No Filter | Straight Talk from Eshrink | Pandemic Unplugged

Updated 9:03 PM to correct COVID-19 Numbers.

Editor’s Note: All pertinent links are at the bottom of this post so they don’t interrupt Eshrink’s Straight Talk. Eshrink confided in me that he was concerned this post might be too sarcastic, it might offend some people, it might be too negative. I reminded him that sarcasm is a powerful literary device that has been used by scores of Pulitzer Prize Winning authors. I reminded him that Eshrinkblog.com is a censorship-free zone. I reminded him that he has earned the right to write whatever he sees fit.  So fasten your seat belt loyal eshrink readers, this retired psychiatrist who dedicated six decades to a career in medicine is unplugged and uncensored.

Pence and White House Task Force on Coronavirus COVID-19

Yesterday, I tuned into the latest White House dog and pony show.  The big dog was absent.  Apparently, keeping him away was the only way to prevent Donald Doofus from screwing up this latest campaign event masquerading as a report by the White House COVID-19 task force.  However, the ass-kisser-in-chief, Mr. Pence, did an admirable job in explaining in great detail what a wonderful job the president has done in managing the pandemic and saving “thousands” of lives.  He outlined in great detail how the administration has provided the leadership responsible for the control of the pandemic.  He touted the marvelous job done by federal agencies in providing needed medical equipment and protective gear.  Even more amazing was the “tremendous” success in providing COVID-19 testing.

All in all, the Veep’s chat was very reassuring (unless you are person who dares to look at the facts).

Johns Hopkins Map illustrates COVID-19 Data Pandemic Worldwide

  • The United States accounts for about 4.3% of the world’s population, but has 25% the worldwide COVID-19 deaths.
  • We are #1 in COVID-19 Confirmed Cases. 2.6 million.
  • #1 in COVID-19 related deaths. 126,493 in the USA out of 507,166 worldwide
  • We are #1 in COVID!

No wonder I didn’t feel reassured.  Having years ago, read a bit about the risk of world-wide pandemics, I likewise was not reassured when Trump early on minimized the seriousness of the “Kung Flu.”  Furthermore, I doubt that those who have survived this illness, lost loved ones to it, or witnessed their last breaths, would see the humor in that term.  It was not until the very end of Pence’s lengthy introductory remarks that he spoke a truth when he said: “We still have more work to do.” Talk about an understatement!

 

Dr. Birx

Next up was Dr. Birx – the lady of the $600 Hermes neck scarves.  She serves as one of the experts on pandemics.  Back in the days before all the world’s information was available on the internet, physicians attended a lot of conferences in order to stay on top of the latest poop in medicine.  We laughingly defined an expert as someone 50 miles from home with slides.  In addition to her scarves, Dr. Birx proved her bonafides as an expert with an array of slides, which were dazzling in their quantity and complexity.  She flipped through them in such rapid succession that even if I were smart enough to understand them, it wouldn’t have helped.

Dr. Fauci at White House Press Conference COVID-19 briefing press conference

Next up, the always sensible and understandable Dr. Fauci, who usually leaves me wondering as to what he thinks about the crap he hears coming from the mouths of Doofus and his sycophants.  Dr. Redfield, the CDC director was next up.  He was all in favor of Motherhood and Apple Pie.  There has been some suggestions that he has been muzzled by the great one, but how could anyone even consider that all these elite scientists who have dedicated their lives to learning about science, infectious diseases, and medicine, could know as much about this stuff as our own very stable genius President.

The Veep’s closing remarks and “question-no-answer” session was blessedly brief, generally following the maxim: “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.”  The Q & A session ended rather abruptly when the press corps insisted on real answers.  In the absence of the big dog who would have been courageous enough to confront them about their audacity to seek information for the public by asking questions, the only option for the little dog  (Pence) was to walk away.  After watching to the bitter end, I took a few minutes to calm my raging anger, and attempted to make a list of all the distortions, half truths, and misinformation spewed out by Pence to be used in this blog, but I was soon overwhelmed by the sheer volume.

While watching the performance, this tired old brain did light up with an insight.  It suddenly occurred to me that therein may lie the answer to a question which has bothered me for some time i.e. how in the world did this COVID thing become politicized.  After all, the virus does not belong to a political party and we are all equally susceptible to infection, yet red state and blue state responses seem to be different.   Charades like this “press conference” along with Trump’s insistence that everything is under control and his constant assertion that the “fake news media” is exaggerating the seriousness of the pandemic must be factors which lead to the false sense of security which is so often seen in those who proudly wear their red baseball caps.  The message is undoubtedly enhanced by Trump’s own propaganda machine – Fox News (not to mention his own tweets).

Trump at Tulsa Rally during COVID 19 Pandemic

Loyal Trumpers show up by the thousands to watch their hero’s one man shows.  They are absolutely fearless and crowd in shoulder to shoulder.  Their naked faces are a testament to their disdain for all that overblown scientific stuff and they insist, as does VP Pence, that they have a constitutional right to refuse a face mask.  I did not realize the constitution said anything about a right to disseminate disease, but what do I know?  However, the “breaking news” today was that not only was Pence seen wearing a mask, but he announced that everyone should follow his lead and wear face masks.  The pundits made a big deal about this being a break with Trump, but I can’t imagine Pence having the gonads to challenge his highness.

This was the first White House production by the task force in more than a month, but was improved only due to the absence of Trump.  Fauci did provide useful and straightforward information, but I was left wondering how many more lives may be lost as a result of the failure to adequately portray the seriousness of the situation in which we face with this highly infectious serious illness for which we have no effective treatment.  Without a treatment, our only hope is to contain it until a treatment or preventative vaccine is available.

As Fauci pointed out, such strategies require sacrifices on the part of people to which they are unlikely to adhere if they are not appraised of the danger we face.  Self aggrandizement can wait.  For now let’s focus on solutions please.

 

Link to Johns Hopkins COVID-19 Map

Link to White House Task Coronavirus Task Force Briefing June 26, 2020, with video

Blast from the Past: Editor’s Pick | The Priceless Video of Dr. Birx when Trump wants her to confirm she is looking into injecting disinfectants into the human body and or inserting a powerful light into human beings to fight the pandemic

 

Are You For It or Against It? The Danger of Polarity in America.

Introduction by the Eshrink Editor: I am woefully behind on my blog duties. Eshrink wrote this blog more than two weeks ago. The subject arose from a discussion we were having about the polarity of this country (I think at the time, we were talking about the wearing of masks in that it seemed we had become divided as in “the mask people” and the “no-mask people”) and the idea that people seem to be fervently against something more than being fervently “for” something. He takes you step by step on what’s wrong, but brings us back to hope in the end…see the excerpt below.

In my most recent essay, I defined integrity as the value which incorporates the personal qualities we hold dear, all of which involve caring. The past few months have abruptly and severely tested the integrity of the American people, and with few exceptions they can be proud of their success. We have seen millions venture out with faces covered in order to protect others. We witnessed courage and dedication, of those directly and indirectly involved in caring for the sick. Thousands have volunteered to work in food banks. People of all colors, ethnicities, and genders in the hundreds of thousands have gone forth to demonstrate for racial equality.

 

The Values Series Led Me Here

While ruminating over this stuff about values, it occurred to me that as a society, we seem to be more preoccupied with what we are against than what we are for. Such a position presents a major impediment to negotiation and is likely to provoke anger. This appears to be the case with our two houses of Congress, in which the most recent bill proposed by the house was promised by McConnell to be “dead on arrival” in the senate, hardly an invitation to look for common ground. Of course, what the senate proposes is not likely to be greeted with open arms by the house either. Consequently; the process of negotiation won’t happen. Perhaps John Adams had it right in his assessment of the two-party system. But then I continue to be amazed at the wisdom of those old guys and in particular of their ability to foresee the problems involved in preserving what they had built.

John Adams Quote that warns about the problems with a 2 party system

 

COVID-19

There is little good news to be found today. The death toll from the corona virus has now passed 115,000, yet these numbers do not tell the whole story. Nearly all of these souls died alone, and isolated from family. Traditional measures used to facilitate grieving have been restricted due to the pandemic. Well over 40 million survivors have filed for unemployment with untold numbers standing in line to follow suit. The United States, touted as the most advanced and prosperous nation in the world, has now achieved the dubious distinction of becoming the world leader in such horrific numbers. With only 4.2% of the world’s population, the United States has now registered over 25% of the deaths due to COVID-19, yet our President heaps praises on himself for having done a great job in managing the pandemic. We were warned for decades that such a pandemic was inevitable, yet we were woefully unprepared, and even worse at exercising any control over it.

 

GEORGE FLOYD

If that were not enough, we now find ourselves witnessing the murder of one of our citizens by one sworn to protect us. There was universal outrage and sadness. Peaceful demonstrations protesting police brutality and injustice soon became hate filled with wanton destruction throughout the land. Throughout history, our most successful civilian defenders of human rights have used peaceful protests as their weapons of choice. Ghandhi and Martin Luther King were the most recent initiators of that strategy, but more than 2500 years ago Buddha said: “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”


Complicit Passivity

It is obvious that we screwed up big time in leaving ourselves so vulnerable, and I emphasize the word “we” for we have been complicit by our passivity in not making ourselves aware of what our elective representatives are doing or neglecting to do. The politicians have protected us from injury from a falling sky by never admitting that they screwed up, but in spite of years of warnings by our scientists, we have been very poor stewards of our environment thereby setting the stage for a catastrophic pandemic. In like fashion, since its beginning, we have suffered from a lack of leadership in dealing with issues of civil rights and equal justice under the law.

 

I’m Against It

Although there is a long history of disagreement between republicans and democrats, in the past, the focus was to a large extent on issues. For example, when a Democratic President pushed through a Civil Rights Bill, the south quickly switched to the party of Lincoln and those in the North who mostly supported the legislation became Democrats. The once solidly democratic south became rabidly republican in less time than it takes to say “back of the bus.”

 

Then came the abortion issue, which proved to be even more divisive, since for many, it involved strongly-held religious beliefs. Both these issues were very personal to large segments of the populace and consequently divisive.


Although not so overt as the abortion rights ruling, civil rights issues continue to smolder, and in the past few days have reared their ugly heads again. Some Christians see abortion as murder and therefore feel obligated to protest. This has led to episodes of intimidation, name calling and even violence. There have been other times in our history when issues have been divisive, e.g. prohibition, women’s suffrage, Vietnam, and worst of all a Civil War, all from which we have largely recovered. The current climate of personal animus continues to deepen with political discourse routinely including personal insults and character assassination.


