question Mark Choice created by quimono. After the brief youtube video featuring Dr. Hall comes Meditation at Empty Cloud Monastery by Rikku411. The final photo is called Reading in Solitude, the work of benwhitephotography. All are derived from Wikimedia Commons.

How to Find the Type of Therapy You Need

Medical “house calls” were not unusual in the 1950s when I was a boy. I had the good fortune of receiving assistance from physicians who came to my family home once or twice.

Times have changed. No more house calls, but we often choose MDs and therapists as we did 65 years ago.

If you ask a close friend about their counselor, the answer will often lead you to your companion’s practitioner. You can also consult your primary care physician, but their knowledge of colleagues outside their specialty is not always as complete as you might hope.

The unspoken assumption many counseling shoppers make is that all “therapists” are equally capable of treating whatever psychological or emotional distress ails you. However, the actual talents and education of psychologists, psychiatric social workers, marriage and family therapists, and psychiatrists can be a mystery.

Think about it. If you look at a hospital’s list of medical departments, for example, you find many disciplines, some of which you might not be able to define. Similarly, if you consult a list of different therapies and medications, you could spend an impossible amount of time figuring out who to call and what to do.

I am not advising you to ignore the suggestions of your dear friend or physician. Nonetheless, I encourage you to consider the kind of therapy best designed to fit your condition. An essential factor will be to find out if it is effective.

If this is your choice, one website to look at is the Society of Clinical Psychology: Division 12 of the American Psychological Association. Its introductory statement is this, in part:

The field of Clinical Psychology involves … the applications of principles, methods, and procedures for … alleviating intellectual, emotional, biological, psychological, social and behavioral maladjustment, disability and discomfort, applied to a wide range of client populations.

In particular, pay attention to the Society’s guide to diagnostic categories and other treatment targets.

The names of the conditions you find there are relatively common, including  Anorexia Nervosa, Chronic Headache, Depression, Mixed Anxiety Conditions, and 25 others: https://div12.org/diagnoses/.

When you click on one of the named maladies, it will provide further information about specific treatments subjected to scientifically rigorous evaluation to verify effectiveness.

There are numerous lists of practitioners on this website and elsewhere on the web who typically describe the conditions they treat and, less often, the types of methods they use.

If you contact those individuals, it will be helpful to know their skill level and experience in using such “evidence-based” remedies as the ones found by clicking one of the 29 links listed by Division 12 (above).

Your friend’s counselor might even be one of them.

Good luck!

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The two photos above display the recent work of the outstanding photographer Laura Hedien, with her permission: Laura Hedien Official Website. Both date from this year. The first was taken in the Italian Dolomites, while the second is from Burano, Veneto, Italy.

I should also disclose that I receive no compensation for promoting the American Psychological Association or Division 12. As noted elsewhere on this site, however, I am a retired Clinical Psychologist and member of the APA. My conviction about the value of scientifically established, evidence-based treatment is my own.

Why a Therapist Must Know Himself

Knowing yourself is valuable so that the self can be removed from the process.

So said Mark Rothko, the abstract expressionist painter. The artist referred to his desire to reach people with his work by conveying something “outside of myself.”

He could have talked about a psychotherapist’s proper role instead. The latter removes his ego to better meet the needs of his patient.

His training encourages this.

Why?

Everyone is limited by their understanding of the world. Think of all the things that influence us and help to create such knowledge and restrictions as we possess:

  • a god-given intellectual capacity
  • the historical epoch we have passed through
  • the parenting we received
  • the place or places we lived
  • religious belief or its absence
  • the physical appearance we inherited
  • gender
  • race
  • socio-economic status
  • our inborn human nature

I could go on.

Counselors come to the treatment project with inevitable prejudices, strengths, weaknesses, fluency with language, humor, and areas of insight and experience. We must therefore try to set aside our godly conviction or doubt, political orientation, personal version of morality, and other prejudgments.

The alternative is to leave most of humanity to someone else’s attention.

The latter choice, however, demands awareness that rejecting those who seek our help might add to the injury for which they seek assistance. At the extreme, this raises the question of whether we are fit to engage in our chosen vocation.

Freud tried to solve the problem of interfering with the analysis. He sat unseen by the individual resting on his couch so as not to inhibit or influence the unfolding self-expression. The psychiatrist also was careful about offering too much interpretation — delivering less than many who were to follow in his footsteps.

Our efforts, Freudian or not, must strive to remove our egos as much as possible — the work of a lifetime since life experiences change us, and we adapt as we age.