Follow the Money

It has been said that in order to follow most things in politics one must follow the money, and in our last presidential election there was a lot to follow. According to open secrets.org, 5.6 billion dollars was spent on the presidential and congressional election campaigns of 2016. In addition to that, it is estimated that Mr. Trump received an additional 5 billion dollars of free time on the networks by being TV savvy, thereby proving that outrageousness sells. Ten years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that money equals speech and since then there has been a lot of such speech so that in the coming election it is expected the ante will be increased even more.


The foregoing factors, along with research indicating that negative campaigning is more effective than a focus on issues, resulted in personal attacks becoming the norm. The effectiveness of this strategy is demonstrated by its effect on Hillary Clinton whose approval dived from 71% in 2011 to 43% in 2016. See this link for more info. There was much anecdotal information that many of the votes for Trump were actually due to an intense dislike for Clinton, a modern-day version of the ancient proverb: “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”


Such a political orientation can be dangerous, for it may lead to decisions overly influenced by emotions. The current pandemic is the latest example in which political orientation seems to override facts. I have been totally amazed to see the response to this virus, which proposes a threat to all of us to be viewed differently depending on party affiliation. Although the same facts are available to everyone, we face the same enemy, and we are all equally at-risk, responses differ largely along party lines.


Previous Assaults on Our Country

During my lifetime, I have witnessed two previous dramatic assaults on this country, every detail of which I remember in vivid detail. The first was The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which resulted in a resounding and immediate flourish of patriotic fervor with unbounded support for the government. Later, the destruction of the World Trade Center produced a similar reaction. In both these instances, there was indeed a sense that we really were “all in this together.” The focus was on what could be done and how to do it. Who to blame or what could have been done to prevent these disasters were put aside to be debated at a later time.


This pandemic is an equal opportunity threat not only to our country but to the whole world. Granted, there is much to complain about and I have been among the chief complainers. Nevertheless, there is much of which we can be proud. Although there have been instances of profiteering by the usual group of pathetically twisted individuals, they are an insignificant minority. We have witnessed with awe those hundreds of thousands of ordinary people go forth without weapons to courageously battle an unseen foe, while others have risked their lives in order to provide the means which allow the rest of us to remain safely tucked away in our homes.


Hope Springs Eternal…

In 1732, Alexander Pope wrote: “Hope springs eternal in the human breast,” and in spite or perhaps because of, all the potentially catastrophic events confronting us, there are signs that such hope may now be springing forth. Hope is the great motivator. It adds zest. It welcomes challenge and allows big dreams. Without hope, life lacks meaning. Indeed, hopelessness is frequently associated with suicidal ideation, and there has been a well-documented increase in the rates of depression and suicide in the past few years. It is also true that we have not seen a lot of good news or optimism about the future of ourselves or our planet, and as a consequence it appears to me that we have become focused on all those things we are against with little thought as to what we are for.


You may be thinking “what in the world is hopeful about rioting, looting, massive unemployment, climate change, pollution, racism, and thousands of deaths from a worldwide pandemic that is hopeful.” A couple of nights ago, I stayed up very late mesmerized while watching the demonstrations which mostly featured lawlessness fueled by hatred, greed and disrespect. I went to bed feeling very sad and asking myself the age-old question, what is happening to my country, and does anyone give a damn? I only knew that I was against whatever was going on.


The Helpers

The next morning, I awakened to a view of people who had brought their own shovels and brooms to begin cleaning up the broken glass and debris left by the rioters. Since the looters had retired for the day and there was no sensational news available, the TV crew interviewed some of these kind souls who told of how disheartened they were to see their peaceful demonstrations marred by hoodlums, and how they had tried to stop them. Since then, I have been heartened to hear stories of how many of those charged with law enforcement have been able to show respect for the demonstrators and their cause. They learned that in many instances kneeling with them was more effective than pepper spray. It appears to me that the witnessing of an actual murder on nationwide TV has had a significant impact as witnessed by the large number of white folks who join in the demonstrations. It is all enough to give hope that hundreds of years of racial injustice may finally end.


Integrity and Us

In my most recent essay, I defined integrity as the value which incorporates the personal qualities we hold dear, all of which involve caring. The past few months have abruptly and severely tested the integrity of the American people, and with few exceptions they can be proud of their success. We have seen millions venture out with faces covered in order to protect others. We witnessed courage and dedication, of those directly and indirectly involved in caring for the sick. Thousands have volunteered to work in food banks. People of all colors, ethnicities, and genders in the hundreds of thousands have gone forth to demonstrate for racial equality.


Granted, there has been much anger and even hatred demonstrated, but our ideals are not lost. The integrity of the average guy gives me hope that problems can be solved and love will take care of the hatred for as the good book says: THE GREATEST OF THESE IS LOVE.

ANNIVERSARY REVIEW by ESHRINK


This morning, I happened to look up at the top of a tree growing next to my patio and was amazed to see how big it had become. I guess it must be nearly 50 feet tall. It stands in full view of its lower half from this little office where I compose my literary masterpieces. I have probably spent hours looking out at the lower portion of that tree while trying to organize some great truth, yet today is the first time I remember looking up at its top.

 

It has been 35 years since I planted it. It was a scrawny thing with a bulbous out-pouching around its base. I have no idea as to its species, but it has become a good friend. It has used all that energy from those years in the sun to grow into this magnificent specimen which now shields me with its shade. One of the reasons I was shocked to take in its full size is that its trunk does not appear to be large enough to support a giant upper body.

 


Fortunately, I had preempted Barb earlier in the day by wishing her a happy anniversary before she had an opportunity to put my failing memory to the test for, I have a history of forgetting such important dates. Barb on the other hand has one of those minds which has allowed her to catalog not only birthdays and anniversaries of immediate family, but of anyone else we have ever known. Actually, I had prepared for the event by squirreling away an old card which I planned to recycle for the event, but I misplaced it–thereby losing my opportunity to be a real hero.


The day held little promise of anything exciting, especially since there is not much about the number 67 to generate enthusiasm, but just as we were on the verge of declaring this anniversary a washout, son Peter called to say he and Sue were on their way here. They brought flowers, Pete did some of my chores, and got takeout from Bill’s Barbecue, which we enjoyed on the patio. Trudy had called previously to tell us they would be coming to spend the weekend of Father’s Day with us, and after Pete and Sue left we retrieved a voicemail from Maggie and a text with her flattering epistle about us old buggers and our marital style.

 

As for Maggie’s analysis of our “discussions” she mentioned, I am sure most of them ended with my surrender for I am still no match for Barb. But on the bright side she fights even harder FOR me. It is easier to find a lover than a friend, and to spend my life with someone who is both makes me a very lucky guy. Later Barb and I did some reminiscing, which was sort of like looking up at that tree to see whole thing.

The view was pleasing.

 

 

 

The Smith Crew circa 1969

The Smith Crew circa 1967

 

60th Wedding Anniversary Dinner

Prepping for 2020 during Christmas 2019 Photo Shoot!

The progeny: The only thing better than perfect children is PERFECT GRANDCHILDREN

 

Barb and Darell Smith wedding

Happy Anniversary Dr. and Mrs. Eshrink | 67 YEARS!!!!

Barb and Darell Smith wedding Mom and dad circa 1978

 

Editor’s Note: Hello Eshrinkblog readers! Today is my dad and mom’s wedding anniversary and I’m hijacking his blog to share what I’ve learned from watching mom and dad as a married couple. I learned about loyalty, respect, appreciation, but also about the secret to effective arguments and all the red flags that come from ineffective arguments between couples or even the lack of arguments: resentment, emotional distance, loneliness, etc.

 

But before I share my perspectives, you might check out earlier Eshrink blogs about Marriage and his Valentine (the post “My Valentine” is the winner for the most read blog post on the eshrinkblog.com network)

LESSONS I’VE LEARNED from MY PARENTS’ MARRIAGE

These are just my perspectives from watching an incredible couple grow, change, and adapt throughout their life together as a married couple while taking that “death ’til we part” thing to heart.

 

ARGUING with a PURPOSE

It’s been my experience that I’ve learned more from the bad stuff than the good stuff so I’ll start there. My mom and dad argued. I hated it when they argued, but they didn’t hide it, which I guess made my little kid brain think it was okay or normal. I found out later that my parents’ style of arguing wasn’t the norm. I would hear about double binds, put downs, identifying the source of the hurt feelings, owning your feelings, etc. I didn’t understand half of it, but the arguments were usually at the kitchen table and lasted a long time (at least in little kid time it seemed like they lasted a long time). Somehow, listening to those “discussions” (that’s the term they would use when I would bring them a picture I drew and tell them I didn’t like it when they argued), I learned the “action” or incident that sparked the argument wasn’t about the action at all. Rather, it was about the feelings that action generated (i.e, leaving the dirty socks on the floor isn’t about the socks on the floor it’s about inconsideration…how it can make the other person, the one who is the primary “cleaner in chief” feel like they’re not important or appreciated or their role is undervalued somehow). Mind you, mom and dad never argued about socks on the floor…but you get the gist. The argument has a root cause that is about feelings associated with a particular action.

 

More importantly, I got to see them make up and resolve the argument. Even if a resolution wasn’t total and complete, it seemed the argument was worthwhile in that it was not only an opportunity to share grievances openly and honestly, but it allowed them to reach a renewed understanding or different perspective. It wasn’t about who was right and who was wrong. It seemed their process actually made their bond stronger.

 

RESPECT for the INDIVIDUAL. RESPECT for the UNIT.

As for the good stuff: my mom and dad have always seemed to have a deep respect for each other as individuals and an appreciation of their differences. Mom is an artist at heart. My dad has always been more practical and technical. They were equals who were different. Not equal as in the same, but their interests and differences were equal in importance. While I would say mom and dad had traditional gender roles for the time in most ways, it seemed they supported each other in broader interests; my mom’s belly dancing classes, art classes, bowling league, her decision to start a small business, The Tortoise Shell, etc.

 

And even though I don’t think I ever saw my mom mow the lawn or fix a leaky faucet, I do remember my dad cooking and doing dishes when it needed done…and not in a begrudging way, but just because it needed done…to boost the other half of the unit who needed a respite (since raising four children and keeping a house is more than a full time job). As I discussed in the argument section above, I sensed they had a respect for their choice to be a married couple…respect for the unit…and had decided the whole was greater than the sum of the parts (not sure I have that quote right, but they were better/stronger together as a unit than individually).

.

APPRECIATION

My mom’s appreciation of my dad was always apparent to me. I would hear her brag about him to other people. She would correct people when they called him Mr. Smith instead of Dr. Smith, which would totally embarrass me. However, when she explained to me, “We worked hard for your father to get through medical school and become a doctor. He IS a doctor!” I started to understand why it was so important to her. Note the “we worked”…they shared in each others accomplishments because they did “do it together”… they built a relationship with the space for each to grow and achieve and explore. As for med school, my mom worked full time as a nurse to make sure they could get through and still have food to eat (dad’s always had a big appetite…it’s genetic on the Van Horn side of the family) haha.

 

I remember dad’s appreciation of mom, too, but maybe in more subtle ways (I remember us as being a genuine and authentic family…phony accolades weren’t our thing). I remember sitting at the dinner table with us four kids rolling our eyes and grumbling about the night’s dinner of cubed steak or chipped beef and gravy (shit on a shingle was dad’s name for it). Dad would go out of his way to make sure we heard him thank mom for making dinner or say how great the meal was. He also showed his appreciation for her ability to create beauty all around us…from flower arrangements, to gardens, interior design. He appreciated, not only the talent she has always had for those things, but how she continued to learn more and maximized those talents to bring beauty to everyone she touched. Later in life (back to that growing thing I discussed, dad would tap into his artistic side with the help and encouragement of mom, when he started framing pictures for her shop, The Tortoise Shell).

 

RESILIENCE and ADAPTABILITY

My mom and dad, both as individuals, but as a unit, seem to be resilient no matter what life throws at them. I’m not saying it has been easy or equitable. Sometimes one of them seems more resilient or open to change than the other, but overall I’ve noticed they don’t spend much time looking back…at least not looking back in a “good ole days” way…When I’ve noticed them look back, it seems to be to learn from the past (somehow they taught me…if you learn something about yourself or a situation when you make a mistake, then you nullify the mistake in a sense because the knowledge you gained will serve you in the future). However, there was always the caveat that we didn’t want to “overdo” this particular method to gain knowledge and wisdom 🙂

 

My parents seem to be in a constant change of learning and growing. I used to think people got fixed and rigid as they got older, but I’ve watched my parents continuously learn, grow, and change. New interests. New perspectives. New appreciation.

They take life as it comes and grab the happy when it comes. They celebrate the wins together. They grieve the losses together, but they never give up 🙂

Happy Anniversary Mom and Dad! Thanks for being such great parents (and saddling me with all of this liberal guilt…haha!!).

Love good,

Maggie #4 and Proud Eshrinkblog Editor

P.S LAST BUT NOT LEAST | PDA

I’ll never forget how my mom and dad would show affection for one another. As a little kid, my dad’s flirty grab of my mom’s bottom while she was fixing dinner at the counter would be met with “Smitty!” from my mom. When I was younger, I would giggle during those brief gropes and of course be completely grossed out and embarrassed for them when I was a moody teenager. Hugs were and still are in abundance between my mom and dad, discrete pats, and kisses hello and goodbye and in between have always been the norm. Keep Rockin’ Matrimony M & D!!!

Below is the card I sent them for this year’s anniversary. The perfect card for the perfect couple.

The Values Series | Integrity


Integrity is one of those words which I have used thousands of times without giving much thought to its exact meaning. I only knew it was a quality that good guys possessed, that it involved honesty, and was something to be admired. Thus, when integrity was mentioned as a proper subject for this series on values, I cranked up Mildred and sent her to see what Mr. Wikipedia had to say on the subject. His response was predictably concise and illuminating: Integrity is the practice of being honest, and showing a consistent and uncompromising adherence to strong moral and ethical principles and values.

 

With such a definition integrity incorporates all our values. It evolved from the Latin word integer meaning whole or complete which tends to confirm that integrity must include adherence to all of one’s values.

 

From that I concluded that those with integrity not only ascribe to the values most of us treasure, but are unwavering in their application regardless of the pressure to lead them astray. This does not imply rigidity of thinking, but any changes in one’s opinions or conclusions must occur within the framework of his/her strong moral and ethical principles . In short, integrity is determination to stick to his/her idea of what is right no matter the circumstances. 

 

However, this definition does present a problem. In ordinary circumstances, when we say one possesses integrity, we use it to signify our admiration, but what if that person’s values differ significantly from ours. For example, we generally don’t describe Mafia members as having integrity although they operate with their own version of morality and ethical principles to which they rigidly adhere. Many antebellum slaveholders, including some of our founding fathers were also said to exhibit a high degree of integrity, in spite of lacking a consistent and uncompromising adherence to today’s version of strong moral principles.


Does the Definition of Values Change with the Evolution of Morality?
As I pointed out in previous blogs, our values and standards of morality change over time. I recall a time when there was nearly universal condemnation of abortionists, but now the country is equally divided regarding the morality of abortion. Consequently, one who performs the procedure might or might not be said to have integrity depending on the personal values of the evaluator. Today I saw an ad on TV encouraging customers of the state’s lottery system to be “responsible gamblers” and I asked myself “when did any kind of gambling become responsible?” The answer of course is – when the state decided it could be lucrative and when politicians convinced voters to make it legal. It did turn out to be lucrative for psychiatrists, for it spawned a whole new generation of gambling addicts.

 

Without a degree of integrity, civilization could barely exist. It is an ideal upon which rests the trust necessary for relationships both personal and professional to succeed. When literacy was less common, the tradition of sealing the deal with a handshake was the norm consequently; integrity was crucial. No doubt that written agreements are useful to minimize misunderstandings, but nowadays no matter how trivial the deal we are directed to “get it in writing.” However, those charged with writing those agreements have become very creative in writing contracts that no mere mortal can understand, but when such obfuscation is coupled with length, most of us give up and sign on the dotted line. For example, when is the last time you read one of those agreements which popup on your computer in order to install an app? Or the lengthy mortgage documents when refinancing your house?

 

Integrity and Business | An Oxymoron?
The term “truthful hyperbole” was coined in the book, The Art of the Deal, which was on the New York Times best seller list for 48 weeks. Some suggest that phrase morphed into the similar oxymoron “alternative facts” which would later be found to be useful in another context. There are other stories in the book in which deception is used in order to gain an advantage. This begs the question as to whether such business strategies were part of the curriculum at Wharton and an even more important question: are there any ethical standards in business these days?

 

Integrity and Sports
Competitive sports have long been activities in which there have been rigid rules designed to assure that the “best man wins”. The Marquis of Queensberry rules were established in mid-19th century to assure fairness in boxing, and the idea of rules to promote fairness in sports became an ideal. The idea of winning “fair and square” was the athlete’s byword. One’s integrity was admired nearly as much as his physical prowess. Nowadays, it seems sportsmanship is a word rarely heard let alone praised.

 


Although there have always been examples of cheating in sports, it appears to me that attempts to gain an advantage by means other than by one’s performance have become accepted strategy in recent years. Our play-by-play announcers seem to admire coaches’ abilities to “work the officials.” My basketball coach grandson tells me that “trash talk” has become part of the game. I often wonder if such talk persists as the team performs the ritual unenthusiastic post game handshake. It appears to me that mutual respect between opponents is often replaced by mutual derision. Recent incidents, such as Deflategate and stolen baseball signals, would seem to indicate that for many, cheating is an acceptable strategy.

 


When I googled the oft quoted phrase “It’s not whether you win or lose but how you play the game,” I found mostly cynical responses by famous athletes. For example, Martina Navratilova said: “I suspect those who say that lose a lot of games.” Is it not true that how you play the game is a mark of integrity? Is integrity a hindrance to winning? Does it matter how you win? Is losing shameful? Is graciousness in losing to be admired or ridiculed? The answer to those questions says much about our values.

 


Integrity and Politics
Nowhere is integrity more important than in the realm of politics. In a democracy, we elect as our leaders those who espouse values consistent with our own, and to whom we cede the power to do our bidding. Therein lies a test of integrity for as Lincoln is alleged to have said: “If you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Unfortunately, through the years, we have seen many who have flunked that test. My vote for a person is a measure of my trust in his ability and determination to speak for me. Therefore, I expect the person for whom I vote to display core values of loyalty, honesty, humility, truthfulness, consistency, steadfastness, and incorruptibility. Those values are at least of equal importance as his political orientation. Unfortunately, we do not have an integrity meter by which we can measure those qualities in advance of an election, and our current electoral system with its emphasis on fund raising enhances the temptation to stray from stated values.

 


Fairness as with many other qualities is often in the eyes of the beholder. As a proponent and defender of fair play a person of integrity should be prepared to object to any unfairness perpetrated even when directed against an opponent. For example, Mr. Trump insists those who criticize or question him or any of his jailed cronies are being unfair.

 

This is one of his traits for which I am roundly critical however; I am sure there are instances when he actually is treated unfairly. In the unlikely event that I noticed he really was being treated unfairly, sadly my likely response would be to applaud. Yes, this integrity thing is tough, and our biases certainly do get in the way.

 


The Clash of Intellect and Emotions
As a matter of fact, this whole series on values has been difficult for me as I have found myself laboring over words more than usual. I have concluded this is so because our values include not only intellect but emotions. Consequently, we must engage our amygdala and prefrontal cortex at the same time. At least that explanation helped me rule out senility, but also explained why really smart people have kicked these ideas around for millennia, and why dedicated philosophers always seemed a bit squirrelly to me.

 


It was my conviction that the subject of values does not receive the attention it deserves which led me to choose it as a topic. We are remarkably forgiving of and ignore integrity deficits. We attempt to soften lies with terms such as: alternate facts, misspoke, inaccurate, and misinformed. Our government uses the term enhanced interrogation when they torture and rendition for kidnapping. The killing of families and children in war is referred to as collateral damage.  When questioned under oath about alleged misdeeds, our politicians frequently respond “I don’t recall.” We often are more concerned with legality than morality. We are told the world is now more complicated and issues can no longer be seen as black or white, but my favorite moralist, Jimmy Carter, said

“We must adjust to changing times and still hold to unchanging principles.”