Some of those who enter the psychotherapy field are self-reflective by nature. Nonetheless, an advanced degree depends on ego strength in the competition always present in college and graduate school. The future clinician must overcome too much vulnerability and susceptibility to intimidation.

A professional cannot easily claim himself as an expert without the self-confidence and expertise his craft demands.

Is it wise or even possible to “unmake” the qualities needed to achieve a position permitting him to do his work?

Fortunately, he should have learned to take steps in this direction.

The psychologist must question himself, not to undermine personal strengths, but to step back and recognize who he is now. The counselor also needs to be eager to learn. Both of these combine in his approach to career and life.

Nor is either a one-time effort.

The questioning ought not to end.

As Plato tells us, Socrates believed “the unexamined life is not worth living.

Let’s suppose the therapist is strong and wise enough. If so, he will be enlightened by his self-examination, recognizing it improves his capacity to treat and enhance his humanity. He will become accepting of criticism and appreciate its potential to help him grow.

This self-confident learner also realizes who is worth listening to and whose opinions are not. This soul understands a lifetime of self-questioning will contribute to his ability to know which questions are essential for him to ask his patients.

In contrast, hubris, arrogance, and self-importance make the doctor’s enlightenment impossible. A person with these characteristics already believes he possesses adequate self-knowledge. In effect, he has blocked the path to looking into his soul.

A gifted counselor comes to acknowledge the function of silence in doing his work. Within a soundless moment exists the recognition he cannot heal everyone and that, on occasion, a different practitioner might better serve someone seeking his help.

In response to a patient’s spontaneous offering of memories, thoughts, and feelings, the self-aware clinician knows when to allow his client to lead. The patient assumes a self-healing obligation, unafraid the therapist will be threatened by losing his position on a pedestal.

The practitioner also understands presence and bearing are, by themselves, sometimes enough. He is then required only as a listener, supporter, and non-religious type of confessor.

The doctor thereby becomes one who hears and accepts the untold secrets, aware they will quiet themselves when a compassionate authority figure does not flee their revelation.

These helping professionals develop a quality of giving something of value to those around them by their state of being — the way they exist in the world.

Striking a pose isn’t required. Rather, one’s natural composure and unaffected engagement with clients will advance the healing potential.

The person comfortable in this role thus grows in the process of practicing his vocation.

Ultimately, the best clinicians present a model for living. They also free the patient to enlarge whatever is most admirable within himself.

Models such as this are always in short supply.

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The top photo is A Session with a Psychotherapist by Mike Relund. Below it is an Untitled, 1969 work of Mark Rothko, and then A Question Mark. Georgio de Chirico’sThe Two Masks of 1926 follows. Finally comes Please Touch Gently by Marcus Quigmire. Wikimedia Commons is the source of the first of these. The Art Institute of Chicago claims the Rothko, while Wikiart.org accounts for The Two Masks.

A Therapist’s Tender Message in a Bottle

Adult children and their retired parents sometimes meet in the stories they want to hear and the ones they want to tell.

Thus, we meet in oral, video, and written histories — the questions asked and the ones answered.

My youngest created video histories of my wife and me several years ago. Last year, she gave us individual subscriptions to Storyworth. We were expected to answer in writing one question she selected for us per week, 52 weeks in all. A hardcover book would then emerge.

In approaching this task, I tried to imagine the emotional state of those who might not read it until I was gone. I’d be speaking to my children, grandchildren, and brothers then. Time uncertain, but not just ahead, so I’d like to think.

A morbid thought, you say? Well, I’ve thought of death since my 47-year-old dad had two heart attacks within 24 hours when I was 11. Just so you know, he lived past 88, but the idea of his vulnerability never disappeared.

If you want to take the reader’s role right now, I invite you for a sneak peek.

How has Your Life Turned Out Differently than You Imagined It Would?

Gerald Stein on January 24, 2022.

The question takes me back to childhood since my sense of a future was informed by how my family lived, what my relatives told me about their lives, and my own experience in and out of the home.

I was born in the mid-1940s, roughly five years after the Great Depression ended. Over a decade long, the latter period finally concluded due to government and private spending on WWII, bringing tons of jobs, both for soldiers and the manufacture of the necessary military materials.

For my parents and their siblings, as well as for the friends I made in school, the shadow of hard times didn’t disappear. Moreover, whatever relative financial improvement these adults achieved, there was a sense of insecurity about their position in life.