 


The Upside | Integrity is Everywhere if You Look with the Right Lens
In deference to daughter Trudy who often sees the old man’s blogs as purveyors of gloom, doom, despair, and anti-trump rants, I offer the following reasons for hope that all is not lost and that love does triumph over adversity. It has been often said that times of crisis bring out the best and the worst of people. In this pandemic, the worst are badly outnumbered by those who courageously leave the safety of their homes often risking their own lives to care for the sick. Some even came out of retirement to supplement an overwhelmed staff. Indeed, hospital workers and first-responders have given their lives, and “no greater love hath man.” Others in jobs which in ordinary times lack status heroically put themselves at risk in order that I can stay safe.

    hand made card from child to frontline workers fighting COVID-19


A study published in Nature Human Behaviour suggests that desire for fairness may be an inherent quality in people. In this study, toddlers were asked to watch a puppet show in which 2 puppets attempted to go through a path too narrow for both so that one of the puppets would yield to the other. After the show, the toddlers were allowed to play with the puppets and the majority chose to play with the puppet who had gone through first. Later, the show was repeated, but this time one puppet shoved the other out of the way in order to get through the opening. This time the toddlers overwhelmingly chose to play with the puppet who was knocked aside. Could it be that we are born with integrity and somehow lose it along the way?

 

Editor’s Note: More studies have taken place at Harvard and Yale surrounding the value of toddlers. This article “Are Babies Born Good?” from Science Smithsonian magazine describe the interesting experiments and results of these studies that seem to replicate the study published in Nature Human Behavior. This seems to support the notion that human nature is indeed one of the values that I’ve attempted to define in this series.

 


The pandemic mantra, “we are all in this together” seems to have done much to ameliorate our divisiveness for we have seen a groundswell of concern for our fellow man.  There is evidence of new-found respect for those who perform menial jobs. Social isolation has raised awareness of our need for and appreciation of relationships. Increased awareness of our fragility and mortality gives us an appreciation for life and for those we love.  There is much to fear, but much to admire and much to inspire.

It’s a good time to take a fresh look at our values, and how we value each other for in the final analysis
integrity is simply about caring.

2 Nature Human Behavior 2, 662-669 (2018)

RESPECT

 

RESPECT: The Definition
Rodney Dangerfield was a popular comedian of my day whose punchline was: “I don’t get no respect!” I feel certain we can all identify with Rodney’s feeling, for we do not always feel the respect we crave as herd creatures. While researching the subject of this blog, I realized that the concept of respect could be applied in a variety of ways, which makes it difficult to find a definitive definition.

 

It is one of those words which can be used either as a verb or noun, and is defined by Google as either: 1). a feeling of admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements or 2). regard for the feelings, wishes, rights or traditions of others.

 

Thus, respect may be doled out to a person or to an ideal. It is the latter which allows us to communicate and negotiate with those with whom we don’t agree. Without such respect, attempts to resolve differences are likely to result in personal attacks. After all, if we believe he/she has no right to feel or think as we do, he/she must be an enemy.

 

Mom and Respect
This type of respect also bears a strong resemblance to what your mother called manners or politeness. Unfortunately, even in the face of this pandemic that threatens us all, we seem to have forgotten her lectures. Those whom we have hired to take care of such things expend much energy on deciding who left us so ill-prepared to deal with this coronavirus disaster even though we have been warned repeatedly over the past 50 years that such a pandemic was inevitable. I suppose there have always been self-serving jerks in politics, but I assume there are still some who have entered the fray with the best idealistic intentions, and who have not become totally jaded.

 


Where are the Idealistic Public Servants (aka: Politicians)
If they do exist, they have been strangely silent. The Washington old timers who are now mostly retired, talk nostalgically of a time when they could have intense disagreements with their opponents and still remain friends*. Rancor was left in the debate chamber because they had respect not only for each other, but for the rules which forbade personal attacks or insults. Those rules flowed from the respect they felt for the institution in which they served. Such “statesmen” were wise enough to realize that rude behavior does not promote conciliation. It stands in marked contrast to our present-day government in which many are said not to be on speaking terms with opponents, and camaraderie between those of different political persuasions is rare.

 


Respect and The Bill of Rights
Bill of Rights of The Constitution of the United States of AmericaOur forefathers were concerned about authoritarianism in government. Consequently, Madison’s Bill of Rights was amended to the Constitution in order to codify our freedoms. We now show our respect for those ideals by celebrating and honoring symbols such as the flag and national anthem by standing at attention, or holding our hand over our heart, etc. However, such behaviors are often subject to interpretation. According to the official flag code, disrespect for the flag is rampant, the most flagrant example of which is the wearing of clothes with the flag’s image on them, or other trivialization as in advertising, etc.

 


Respect or Disrespect? Time (History) is the Final “Decider”
Apparent disrespect for our national symbols has been a frequent means of protest, the most recent of which was kneeling during the National Anthem by NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. The Vietnam War protestors burned not only their draft cards but the flag. Medal winners John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised their fists in the black power salute as they stood on the winner’s podium at the 1968 Olympics. They were vilified in the press, received death threats, and were kicked off the U.S. track team, but 40 years later would be honored with the ESPY award, specifically the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage.

1968 Olympic Protest by USA athletes stand on podium with first in the air


Muhammed Ali was banned from boxing for two years in the prime of his boxing career because of his refusal to be drafted during the Vietnam War and his support for the Palestinians, but he too would later be honored, not only for his record as a boxer, but for his principled stand against the war. He was even given the honor of lighting the Olympic flame in 1996. Mr. Kaepernick has not been so fortunate, for he was cut from the team in spite of a good season and has received no offers to play anywhere else.**

Mohammid Ali is sanctioned for refusal to fight in the Vietnam War

Colin Kaepernick kneels to support Black Lives Matter


Kaepernick’s transgression as with the others are viewed differently depending on one’s point of view. Many viewed his behavior as unpatriotic and insulting to those who had given their lives for their country. Trump said he should be fired, but others hailed him as a patriot who simply wanted to call attention to injustice, and was willing to put his career at risk for a noble cause. Whom or what we respect says much about what we value as individuals. We may have a great deal of respect for some particular quality, talent, or achievement in a person, while at the same time find them totally unworthy of our respect as a human being. For example, though most of us admire strength, we generally have little respect for bullies or dictators.

 


Respect for the Institution (the Office/the Ideal) versus Respect for the Person
It has been said many times that respect must be earned not given. A few centuries ago, when I was a young green Navy medical officer, I initially found myself embarrassed to be saluted by enlisted men, especially by those whom were much older than me and those who had served in combat. One day I asked one of my corpsmen how he felt about saluting and he straightened me out by saying: “Most of the time we don’t give a damn about you officers. We’re saluting the uniform, not you”. How we feel about you will depend on how we feel after serving under you.” I soon found out that there were salutes and salutes, and that sailors were adept at letting you know by the nature of their salute how they felt about your worthiness to wear that uniform.

 


Children and Respect (a Curmudgeon’s View)
Most people of my generation would likely agree that as a society we suffer from a respect deficit. Children in particular are charged with having “no respect for authority.”*** Although it is not a term often used in psychiatric parlance, I am a fan of the “monkey see monkey do” theory of childhood development, so that even when they hate us they end up emulating us in many ways. This was brought home to me many years ago by a patient in her late 70s with a history of a troubled relationship with her mother. In this session, my patient was discussing her frustration and sadness over her troubled relationship with her daughter when she suddenly paused and gasped: “I have become my mother” apparently realizing the pattern was repeating itself. Unfortunately, such insights are lacking in the so-called helicopter parents who undermine their kid’s respect for their teachers, then can’t understand little Johnny’s insolence.

 

Fear vs Respect
It is sometimes difficult to characterize our feelings regarding a specific authority as either respect, fear or both. Is it possible to respect (admire) something or someone of whom we are frightened? When people bow towards a monarch or dictator for example, is it out of respect or fear? Albert Einstein said: “Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth” In these times of a slide towards more authoritarian governments, it behooves us to use discretion in deciding what or who are worthy of our respect.

 

One of the difficulties involved in aging, lies in adjusting to changing mores. I grew up with one set of “good clothes” which were worn primarily on Sunday. I now have difficulty accepting less formal attire and find myself cringing when someone shows up for church in jeans or shorts. This, from a guy who hasn’t worn a necktie for several years, and professes to understand why the way one dresses should not be treated as a measure of their worth. Ronald Reagan was said to never enter the oval office unless dressed in a suit and tie as he felt informal dress would be disrespectful. Others would insist this to be a very superficial and undemocratic way of showing respect.

 


Since respect for a person must be earned, it goes without saying that the amount of respect one gains depends on what rather than who they are. To respect someone is a very personal thing, and depends to a large extent on the respecter’s values. When I was a kid we were told we should “respect our elders.” Imagine my chagrin to discover in my dotage that I am just another Rodney Dangerfield. Although, I have noted some deferential responses since I began using a cane, which leaves me to wonder if this is out of respect or pity. Does one earn respect points just for survival to a ripe (a word that indicates rot is imminent) old age.

 

In a capitalist society, one would expect that those institutions devoted to the common good along with those who worked in them would be highly valued, and consequently well compensated. Such does not appear to be the case for teachers, social workers, police officers, pastors, and others in “helping” professions are in general poorly paid. The exception lies with the medical professions, which have benefited by a demand for physicians which exceeds the supply.

 

Bravery is a quality universally admired consequently; we are now seeing not only health care workers, but also others in supportive roles who are exposed to the coronavirus gaining a great deal of respect. It is indeed refreshing to see those who clean the hospital rooms, transfer patients, and perform other kinds of so-called menial tasks, gain respect for their courage. There are others, such as those who stock grocery shelves, check us out at cash registers, and drive buses or trucks, who are also exposed to this deadly virus on a daily basis in order that we can hunker down and remain safe at home. They earn our respect every day.

 


The Humanity of Respect
To respect is a very human thing. To find someone or something that we admire, gives us hope and validates our values. Since God screwed up and left out the good judgement gene, we are not perfect. Consequently; we rarely respect the whole person without some qualifications. One of my favorite heroes is Jimmy Carter. He has received very poor marks as President, but is undoubtedly our best ex-president. Unlike others who built monuments to themselves, the Carter Center became an internationally recognized resource promoting adequate housing and as a monitor of election honesty all over the world. In my mind however, his most incredible accomplishment was the virtual elimination of the guinea worm, a horribly disabling parasitic infection which afflicted 3.5 million people. It was considered incurable, but after nearly 35 years of dogged pursuit by Carter, there are only 22 reported cases left in the world. President Carter and Rosalynn Carter volunteer for Habitat for HumanityWith his commitment to fair housing, Carter not only talks the talk, but walks the walk, as he has continued to volunteer for Habitat for Humanity for decades. At 95, he is still hard at work on the front line working with his wife Rosalynn helping to build houses.

 


Respect for that which We Lack?
We also respect people for less humanitarian accomplishments which are usually reflective of our own personal interests. In many cases such respect may be colored with a touch of envy. For example, in my case, my respect for athletic accomplishments probably has a lot to do with my lack of any such talent. It is also true that musicians are more likely to recognize and respect exceptional talent than one such as myself who flunked in that department also. But if respect must be earned, then talent alone should not gain one respect, but rather what one does with his/her talents. Lebron James, whose talent I have always envied earned my respect during an interview in which he was questioned about his extreme workout routines. The following response said much about his character: “Since God gave my body this talent, I feel obligated to make the best use of it.”

 


Respect and Values
What or whom we respect says much about our values and aspirations. Respect is very personal and emblematic of the ideals which we deem important. It has the power to motivate and encourage its recipients while providing hope and inspiration to those who dispense it. Such power needs be given judiciously, especially in this era when we are deluged with misinformation. On the other hand, should we not show some respect for our common ancestry as in the story of Genesis or as in the anthropologists’ version of our origins. After all, we are all of the same species, and now face common threats. We are told that further pandemics are coming and climate change is here, yet we continue to bicker among ourselves. The adage that a common enemy tends to unite a people no longer seems to apply and mutual respect is in short supply.

 


During this time in which we bear witness to the fragility of life and to our vulnerabilities, many of us remain cloistered while others risk their lives to save others. In the midst of the tragedies of this pandemic, we who are home bound could make good use of that time to reassess what we value. The absence of hectic schedules may offer an opportunity for families to become reacquainted. I heard of one father who remarked that he had forgotten what it was like to have the family eat together, to play games, and have serious conversations. I was also pleased to hear that both adoption and fostering of dogs and cats is at an all time high, which would seem to indicate that people are still looking for something to love. That is a trait that deserves our utmost respect.  It also gives me hope.

Collage of different people with the dogs and puppies they have fostered during the pandemaic COVID-19Picture of puppy being fostered during Coronavirus pandemic

Editor’s Notes: My dad’s blogs often make me think of lessons, events, etc., I’ve experienced or read about. So here goes…

*I read an article or saw an interview where retired senators hypothesized that part of the inability to have bipartisan debates and meaningful discussions might be due to the fact that all legislators go their separate ways each weekend to head home. Before air travel was reasonably priced, congressional representatives had to room together to afford the job of being a public servant. I’ve searched google and can’t find the exact article (probably too old for Google), but it makes sense to me that whether you have an R after your name or a D is irrelevant when you share a bathroom. Everyone is forced to get along 🙂

** As eshrink noted: history determines which “disrespectful acts” eventually become acts of courage. Many people who take actions about an ideal that isn’t convenient for the current time and/or an idea that is ahead of its time are often vilified for that action. It’s my opinion that this may be due to the fact that so many of us are conditioned to look at the “act” to evaluate the short term incident instead of focusing on the “ideal” that is behind that act. One of my favorite quotes is by Eleanor Roosevelt, “Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.” I predict Kaepernick’s act to risk his career and his reputation, to use the platform he had at the time for a greater ideal rather than self-promotion will in time be recognized as an act of courage…just as the “disrespectful” acts of the 1968 Olympic Athletes and Mohammad Ali eventually were.

*** Curmudgeon Alert: I tell eshrink I will call him out when he is approaching “grumpy old man” territory. The third asterisk is where eshrink talks about young people being disrespectful. I hear him on helicopter parenting (child focus gone wild), but my parents were actually very ahead of their time in many ways (I’m sure a few teachers gossiped behind their backs about them over-indulging me or “over-parenting” as the term helicopter parent didn’t exist.

 

Therefore, I’m going to take eshrink to task regarding this sentence, “Unfortunately, such insights are lacking in the so-called helicopter parents who undermine their kid’s respect for their teachers, then can’t understand little Johnny’s insolence.”

 

I have several stories, but will try to narrow it down. As a child, I felt stuck because my parents told me to call my friends’ parents Mr. or Mrs. About nine times out of 10, my friend’s mom or dad would say, “Oh, please call me Jan [insert first name]” or “Call me John [insert name]”

I explained the quandary to my mom and dad. If I call them Mr. or Mrs., then I’m disrespecting my friend’s parents, but if I don’t call my friend’s parents by their first names as they have asked, I’m being disrespectful to my parents. I’m not sure I remember the resolution…I think I just didn’t call my friend’s parents by any name (I wash very shy and awkward so it wasn’t that big of a deal since I had very few friends…the “friend’s” isn’t a mistake in punctuation…haha).

 

However, a better story I recall is when my family moved from a wealthy suburb of Columbus to Zanesville, Ohio. The schools in Upper Arlington were very progressive at the time. As I recall, we didn’t get grades on our report card in elementary school, just Satisfactory (S) or Unsatisfactory (U), but more than that, each U or S was accompanied by a paragraph from the teacher about the pupil’s progress in that subject. When I arrived at John McIntire Elementary School in Zanesville, Ohio, as a 6th grader, my teacher banished her paddle the first day of school to explain what would happen if we disobeyed a number of rules…don’t remember the details…but bottom line was that she had the paddle and would administer “cracks” as she deemed appropriate. When my mom asked me how my first day of school went, I told her about “cracks” and paddles, etc. My mother, supported by my father, told me I was never to let that teacher or anyone else paddle me. “We don’t paddle you and I’m certainly not going to let someone else do it” I will say, my mom and dad were very good at explaining the reasons “why” and the “higher ideals” as far as the balance of respecting a position of authority didn’t mean you automatically respected that person or agreed with certain behaviors. Here’s what I got: “Do your best. Treat everyone with respect, including your teacher. Do your work and paddling won’t be an issue. If you do something wrong or if the school accuses you of doing something wrong and they say they are going to give you cracks, you tell them your parents said they need to be called first because we disagree with corporal punishment.” I somehow saw the difference between fighting for a higher ideal or principle that an authoritative system practices and being disrespectful. I think we call it civil disobedience and we witnessed a lot of that as I grew up in the 1970s very close to the campus of Ohio State University.

 

Another big win that put my parents in the “cool parent category” was when I came to them about an issue that bothered me. Our junior high, as all schools in our district during the ’70s, didn’t have air conditioning. The boys were allowed to wear shorts, but the girls weren’t. It was against the dress code. Mind you, we could wear a dress (with shorts underneath, obviously!), but that wasn’t the point. The principle was that girls were being treated differently and that didn’t make sense to me. The theory was that girls wearing shorts would be distracting to the pre-pubescent boys (shockingly, the same thing I heard uttered from an administrator and a teacher at my daughter’s middle school when I addressed the dress code there about the length of shorts or dresses girls could wear). Anyway, some budding feminists and I decided we would defy the dress code and wear shorts to school the next day. I talked to my mom and dad ahead of the big protest. I told them I might get suspended, but the office would most likely call them first to bring “proper clothing” for me to wear at school. They seemed to agree with the underlying principle and “gave me permission” to wear shorts to school and suffer the consequences for the greater good. My memory is a bit fuzzy of the details, but I do recall we were called to the office. Most of the girls hadn’t talked to their parents beforehand and when called they expressed their disapproval and brought them proper clothes, telling the office they would deal with their daughter’s unacceptable behavior when they got home.” I can’t remember who the one girl who was with me when we were kicked out of school, but we walked home and were suspended for a day of school. Nothing changed, but for some reason, we felt empowered as if we raised the issue to a new level…at least for that one day! Go Dr. and Mrs. Eshrink!!! I love you despite your helicopter parenting…haha.

The Values Series | HUMILITY

HUMILITY
Since it has become clear that we are currently facing a serious pandemic, my first inclination was to make this an “I told you so” essay and refer to a previous blog in which I quoted epidemiologists who assured us that future pandemics were inevitable. However, my self-righteousness was dimmed with the realization that I belonged in the high-risk category for serious complications from this bug. It also occurred to me that a time of crisis may be an appropriate time to examine our values as such times put them to the test. Thus, I decided to proceed as planned with a look at humility, which Confucius said was “the foundation of all virtues.”


As I mentioned in the first post of this series, the purpose of values is to allow us to get along with each other and thereby accomplish things. Alone we are relatively helpless, together we can and do move mountains. Those with particular expertise in the management of pandemics emphasize the importance of our helping each other since our best weapon for containing the disease lies in quarantining those who are infected, leaving them dependent on others for life’s necessities.


United We Stand. Divided We Fall.

It seems to me that during those major crises which have occurred during my lifetime, there has been a tendency for us to come together as a nation although; there have always been a few looking to exploit any such situation. Most would agree that the country is now more divided than it has been for the past 150 years, and I was struck by the timeliness of the subject of today’s blog when I ran into a quote from Socrates: “Pride divides the men, humility joins them.” I believe it safe to say that few of those faithful fans of our President would suggest that he oozes humility, and indeed his attempts to reassure have left us even farther apart. I can’t help but wonder if that humility deficit contributes in some way to our widening breach. 


Much of my career was spent dealing with patients who suffered from a poor self-image. In some cases their dislike of themselves had resulted in lives of misery and even self-destructive behaviors. Such problems are often confused with the concept of humility. As a matter of fact, some dictionaries list words such as meek, shy, and submissive as synonyms, but humility has nothing to do with wimpiness or poor self-esteem. It is on the contrary a mark of strength. In that regard, Rick Warren’s quote from C.S. Lewis that appears in Warren’s book (The Purpose Driven Life) is most helpful:

“True humility is not thinking less of yourself…it is thinking of yourself less.” C.S. Lewis

Rick Warren is quoted as saying:

“Humility isn’t denying your strengths, it’s being honest about your weaknesses.”


Humility offers a kind of freedom not accessible to the braggart, for humble people have nothing to prove. One person has anonymously defined humility as synonymous with the word “Truth” and the long-held maxim that a good liar must have a good memory still holds true. But the comfort offered by humility is best expressed by Mother Teresa:

“If you are humble nothing will touch you, neither praise nor disgrace, because you know what you are.”