Since my public high school was attended almost entirely by Jewish students, there was a feeling of unease never discussed — unarticulated but present. Anti-Semitism still existed and, along with the revelation of the six million murdered European Jews, the awareness that genocide might occur again. Were economic downturns to return? No one knew, but some of these ideas still floated around in my home.

My folks told me many things about their lives when I was a boy, including portions of their pre-war personal histories. Through these stories and my own lived experience, I became aware of my mother’s teenage poverty and inadequate nutrition due to the Depression, her resulting tuberculosis, its reappearance in the mid-1950s, dad’s late1958 heart attacks, and his subsequent six-week hospitalization during which children were not permitted to visit. These made health issues real and potentially catastrophic.

Financial concerns were always present, frequently evident in the “Can we afford that?” conversations I overheard. Economy and saving money were the watchwords, avoiding unnecessary expenditures a daily consideration.

Though I was praised for my performance in school and expected by my parents to go to college and become an MD, I was also told I would have to pay for any post-high school education. That meant I had to work after school and in the summer. None of my friends worked every day after school as I did, and my summer times were, even by the time I was 15 or 16, less free of those responsibilities than theirs.

None of my parents’ siblings went to college, at least not for long. There were no models of a way forward. Their jobs were unremarkable, and their vision of a different possible future for their children was abstract. They pointed to unnamed universities but didn’t know what steps I might take to prepare myself and gain admission.

Mom and dad thought I’d win scholarships, and I did win some money as an Illinois State Scholar and in graduate school as a teaching assistant, research assistant, and a fellowship on the way to my doctorate. Still, I knew nothing about how to pursue any of this until I entered college.

Some of my friends had a bit more guidance. Steve Henikoff had two older sisters and parents who’d graduated from the University of Chicago. Rich Adelstein’s soon-to-be brother-in-law went to MIT, as Rich would soon do. Don Byrd’s parents went to U of C, as well.

I don’t blame my parents for not knowing more about how one might get from here to there in educational terms. Dad was preoccupied with making a living, while mom was overwhelmed by three active boys and a troublesome family of origin.

Concerning Steve’s home, books signaled the difference in worlds. Steve’s parents bought him a new set of the World Book Encyclopedia, updated by World Book every year. My folks had a well-worn set of encyclopedias dating to the late 1930s, over 20 years before and therefore out of date. Such comparisons, though never mentioned, told me all I needed to know about my family’s social and financial status and myself.

Steve’s dad, moreover, was at home frequently during the week, talking about buying and selling stock. It was a different world from the one I lived in, though my dad did buy shares in a couple of companies on the stock market. I can still remember the names: American Hospital Supply and Brunswick of bowling equipment fame. The former did well; the latter tanked, and dad lost money and never retook financial risks.

He talked about the ups and downs of these common stocks, preoccupied with their performance during the period he held them. That’s why I still know their names.

As a consequence of all I’ve said, plus, I’m sure, my shyness and insecurity, I also thought of a future in abstract terms. I read about becoming a doctor and pursued the steps described and a curriculum that would get me there. I also knew many attempted to walk the path to that promised land and only a small number made it all the way.

What could I hope for? I enjoyed psychology and history in college more than biology, chemistry, physics, etc. At some point, maybe third-year college, I told my folks I would become a psychologist but still knew little of what would be involved. By the way, most of my friends went away to college, though a few of us remained in Chicago. I couldn’t afford to go away and probably would have been hesitant even with a scholarship paying my room and board.

I recall a teaching assistant at U of I’s Chicago Campus with whom I became somewhat friendly. He was a psychology graduate student there, and he offered some guidance. I also talked to at least one professor about going about the process.

Still, I was hesitant. The grad student told me most of the good jobs in psychology required a Ph.D. Again, it looked like mountain climbing to me, a mountain I doubted I could surmount.

I still thought a Master’s Degree might be as much as I wanted. Fortunately, I was admitted to Northwestern University. As I became comfortable there, I took the next steps and had the support of the faculty, the institution, and many good friends. We were of mutual support to each other.

You know much of the rest. Over my life, I came to have a lovely, dear, and supportive wife, two terrific daughters of whom I am enormously proud, a magnificent son-in-law, and two budding grandsons. I became an Assistant Professor at Rutgers University, a Visiting Lecturer at Princeton, and ultimately had a private psychotherapy practice in Clinical Psychology.

I consulted for the Chicago White Sox and Chicago Blackhawks. I became an oral historian for the Chicago Symphony and published articles about classical music and sports. I won many friends and was good at keeping them, including several from my days in elementary school.

I served as an expert witness in two or three dozen civil lawsuits, including the most significant class-action case in US history up to that time. I was appointed by the district court to be one of the outside evaluators of the State of Illinois Department of Mental Health (DMH) in a lawsuit alleging civil rights violations brought by two DMH patients and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

I became an excellent public speaker and one of the founders of a high school scholarship at our old high school, philanthropy intended to benefit a diverse and economically disadvantaged student body. I did things I could not have imagined from my childhood home at 5724 N. Talman Avenue in Chicago.

As I write this, I realize that my son-in-law traveled a similar road that was arguably even harder. I had an easier life than my folks, aunts, and uncles. They survived the chaos of troubled families, the Depression, the considerable anti-Semitism of their time, and, in the case of every uncle and my dad, service during wartime.

Back to me, I met many prominent and impressive people and tangled with some scoundrels, too. My contact with others, including my patients, taught me important lessons.

I was lucky in every feature of this, tried to make the good from the bad, had help along the way, and fashioned myself into the kind of person I wanted to be, even though I am still imperfect. I have answered the question to give you more of my history since you will all be my survivors.

And yet, as much as my professional attainments meant a lot when they happened, they mean much less now. I knew I was never a great man but tried to be a good one. I made a good living and have helped my children financially with some of it. I made sure my relatives benefitted when I came into an unexpected legacy from my Aunt Florence.

One of the personal accomplishments of which I am most proud is that I got past the financial preoccupations of my parents. Living your own life, not the one you inherit, is essential. I am also happy my children are friends, and my brothers have a relationship. To the good, I have their friendship and love, as they have mine.

I also helped with the lives of my mother and my brothers, Eddie and Jack. If I were religious, Ed’s life is something I’d call a miracle. I had a hand in influencing this, but his courage and willpower were the determining factors in surviving a challenging time.

Jack’s growth and self-awareness were also unexpected but remarkable. These things have lasting value to me.

Within the past few years, it occurred to me that I was part of the luckiest generation in the history of the world. We had decent-enough parents, a safe place to live if we were white, and grew up in the world’s most influential and prosperous country — one with affordable advanced education and financial support for that education.

Those with adequate intellectual skills could advance and do better than their parents. The air was clean, and none of my friends fought in wartime. Nearly everything was possible for us.

So what else matters now? To show love to all of you and be as kind as I can in the way I live. To live in the hope of a better world for you than sometimes seems probable. Finally, to do my part in making it so.

I don’t expect to be remembered except by all of you. Of course, some patients and my dearest friends will think of me from time to time, and others might come across my name here and there for a while, but I never shot for that. I imagine you will tell stories about me, at least occasionally. Some will be funny, especially those about whatever you find amusing or peculiar in me.

Think of me laughing with you.

Much is out of my control, as it is for the rest of humanity. Thus, I hope to grow in acceptance of whatever is to come. We are all participants in a giant relay race. That is enough.

Your love means the world to me. You have all mine.

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The top photo is a Painted and Sealed Message in a Bottle with Messages of Multiple Authors painted by Peer Kyle, sourced from Wikimedia Commons. The painting below it is Helgoland in Moonlight by Christian Morgenstern, 1851, sourced from History Daily. An Untitled 1959 painting by Mark Rothko comes from the Stanley Museum, U of Iowa. It is followed by Arizona Sunset on a Train Trestle, late July 2020, the work of Laura Hedien with her permission: Laura Hedien Official Website. This gallery finishes with another Rothko from the Stanley Museum, U of Iowa: Untitled, 1968.

The Arguments We Lose Even When We Win

Our differences with people sometimes must be set aside.

When I was younger, I took on several such complicated issues, believing the verbal conflict was worth the effort, especially if the other party was critical of me. Some generated an intensity, overheatedness, and tendency to linger because each side wanted the final word.

Too many carried too high a price except as teaching lessons, but I was slow to learn.

Please understand. My default way of living was to get along with others, show respect, and display diplomacy.

Yet, as I reflect on my life, I realize I sometimes went too far to make a point. I recognize that the cost, even when I won, didn’t equal my emotional pain and the injury I inflicted.

I’m not discounting that some with whom I butted heads were dishonest or wrongheaded. I wasn’t false, but not every skirmish in the name of truth, right, or correctness is worth the clash.