Humility is after all an expression of concern for one’s fellow man.


Pride: The Opposite of Humility

Pride on the other hand is the opposite of humility, and its symptom is arrogance, which masks insecurity. My Father who was well known for his pithy comments referred to those who he thought were arrogant with the phrase: “He thinks his shit don’t stink.” Ezra Taft Benson, Politician/Mormon leader said “Pride is concerned with who is right, humility is concerned with what is right. We read in Proverbs 11:2 “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” Without humility, one can hardly ever know what others feel, for when empathy is lacking, relationships are apt to be superficial. When we are self-absorbed, the needs of others go largely unnoticed.
It is of course natural to feel pleased with our accomplishments and to be admired for them, but we humans are often prone to toot our own horn too loudly.

There is a Chinese proverb which gives the best advice:

“Be like the bamboo, the higher you grow the deeper you bow”

The Muslim prophet Muhammad said:

“The best of people is the one who humbles himself the more his rank increases”

Although history suggests he did not always follow it, Theodore Roosevelt advised: “Keep your eyes on the stars and your feet on the ground.” When bragging about ourselves, we will often find ourselves treated with disgust rather than the respect which we are seeking. We are more likely to find respect when we let our deeds do the talking.


To prepare for this blog post, I noted a lot in the literature which associated humility with both leadership and wisdom. As you may have noticed, I am particularly fond of those one-liners which say a lot in a few words. For example Socrates, who most people think was a bright fellow, said:

“True knowledge exists in knowing that you know nothing.”

A few centuries later, Einstein would echo the same sentiment by saying:

“A true genius admits that he/she knows nothing.”

However, some wise quotes also originate from non-genius types such as Mike Tyson who allegedly said: “If you are not humble, life will visit humbleness upon you,” thus seeming to echo the previous mentioned quote from Proverbs. There was also Pauline, part time philosopher and full-time cleaning lady who once informed me: “They ain’t no bird flies so high that he don’t have to come down for a drink.”


The Humility/Wisdom Connection

Initially, I was puzzled by those attempts to link humility with wisdom until it occurred to me that if wisdom is the possession of truth coupled with the ability to interpret it, it follows that pride might get in the way of finding it. Then I discovered that someone had defined humility as “staying teachable, regardless of how much you already know.” So much for those guys/girls who “know it all.”


Leadership

It is in times of crisis that leadership becomes our most valuable asset. Indeed, without it, failure is likely, if not inevitable, and humility has time and again shown itself to be a prerequisite for leadership. Now we are facing a crisis with the potential to create havoc worldwide. Leadership requires the ability to analyze, organize, plan and implement, but of equal importance, is the ability to inspire and empathize. A good leader must adhere to the truth no matter how dire the circumstances. Hollow reassurances or sugar-coating undermine confidence and respect. Our greatest fears are of the unknown, and there is much we don’t know about this pandemic. Unchecked fear without hope leads to panic. A good leader will validate the fear while offering hope.


An oft quoted example in which those criteria were satisfied was in Franklin Roosevelt’s first inaugural speech. The country was in the midst of a depression so severe that people were going hungry and the very survival of the country was in question. It began with that most famous line: “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” It marked a turning point leading the country from the depths of despair to a newfound sense of hopefulness. A second speech heard during my lifetime was Churchill’s never surrender speech in 1940. It also gets high marks by satisfying all the previously mentioned criteria for humility. It succeeded in motivating the entire English citizenry in a time of extreme fear and uncertainty.


In both these addresses you will find few first-person singular pronouns for as is always the case with humility the focus is not on oneself, but concern for others. Its opposite, which we call narcissism, is concern for self only. With that in mind, little wonder that our malignantly narcissistic leader is unlikely to go down in history as the humility President. During the past week, I have spared myself the agony of watching the Donald’s daily briefings on the alleged progress on dealing with the corona virus. In any other context, they would be laughable, but with the seriousness of this pandemic they prompt me with the desire to take my 12 gauge to the TV.


The Poster Child for Failed and Flawed Leadership

Yesterday, I relented and watched one of our dear leader’s ego massages disguised as a news conference. I endured this disgusting production in spite of the nausea produced by watching that pathetic group of ass kissers pay homage to the person who has once again demonstrated his incompetence by doing a Nero impersonation. The group stands shoulder to shoulder, ignoring admonitions from epidemiologists to maintain six feet of separation. The diminutive Dr. Faucci stood with arms folded on his chest, a clear message that he was not receptive to this charade.


Trump began with one of his classic truthful but not wholly truthful statements. He proudly announced that the U.S. had now done more tests for the virus than had South Korea, failing to mention that our population is 5 times larger, which means our per capita rate is much lower. This was followed by a series of self-congratulatory remarks about how he had now brought the situation under control in spite of having inherited a totally dysfunctional CDC, failing to mention that he had recently proposed draconian cuts to their budget. There was the usual litany of blaming for any of the pandemic associated problems. (NOTE: Trump’s budget proposals called for 17% cut to the CDC for Fiscal 2018; a 19.6% cut in Fiscal 2019; $750.6 million cut in Fiscal 2020; and $693.3 million (9%) cut for 2021, which Trump sent to Congress o Feb. 10, after the COVID-19 outbreak began and the first U.S. case was confirmed on Jan. 20. However, these were the President’s proposals to cut the budget. We are fortunate our founders understood the balance of power. Check your Civics lessons. The Congress is in charge of the country’s budget. Fortunately, they rejected these drastic cuts. Here is link where the eshrink editor retrieved that information.

His concerns about the pandemic were mostly about its effect on the stock market, but he was most reassuring, saying he expected the worst to be over in a couple of weeks so that people could go back to work and the economy would bounce back bigger and better than ever. This was followed by a parade of his adoring sycophants, who one by one heaped praise on the great one for having saved thousands of lives through his tireless efforts (must have cut into his golf game big time). Then comes scrawny Dr. Faucci who steps up to the mic to heroically speak truth to the power that towers next to him, by contradicting much of what the Donald has just said. The show ended with the President rudely accusing one of the reporters of being rude for asking a seemingly benign question, then continuing on with a rant about the poor guy’s competence, objectivity and other shortcomings, barely stopping short of a commentary about his mother’s lineage.

Link to Trump’s March 29th Rant on Reporter

Link to Compilation Video of Trump’s Recent Attacks on the Media during COVID-10 Press Conferences (MUST WATCH)

Link to Trump’s March 20th Attack on Reporter at Press Conference


Portraits of Successful Leadership

Today I watched the reports by both the New York Governor and my own governor. In both cases, the governors and their staffs were assembled in chairs with the recommended distance between them.  They were both effusive in their accolades for those involved in dealing with the crisis, but thankfully not for themselves. They acknowledged our distress and fearfulness, but were brutally honest about what lay ahead. There were facts galore (actually more than I needed) and a plan of action was laid out along with what was already being done.  We were given assurances that we were not alone. I was still worried, but more hopeful.  I gained a new respect for my governor who I previously labeled as a doofus (he is a republican after all).  He gained not only my vote, but my confidence in his ability to deal with the threat, and left me feeling as if we really were in this thing together.

Yep, humility definitely works better than bluster.


Next topic in the values series will be respect if I can find some examples.

The Values Series | TRUTH

Image result for george washington cutting down cherry tree

When I was a kid, lying was the ultimate sin and truthfulness was a primary virtue. You might get whacked for doing something bad, but if you lied about it, you were in really deep trouble. We were to follow the example of George Washington who confessed to chopping down the cherry tree because he “could not tell a lie.” That fable is probably the only thing I learned about Washington in school, and it was repeated over and over ad nauseum. As I recall, in my earlier days, all behaviors were seen as good or bad, right or wrong, wise or dumb, etc., with nothing in between. There is a certain comfort in such binary thinking for it simplifies life, yet as recent events have shown, truth can be complicated, and thus subject to manipulation and distortion.


Situation Ethics

Early in the last century, a group of existential philosophers including Sartre, Brunner and Heidigger proposed there should be no absolute moral standards, and that one should take into account the context of an act before making an ethical judgement. Later, a group of protestant theologians expanded on that idea and declared that the presence of love is the ultimate determinant of what is ethical. One of these guys, Joseph Fletcher, in his book Situation Ethics stated, “All laws and rules and principles and ideals and norms are only contingent, only valid, if they happen to serve love.” Paul Tillich also declared that “love is the ultimate law.”

Image result for situational ethics

 
Love Conquers All

In the aftermath of the war (WWII), there was a great deal of discussion about ethics and morality, not surprising due to all the atrocities the world had seen. It was also the only war in recent history in which civilian populations were targeted, and state sponsored lying (propaganda) was accepted as the norm. Situation ethics with its emphasis on love appealed to “hormonely” endowed baby boomers since it is not a giant leap from agape to a more intimate type of love. It all came together in the 60s with love-ins, the pill, free love, Woodstock, teen pregnancies, and communes where one could share everything, often including each other. But it was also a time of anti-war protests and civil rights activism leading to the repeal of Jim Crow laws. There were fresh looks at some of our country’s previous foreign and domestic policies in terms of the effects they had on individuals. In other words, all these efforts comport with the ideals expressed in Fletcher’s version of situational ethics since they all arose out of caring about our fellow man.


White Lies

There is also a case to be made that situational ethics has had an effect on our thinking about the value of truth, as in the use of what were called “white lies.” For if truth is hurtful, is it a loving thing? For example, how should you respond when asked by an ugly person if they are ugly? There are many situations in which a one faces a similar dilemma and must decide how much they are willing to lie to avoid hurting someone. But such considerations also provide a mechanism by which one can rationalize lying. Deception has always been socially acceptable in many areas of life, e.g., team sports where faking is often part of the game. Military strategy and propaganda rely heavily on misinformation and now with the availability of digital tools, it is possible to disrupt entire societies without firing a shot, activities at which Russia has proven to be very adept.

 

Truth in Advertising?

Image result for Pure Food and Drug Act

Ever since people had something to sell, lying about their products has been common practice. The first recorded attempt to regulate advertising was the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. Currently, the Federal Trade Commission’s “truth in advertising policy” consists of a set of rules that attempt to restrict misleading advertising, and there is also a hodgepodge of state laws that usually refer to specific or local products. In spite of all these efforts, advertisers find ways to make us believe things that are not true.