—–

Everyone should learn the meaning of “Pyrrhic Victory.” Here is what Wikipedia tells us:

A Pyrrhic victory is a victory that inflicts such a devastating toll on the victor that it is tantamount to defeat. Such a victory negates any true sense of achievement or damages long-term progress.

The phrase originates from a quote from Pyrrhus of Epirus, whose triumph against the Romans in the Battle of Asculum in 279 BCE destroyed much of his forces, forcing the end of his campaign.

Anger gets the best of us. When it does, we are not at our best. Moreover, we justify more conflict by all the labor and frustration we’ve endured.

This is called a “Sunk cost.” Wikipedia again comes in handy:

The Sunk cost fallacy has also been called the “Concorde fallacy”: the UK and French governments took their past expenses on the costly supersonic jet as a rationale for continuing the project, as opposed to “cutting their losses”.

In economics and business decision-making, a sunk cost (also known as retrospective cost) is a cost that has already been incurred and cannot be recovered.

In wartime, this means throwing away more lives, contributing to further suffering, and spending money on prolonging what may turn into an endless war. If you long carry a grudge, you risk digging your own grave.

Winning won’t retrieve our honor or the push, pull, and unhappiness of the past. Nor will the dead come back to life.

Concerning personal differences, we need to consider a better way.

Some suggestions may minimize the wrongheadedness of unneeded, unhelpful discord:

  • How much do you value the person with whom you are at odds? Will losing or ending the contact be worth whatever is straining your connection?
  • Any conflict discussion should discuss concerns, not call names or overtalk the individual on the other side of the table.
  • Slow down, take breaks, and cool off. Listen more than you speak. Try to find something you can agree on. Master self-control.
  • Accept that some disagreements are unresolvable. Such is life. Those who hold contrary ideas needn’t be monsters.
  • Hesitate to say, “If I’d been in his situation, I wouldn’t have acted as he did.” Unless you’ve walked in his shoes, you can’t be sure.
  • If the circumstances permit it, express your sensitivity to the other’s feelings, but don’t say, “I know how you feel.”
  • Avoid raising your voice or speeding up your standard rate of expression.
  • Know yourself. Develop quiet confidence leading to self-assurance. Negative opinions about you will become less impactful. Your self-esteem need not require the approval of people who don’t share your views.
  • Practice the art of graceful surrender. If you lead a life of repeated battles, you should first give up the goal of life satisfaction and contentment. Alienating oneself from the human race leaves us in a lonely place.
  • Accept the world as a habitat where a landslide win in a U.S. presidential election includes at least 50 million people who don’t want you.
  • Be careful of becoming the kind of person you hate.
  • You will not obtain vindication or apology from everyone who does you wrong in life. Grieve and come to terms with the inevitable.
  • We do not have control of everything, including the notions of others. Work on what you can control.
  • Take on tasks within your power that don’t turn your stomach and brain inside out.
  • Cultivate humility. Don’t let self-righteousness take you over.

You can do all this and “fight the good fight” on the essential and inescapable conflicts. Even in those cases, we don’t win them all.

====================

The top image is called “Jealousy,” as created by Tumisu. It was sourced from Wikimedia Commons. Laura Hedien’s Sunset Colors in Late May 2022 follows with her permission. It is a joy to feature her artistry: Laura Hedien Official Website.

How Does Love Change? “What Love Tells Me”

Of all the challenges of defining love, maybe the most significant is how the squirmy word “love” can change its romantic shape and meaning over a lifetime.

Consider it this way: When we are young, the fall into the bewitchment of love feels like a force from outside our universe that claims us and won’t let go. We are occupied — taken over as if by a foreign power.

It carries us everywhere as we pass through time. While the train of life moves forward, the romance whirls, touches, enlarges and plays with us.

We might notice a weightless quality, a lightness to our being if the rapturous madness arises in the bloom of youth.

If the lover departs, we believe we’ve lost an irreplaceable creature without whom we will never be complete. In agony, such broken ones wonder what happened and what they did wrong, hoping for a chance to fix the crumbled attachment. The mood darkens to deep sadness and tears.

===

The largeness of love is too big a topic to address in a short essay. Instead, I’ll concentrate on heterosexual men in love, based on the stories of male patients and friends.

Within this limited group, their voices will focus on initial encounters with endearment and the arc traversed by this fondness from early to late. Simply put, how they and their experience of affection changed over their lifetime.

This information is not something easily shared. Most men don’t want to think or talk about it. In my case, as an “old friend” in both senses, a dedicated listener, and a retired clinical psychologist, I’ve heard more than most.

First, what is a man’s experience of love under 30?

If we break it into parts, several come to mind.

An honest young suitor admits he is led by his body. Call it passion, desire, or lust, but let’s add some other qualities of love after putting this one at the top. The remaining items appear in no particular order:

  • Passion, Desire, or Lust
  • Admiration of the partner
  • The other’s Admiration of You
  • Affection evocative of Poetry (though men live in a world of prose)
  • Care or Concern for the lover’s well-being
  • Respectful or Kind behavior toward the cherished person.
  • Enchantment to a state of Idealization, as in the phrase “love is blind.”
  • Companionship: the wish to share encounters, events, and ideas, the better to enhance their enjoyment
  • Thinking of the loved one when separated
  • The Joy of meetings
  • Displaying Generosity in non-material and material ways
  • Consideration of the beloved’s opinions and thoughts
  • The Expression of Fondness in words
  • Gratitude for the sweetheart’s presence
  • Sharing in the work of keeping a romantic connection and a household functioning well
  • Devotion “in sickness and in health”

Time works its will — in small steps. The body’s capacity and interest in “the sex of things” achieves an incremental decline from its teenage peak.

By middle age and beyond, fatigue, medication side effects, pain, and sleep difficulties often jump into the bedroom and stand between the once indefatigable lovers.

When I asked couples in marital therapy about what first attracted them, the answers became predictable and identical in long-married twosomes:

My wife and I laughed a lot, and my partner was hot.

Twenty years on, neither of these were as present as they once were.

Here is an old joke:

If you put a penny in a jar every time you have intercourse in marriage’s first year and take one out each time after that, you will never empty the jar.

An exaggeration for sure. Yet, in the best marriages, there are changes in the loving tie, less preoccupied with the physical element of attraction.

Or, in still other words, here is a bit of humor offered by a fellow in his early 50s:

I’m not the man I once was, but once — I’m the man I was.

As those words suggest, the decline in male sexual drive and capacity contributes to the relationship change. To the good, one of the possible alterations is surprising and joyous. 

According to those with whom I spoke, when the erotic thirst diminishes enough, it stands aside, revealing the fullness of the person they thought they knew. The man might recognize the importance of characteristics underappreciated before.

His gratitude grows if he simultaneously comes to terms with the inevitable irritations between any two roommates or lovers.

Libido remained alive in those I talked to, but not so much their master, no longer compelling and narrowing their focus to one dominating thing. Their appreciation of the partner depended less on expectations of everlasting beauty.

There was an ease to the togetherness thus produced and a lack of pretense, bravado, and a young person’s sense of being judged or needing to prove himself.

For other men, however, as erotic physicality slips lower in the ranking of what is essential, so does the need for regular female companionship. Since he is no longer so prone to becoming” crazy in love,” he finds romantic partnership less essential to his being.

But let’s end with a return to the lucky ones in love and their fortunate mates.

The transformation of craving is captured in Tobias Wolff’s short story “The Liar.*

The couple’s son asks himself questions about the relationship between his mom and dad:

I wondered if they’d had a good marriage. He admired her and liked to look at her; every night at dinner he had us move the candlesticks slightly to the right or left of center so he could see her down the length of the table.

It pleased him to behold his no-longer-youthful wife. Not pleasing to the world, perhaps, but beautiful to him.

No one else’s opinion mattered.

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*”The Liar” comes from Our Story Begins: New and Selected Stories. The second image is from an Engagement Photo Session by Arash Hashemi. The last shot is called Old Couple in Love by Ian MacKenzie. Both come from Wikimedia Commons. The phrase What Love Tells Me was part of the original programmatic title Gustav Mahler gave to the finale of his Symphony #3.

A Path to Understanding Others

In the early days of the internship program at Forest Psychiatric Hospital, I was one of the psychologists who fashioned the training experience for the grad students newly invited to spend a year with us.

I recall suggesting the interns occupy the role of patients on their first day. The staff was told they were graduate trainees but not actual residents. The real patients stayed in the dark.

Everything else proceeded in the usual fashion for new admissions, including entering the facility, rooming with the inpatients overnight, attending group therapy sessions, and eating in the cafeteria.

At the end of 24 hours, the play-acting ended, and the future counselors began the formal part of their experience in a different psychiatric unit, as I recall.