 

Social Media

Social media has become a godsend for those who want to infect large numbers of people with all kinds of lies including fake news, conspiracy theories, or slander. Fake identities can allow them to remain anonymous while sometimes doing enormous damage. Our government seems to have little interest in fixing responsibility for such content. One study concluded that information transmitted from a friend is also more likely to be accepted as valid than from other sources, which may help explain the rapid spread and wide acceptance of conspiracy theories due to the human need to share secretive information with friends.

 

Truth Be Damned

The fact checking project of the Washington Post alleges 16,241 false or misleading claims in his first 1095 days as President by our “dear leader.” I do find it reassuring to note that apparently the idea that the president could be a pathological, habitual liar is so abhorrent that even an anti-Trump paper prefers to use less personal terms to describe his casual relationship with truth (i.e., the use of the euphemism “false or misleading claims”). Conversely, I was disheartened when recently a person for whom I have a great deal of respect, responded to my comment about Trump’s lies with: “But he has done some good things too, besides all politicians lie.” I found myself questioning if we have become so inured to lying that it is no longer a big deal, and that lying is now accepted as the new norm. This seems to have been confirmed by Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz when he testified that Trump’s lies about his ”perfect” phone call were OK since his need to be re-elected was motivated by his love of country. Is that situation ethics on steroids or what?  I feel certain that back in the days when I was learning about Washington and the cherry tree incident, such attitudes towards lying would have been met with a cry of outrage heard round the world!

 

 

Research has shown that repetition of lies enhances their believability, and the more frequently they are repeated, the more likely are they to be accepted as true. Propagandists and advertisers have long been well aware of this, which accounts for our being bombarded with the same TV ad every few minutes. Likewise, talented liars make use of this principle by doubling down when caught in a lie. Studies have also demonstrated that lying becomes easier and more believable as one does more of it – practice makes perfect.

 

The Whole Truth and Nothing But the Truth

My Webster’s Dictionary defines truth as that which is true, which I don’t find very helpful. Philosophers, of course, have debated its meaning for thousands of years, but I have never been able to understand those guys/girls…which leaves me feeling like a former patient who said he knew his previous psychiatrist was exceptionally intelligent because he couldn’t understand a thing he said. One dictionary listed fact as a synonym for truth, but it seems clear to me that the concept of truth encompasses more than just facts. Truth is an ideal, a way of communicating accurately. Without it, life would be totally chaotic, and its absence would put our very survival at risk. Truth can be easily distorted, thus when in court we promise to tell not only the truth, but the whole truth and nothing but the truth.


Context Rules!

For example, in the little George and the cherry tree incident, it is concluded that George was a truth prodigy. However, supposing he noticed that someone saw him chopping down that tree, he would have been wise to say that he was confessing because he valued truth, and hopefully escape corporal punishment. Thus he would have told the truth – (that he had cut down the tree), but not the whole truth – (that he knew he had been busted) nor nothing but the truth – (for his stated reason for confessing: “I cannot tell a lie” was a lie). In like fashion, truth is made up of facts, and the omission of a fact or addition of even a minor falsehood may distort or totally change its meaning. On the other hand, facts without appropriate modifiers or context may misrepresent the truth. In other words, it is not possible to have truth without facts, but facts without truth is not only possible but may hide the truth.

 

Image result for Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech."
Truth is absolutely essential for the function of a democracy, which our founders recognized early by protecting freedom of speech with the First Amendment. Ben Franklin is quoted saying, “Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech.” Of course, this has been known by despots and authoritarian rulers throughout history. Unfortunately, there is a down side to freedom of speech for such a policy does not exclude the propagation of misinformation. In Ben’s day it was much simpler to sort out facts from fiction. We live in the information age where we are deluged with massive amounts of information. Larger segments of the population now rely on the internet for information, and it is often not clear who sent it or where it came from. The Russian election interference debacle provides us with a foretaste of what may be possible in the future, and as artificial intelligence becomes even more proficient at deception, truth could become even more elusive.

 


The First Amendment, although a protector of free speech, does place some limits (for example, physical threats, child pornography, incitement of violence, national security, etc.,), but many other nations of the world have rigid censorship over the internet and in times of political unrest have been known to shut it down. Such tactics are of course designed to hide the truth. There is currently concern about the role of Facebook in knowingly allowing misinformation to be communicated by its members. It has been pointed out by many who know about this stuff that other media are held to certain standards of maintaining a modicum of truth in their messaging while these new guys on the block have run wild. This will undoubtedly involve the familiar debates as to how far government should go in protecting the public interest without violating the right of free speech, and to what extent lying should be allowed should we even have the power to regulate it.
Truth is not easy- as a matter of fact, it is often elusive, and sometimes painful. Although I am without any particular talent in its disciplines, science has always fascinated me, largely because it is in essence simply the search for truth.

 

Oil & Water | Truth & The Belief System

Truth sometimes comes into conflict with strongly held beliefs. Consequently, scientists frequently get a bad rap. And so it was with Galileo, who was convicted of heresy, forced to recant his observation that the earth was not the center of the universe, and sentenced to spend the rest of his life on house arrest for daring to report a truth. To a lessor extent, the anti-science movement persists to this day as there are always those who refuse to accept truths that are not consistent with their beliefs or politics. This is now seen in the case of the climate change deniers who may see scientific data regarding climate change as not only a threat to their financial status, but are unwilling to contemplate the pain certain to accompany such a catastrophes that will result from climate change. The response by many of those naysayers is the time honored one of blaming the messenger and insisting it is all a sham [In my post Mother Earth, I cited an article about the mental health of scientists who have devoted their life to the search of the truth]. There are also the creationists who insist the world is only a few thousand years old in spite of mountains of evidence to the contrary because they feel the modern narrative as to how we came to be conflicts with their literal interpretation of Biblical accounts.

 


Our ability to discern what is truthful is also made difficult by our physical limitations. Our large cerebral cortex has allowed us to out-think other animals, and is largely responsible for our becoming the world’s top predator. It has also allowed us to become very curious and that curiosity has led us to attempt to figure out how everything works. In the process, we have created things that were unimaginable only a few generations ago. But when it comes to our primary special senses of sight, smell, and hearing, we are not nearly so proficient as other animals. That, along with our biases and prejudices, may explain why eyewitness accounts are so unreliable, and why it is sometimes difficult for us to perceive the truth.

 


The Cancer of Untruths | No Matter the Motivation

Previously, I noted the malignant nature of untruths, i.e., how they are so readily promulgated by well-meaning souls who mistakenly feel they are spreading truth. Such situations can also have devastating effects at a personal level on families and individuals. One such case comes to mind in which I was professionally involved many years ago. I was asked to see a man who had been accused of sexually molesting his daughter when she was very young. The daughter had filed charges against her father and he was clinically depressed. The accused father was a middle-class factory worker who had been ostracized from friends and co-workers. However, his wife and other children, all older, refused to believe this could have happened. It turned out the daughter had a history of serious emotional problems and while under hypnosis had recalled memories of the molestation. At the time, there was a great deal of interest in the recovery of memories of past traumas as a therapeutic tool, but many now feel the use of such techniques by overzealous therapists have led to a lot of false accusations. This is especially true when hypnosis is involved, for when hypnotized the subject gives up control of his thinking to the hypnotist. In this case, the father was eventually acquitted, but not before sustaining a permanent stain to his reputation and huge legal bills. Perhaps more importantly, his daughter lost a family and my patient and his wife lost a daughter.

 


So Much Information | Not Enough Knowledge

Since the onset of the information age about 50 years ago, truth has been even more difficult to find. Information is now a valuable commodity which is sold to the highest bidder, many of whom are not concerned with truth. Truth is powerful and must be hidden if a people are to be subjugated. It has been said that the truth will set you free, and indeed without truth, government of the people, by the people, and for the people would be impossible. Likewise, without a modicum of truth-telling, relationships of all kinds would suffer.
As fallible human beings we are all guilty of exaggeration on occasion, of allowing our biases to get in the way of objective evaluation of information, and we have learned to treat the average fish story as a rough approximation of the truth. Nevertheless, truth is the foundation for every kind of value we hold dear, such as honesty, integrity, reliability, loyalty, sincerity, candor, and justice, to name a few. In my opinion, mere fact checking is not enough. We need conversations about the importance of truth so that it becomes an ideal to be revered, and we all need to become seekers and speakers of truth. Perhaps we should all reread the story of little George and that famous cherry tree.

 


Next subject as suggested by a reader will be on humility, care to guess why?

 

Editor’s Note: While searching for images for this post, I found it ironic to discover that the story of George Washington and the cherry tree is a myth (another nice word for a lie). How this fable was created and gained such credibility that it was taught in school for decades is an interesting story from Brain Food. Score 1 for technology and truth detecting 🙂  However, I guess the bigger question for situational ethicists would be whether the story of little George and the cherry tree was motivated by love (love of the truth and a way to provide little kids with a story they would remember about how important it is to tell the truth). Oh…Washington didn’t have wooden teeth either (that’s another thing I was taught in school about Washington)! Brain Food dispelled that myth, too! Until next time…comment, share, and post. Eshrink ROCKS!

WHAT ABOUT VALUES?

I recall reading a quote from Madeleine Albright several years ago in which she expressed concern regarding what she thought was a deterioration of our values, which she saw as the most serious of all the threats facing our nation. With that in mind, I decided to have a go at looking at what values are important to us and why. The first ones that came to mind were courage and truthfulness since they were the ones most often alleged deficient during the impeachment trial.

 

It never occurred to me that I might see two presidents impeached in my lifetime. As a matter of fact, I am not sure I fully understood the meaning of that word until Nixon was threatened with one.

The outcome of this latest effort was entirely predictable since the person directing the show guaranteed that Mr. Trump would not be removed from office, and proudly announced that he would be working on the defendant’s behalf (it really does help to have the right people on your side).

 

Is Anybody Watching?

As you might expect, an old retired dude like myself with nothing better to do, other than write stupid blogs, spent a fair amount of time watching the impeachment trial. There were lots of redundancies which allowed me to walk away for long periods of time knowing that whatever I missed would be repeated several times.

 

Unfortunately, the camera angles were fixed therefore; not conducive to monitoring the proceedings, and essentially shielded the senators, other than the presenters, from being observed. It would have been interesting to have a camera panning the senate jurors’ faces to see if there was any sign of interest or emotional response to the proceedings. We were told that many of the senators appeared to be attentive and that some were even taking notes. I was surprised to hear of such signs of interest since the verdict had been determined long before the trial began, and that the only audience who might be interested would be people like me who sat watching the spectacle on TV.