Neither my colleagues nor I recognized the questionable nature of this deception, and ethics committees within universities and hospitals didn’t exist everywhere. I recommended it because I thought it essential for future psychologists to stand in the shoes of those they would be ministering to.

Nothing could compare to the lived experience, or so we believed.

Later, when I received supervision in administering and interpreting neuropsychological tests, I applied the same principle to myself. I asked the senior psychologist first to give me the examination. I wanted to “duplicate” the position of those who I would be evaluating. Only could I thereby create their “first-time” experience before I ever took the “doctor’s role.”

Now jump with me to what allows us, you and me, to understand people who live in circumstances different than ours.

Our automatic attempt to fathom their behavior and thought process — to see into their hearts and heads — comes from the perspective of the sense organs, what we have been told, our inborn nature, and conclusions based on the world we know.

The joys and sorrows our world has brought us, perhaps of a very different kind than they’ve faced, can only be used to approximate or serve as a translator to help us achieve understanding from our limited perspective.

Can we then latch on to the motivations and actions of those whose life experience is unusual to us? I am questioning not only mental health professionals but every one of us. Identifying with others takes an uncommon level of training and introspection.

Sometimes we humans draw the wrong picture of others, piling up distorted figurations like misshapen pancakes.

Our judgments are generally self-serving. We simplify the human experience and don’t wish to blame ourselves. Adverse reactions to those unlike us, those of less status and those who are “different,” are as plentiful as the fruit on a flourishing banana tree.

Herb Childress, in a brilliant book dealing with higher education, wrote about how we dismiss the complicated and unfortunate lives of others while taking on a sense of superiority over them:

There’s a strong hindsight bias that works to confirm one’s own positive traits, whether those traits are skill, talent, hard work, ot persistence.

Moreover, he continues:

But when successful people don’t acknowledge the role that things outside their control have played in their success, they don’t think to create those conditions for others; they imagine that the less fortunate are simply less worthy.*

It is easy and comforting to think the world is a controllable place where people usually get what they deserve and deserve what they get. If individuals dissimilar to “our people” encounter misfortune, we tend to prefer an explanation exempting us from the possibility it will happen to us. We sleep better if we think this way.

In a world fraught with differences, it becomes apparent how far many of us misunderstand the imagined lives others experience.

Do you really think you can get inside of (take your pick) a differently gendered soul situated in an unfamiliar social class, race, native language, or nationality? How about the personalities of those who have known periods of starvation, served in battle, been raped or molested, or beaten? I could go on.

Do you recognize the challenge of grasping the viewpoint, fear, or heartbreak of people who endured wartime, life-threatening disease, poverty, or genocide? Or lived 40 years before your grandparents did or began life 40 years after you, like your grandchildren?

Without knowing it, as a young psychologist, I was already blessed to observe the world within an island of relative safety and the misfortunes I missed.

Why? First, mine was a limited, cloistered encounter with the globe, born in a time of prosperity. My family met the criteria of the period for lower-middle-class. Mom and dad did their best to raise me in a neighborhood with uncommonly good public schools. College education was cheap, scholarships were available to win, and pollution and climate change were not yet on the radar.

The Chicago summer skies almost always displayed a beautiful blue instead of gray. I received a healthy body and a decent brain in the lottery I won from Mother Nature.

Gerry Stein was a white male in a white man’s world before civil rights legislation became national law.


But the limitations of my experience also told against my ability to understand the folks I treated. Apart from my training and the supervision I received, I was innocent of much about life, though my shelves included plenty of books and my ears had heard of terrible turns and tragedies.

Once in a therapy practice, the stories I listened to from the sufferers stood out. They educated me, though not by intention. Story after story, multiple layers of individual memories, thousands of tales and perspectives.

Yet I was still outside of them, away from them, as if peering through binoculars or a telescope. Some of my patients related their early life hardships involving disease and starvation, not anything I’d personally encountered or endured. Their emotions were not mine nor their wisdom, poor judgment, or sheer awful luck.

To better understand our fellow humans, we need to climb into their lives imaginatively, reimagine and extend our imagination beyond stereotypes into a different time, place, body, heart, and brain.

No one will require you to enter the psyche and anatomy of someone traumatized, desperate, horrified or delighted, ecstatic, or entitled. Going that far, the next step requires recognizing your limits of thought and feeling to grasp theirs.

It is essential, then, to create thought experiments, submerging oneself in “the heart of darkness.” It might be a precarious place of less control, more random acts, fewer models of successful coping, having to choose between medication and food, negative judgments, and the difficulty of finding someone trustworthy or understanding.

This is becoming harder to do these days, I would argue. When the USA had a military draft, abled-bodied men from different backgrounds shared the experience of basic training and going to war. Now we let the children of others “volunteer” to fight for us (making for wars we promote or oppose) without any of our “skin in the game.”

Inevitably, the offspring of wealth and education are more likely spared, while those without better job prospects enter combat more often than those who were “born on third base and thought they hit a triple.”

The warriors of whatever class suffer. According to the NY Times, “at least 6,261 veterans died by suicide in 2019,” and “nearly 16% of (those) deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan have been diagnosed with PTSD.”

People at a physical distance from us are easier to misjudge, demonize, or forget and ignore in their pained existence. Indeed, from his contemporary home office, the boss can fire a person he rarely sees by emailing him a virtual pink slip. No one need ever speak to him to say the words.

No muss or fuss, no eye contact, nor an instant given to the essential humanity of the “other” — the soul dismissed both as an equal and an employee. War is also fought at distances of thousands of miles. Drones destroy people like us, operated by people like us seated in front of computers that might as well be video games.

How often do we think about someone in a third-world country making a garment we praise as “beautiful and oh so cheap!” Of course, it is inexpensive because the worker in a dirty, unairconditioned factory receives far less payment than she would in wealthier nations.

Her life is a mystery and misery to us, and we don’t want to hear more. It would be too hard to know. Challenging to consider, harder still on the dressmaker and her children to withstand.

We objectify those invisible to us or make them into cartoons. We think we understand their inner workings when we have no idea. The world becomes impersonal, good or bad, made of fellow humans we make into saints, sinners, or vague aberrations we describe as stupid, lazy, or evil.

They are placed by us into one category, not in a position to straddle the line between worthy and imperfect, as actual beings do, including ourselves.

Once necessary for early man to survive, tribalism makes us quick to judge those who come from a distant place, look different, speak another tongue, and are as wary of us as we are of them. We fail to socialize with them, and our tendency to make them foes first and ask questions later diminishes us all.

It is too easy to think the evils of this world are due only to one group spawned far away who we can keep away. It is easy to think “they” plot against us and lie all day, every day. We degrade ourselves, no matter that some of the “misdeeds” of “those people” are real and some few corrupt.

If I were back in the position of training young adults, I might make another suggestion, more extreme than the one I described earlier.

I’d advise young people at an early stage of political life, law, or the ministry to spend several months living in the neighborhood of groups different from themselves. They’d seek medical care from their doctors, wear the same clothes, and eat the food typical of the location and its people.

Their job would include getting an ordinary job and making friends as newcomers. If these future authority figures took such training, participants might return to their homes with a fresh perception of the “strange place” they’d lived, now aware “they” are not as strange as previously believed.

A “draft” of young women and men into this kind of service to the world would also be a service to them.

I’d hope for a gradual enlargement of civility toward and appreciation of those encountered. It is even possible some of the young adults who ventured to do this might acknowledge that their judgments had been wrong and begin to hesitate to project their traits and biases on people outside of their close acquaintance.

Since this idea isn’t likely to happen soon, what can the rest of us do?

As a start, consider reimagining your parents’ lives before your birth. Talk to them or, if they are gone, interview their living relatives and friends — people who lived in the same place and time.

Assuming you knew your parents and have some memory of them, think and look through their departed hearts, experiences, schooling, and every other aspect of the time before you arrived and the possible impact your new life had on them.

If you are bolder, find someone on the other side of whatever divide you find most troubling these days. Exert the effort to find out their point of view, but only after first becoming friends. Ask questions and try to set aside prejudgments.

Talk less and listen more.

Perhaps someday, there might also be a virtual way for men to spend time carrying a child inside them and going through labor. No joke.

Enlightenment would grow from such an opportunity.

So would hope for ourselves and the future of the world.

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All but Laura Hedien’s photo were sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

The first image is a Looped MRI Video of a Healthy 13-year Old Female’s Heart Beating. Alith3204 created it. Next is a Green Banana Tree by Rosendahl.

A Pile of Stacked Gold Bars was photographed by Stevebidmead. Laura Hedien’s Chicago River Downtown appears here with her kind permission: Laura Hedien Official Website.

A 1919 Newspaper Ad for the Movie “You’re Fired” comes after Ms. Hedien’s work. Last is a shot of Two Blossom-headed Parakeets, a picture taken by Touhid biplop.