Stay Calm and Be Senatorial

It is apparent that the guys on opposite sides of the aisle don’t like each other very much. Consequently, McConnell had spared no effort to minimize the possibility of violence, and to project an aura of proper senatorial decorum. Jail time was promised for any raucous behavior, attendance was mandatory, and spontaneous commentary was forbidden, as were any efforts to leave the chambers during proceedings, regardless of the status of senatorial prostates.

 

Such precautions did turn out to be wise for it did not take long for the presentations to become personal with each side accusing the other of dishonesty. The Republicans accused the Democrats of engaging in a witch hunt and a sham motivated by their anger over their defeat in the 2016 election, while the democrats characterized the democratic defense of the President as a cover-up, and even worse, that republican senators lacked the courage to risk becoming the target of Trump’s anger. And of course, each side accused the other of being untruthful. It occurred to me that there was a time when such values were so important to one’s self image that to suggest one was a coward or a liar would likely provoke an assault, at times even resulting in a duel.

 

 

As I listened to the exchange of insults, I wondered if we have become more civil than we were during other times of divisiveness in our country, or is it that our values have changed? There have been a few episodes of serious brawls in Congress proving that debate has not always been genteel.

Image result for mitt romney speech

As I was writing this, Mitt Romney in a senatorial address, explained his vote to convict the President. He acknowledged that as a result, he expected to be subject to ridicule and worse by many of his fellow Republicans, but insisted that the president’s behavior, which he considered “an assault on our fundamental values” left him no choice. As expected, he is now hailed as a hero by Democrats and vilified as a traitor by the Trumpsters, i.e., heroic for the courage to follow his conscience and a traitor by being disloyal to the President. Click here to watch Romney’s Speech

 

Therein lies a problem when establishing a set of preferred values. While loyalty is generally an admired value, unfettered loyalty can lead to undesirable or even evil results depending on the recipient.

History and Misplaced Loyalty

History is replete with examples of the disastrous effects of misplaced loyalty. We ordinary citizens “pledge allegiance to the flag and to the Republic for which it stands………” The military, civil servants, and those elected to public office pledge: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same………”.Click here to read the Senate’s Oath of Office and its history.

Note the emphasis is not on loyalty to a person or office, but loyalty to the Constitution. Such is not always the case as in North Korea where loyalty is to “our dear Leader.

Same with Hitler:  “I swear to God this sacred oath that I shall render unconditional obedience to the Leader of the German Reich and people, Adolf Hitler, supreme commander of the armed forces, and that as a brave soldier I shall at all times be prepared to give my life for this oath.”

Those are just two examples, but pick any authoritarian leader in history and you will most likely find a demand for personal loyalty rather than loyalty to an ideal. Former FBI director Comey accused Trump of demanding his personal loyalty, which if true, is indeed frightening.
Courage on the other hand is defined in the Oxford dictionary as:

COURAGE: the ability to do something which frightens one

Since fear is a universally human feeling, we generally admire those who have been able to overcome it with exceptions for those whose fear is of their own doing or whose fear results from doing harm to others. For example, I imagine a bank robber must overcome his fear in order to do his thing. However, I don’t ever recall hearing Willie Sutton referred to as courageous, nor were the Kamikaze pilots of World War II.

Bill Maher was fired by ABC for objecting to Bush’s comment that the 911 attackers were cowards. Thus, it would appear that society’s definition of courage should include a qualifier indicating that the means one uses to overcome their fear is socially acceptable. Or, is it that courage, like beauty, is in the eyes of the beholder.
Fear has evolved to become the most powerful of the emotions because it is necessary for our survival. Without fear, our earliest ancestors would have become meals for critters who were stronger and faster than they were.

Fear and Anxiety

However, we all know  that fearfulness is also stressful. Phobias are fears on steroids, so exaggerated as to be irrational and often debilitating. Most anxiety disorders have at their root some type of fear, even though we may not be able to identify its source. Those afflicted with psychoses may in some cases experience delusions and hallucinations so intense as to produce abject terror.

 

The severity of the pain I witnessed such patients experience often left me in awe of the courage required for them to face each day. They also suffered fears of alienation by friends and discrimination in the workplace due to the stigma of mental illness, which often leading to a reluctance to get help. It was not unusual for my patients to ask if they could come in through the back door. Imagine the courage it must take to endure mental illness, which is only trumped by the courage to seek help despite discouragement and disdain from family, friends, and work associates.
In his speech Romney described the torment he felt in coming to his vote to convict, not only due to his religious beliefs, but also the effect it would have on his relationships. Events over the last couple of days indicate that his fears in that regard were warranted. In the days that followed the moment he strayed from the party line he has been vilified by many “friends” and colleagues. Even more disturbing is the news that he has been uninvited from a major Republican meeting due to “fears for his safety.”

Courageous Patriotism

Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman testified before a House Intelligence Committee hearing on Nov. 19, 2019, as part of the impeachment inquiry. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Meanwhile, Lt. Col Vintman, who testified at Trump’s impeachment, has been fired from his job at the White House and walked off the grounds. This is the same guy who in his opening remarks commented on his pride to have become a citizen of a country where he would not be jailed or executed for speaking truth to power as would be the case if he was still in Russia. Click here to read a transcript of his opening statement.

As the purge continues, Gordon Sondland finds that a million bucks donated to the Trump cause does not give one job security, for he has been fired from his ambassadorship, presumably for testifying. Click here to read Sondland’s opening statement. All those who defied orders to refuse to testify are now paying the price for their courage.
If any of you have read my previous blogs you may recall mention of my favorite quote from Lao Tzu

To be loved deeply gives us strength. To love deeply gives us courage

Patriotism

Patriotism is defined as love of one’s country. Every person involved in this investigation and impeachment procedure has taken the same oath, yet opinions regarding the outcome are almost entirely dependent upon one’s political party affiliation. Those with nothing to gain, but much to lose, who chose to answer the call and tell their story under oath, are the heroes. They are the ones demonstrated courage.

 

What Values do You Value?

While writing this, I found myself wondering if our values have changed and if so why. I would be interested in your feedback as to what you think, and especially what values you feel are most important.  In my next blog I plan to explore the concept of truth, since it has become so elusive, and at times difficult to define.

Please let me know what values are most important to you.

Thanks for reading!

Editor’s Note: While doing research for links and pictures on the internet as the proud editor of eshrink’s blog, a tagline I had never noticed before, jumped out of me. I thought I would share:

“Democracy dies in darkness”

Keep shining the light ESHRINK!!!

SLOW LEARNERS?

ARE WE SLOW LEARNERS?

Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it. – Edmund Burke

Winston Churchill paraphrased Burke thereby reminding us that a much less painful education can be gained by learning about the mistakes of others rather than: “learning the hard way.”

 

The Repetition Compulsion
When it comes to governing, it seems clear that we continue to replicate the same stupid mistakes of the past. Freud described this as an inherently human characteristic which he named the Repetition Compulsion, arising from “the desire to return to an earlier state of things.” It seems more likely to me that our government often makes poor decisions as a result of a lack of historical perspective, which brings up the question as to whether they choose to ignore lessons of the past or simply “do not know history.”

 

Who Needs History?

According to the American History Association, there has been a recent and significant decline in the number of college students who opt for a major in history. This is not surprising when one considers the soaring student loan debt in this country. These kids (anyone under the age of 40 is a kid to me) are primarily interested in finding a way to make a quick buck, and there aren’t many companies recruiting historians.
There is also the massive technological change which has occurred in the space of one generation, apparently leaving many to feel the old rules are no longer appropriate and that we old folks are “stuck in the past” and one should strive to live in “the here and now.” Further evidence of the lack of interest in what has gone before, is seen in the near collapse of the antique market. Nearly all the shops in my area that used to hawk old stuff are gone. The PBS TV program Antique’s Roadshow frequently mentions the decline in value of items treasured by many of my generation. Many of us who have collected and admired such things often find little interest on the part of our inheritors. Even family heirlooms sometimes take a hit and no tears are shed as so called “time honored” traditions are discarded. There is a bright spot however, as there seems to be renewed interest in genealogy largely due to interests in DNA, the more ready availability of records due to digitization, and companies like Ancestry.com. Hopefully, this interest in genealogy may provoke more curiosity about what has gone before, and help us avoid repeating some of our ancestor’s screw ups.

One thing that history can teach us is that democracy is fragile. In my generation alone, we saw Germany, Italy, Spain, and multiple south American and African countries become dictatorships. And now we see that truth is played out again as democratic governments throughout the world become more authoritarian: witness Turkey, Poland, and Venezuela. Yet, we Americans naively think it could never happen to us. As students of history, the dangers were evident to our country’s founders, exemplified by Franklin who responded to a question as to what kind of government had been formulated by saying: “a republic if you can keep it” (popular usage has caused us to use the word democracy as synonymous with republic).

Beyond Rationale Debate to Divisiveness and Polarization
We live in a time when Americans are more divided than at any time in the past 200 years. Many believe this divisiveness presents a grave threat to the republic, for divide and conquer has long been the mantra of those who desire to subjugate others. Gone are the days of rational debate, conciliation, and the search for truth among our lawmakers and the public at large. Respectful dissent by our politicians is frequently replaced by character assassination and name calling. Allegiance to one’s political party is paramount consequently; independent thinking is frowned upon. As a matter of fact, members of each party are given “talking points” to regurgitate whenever questioned about issues.

john_adams.jpgBut the desire to be re-elected is the most powerful motivator of adherence to the party line. Oh yes, group think is alive and well in the halls of congress and the deliberations of elective officials throughout the nation. Perhaps John Adams had a point when he described the two-party system as: “…the greatest political evil under our Constitution.”

 

Too much information. Not enough knowledge.
There are obviously many other factors that contribute to our divisiveness, such as social media which allows false accusations and conspiracy theories to be promulgated without consequence (hence, the term “keyboard courage”). Our President’s friend, Mr. Putin, has made good use of the internet with his targeted bots designed to sow confusion and fear in the electorate. Of course, we will never know to what extent those activities affected the outcome of the past presidential election. Meanwhile, we seem to have learned little from that experience for there appears to be little effort being put forth to interfere with future election tampering.

 

News vs Propaganda
There are also problems with those in the media who behave more like propaganda machines than honest brokers of the news. They no longer even pretend to lack bias, and routinely extol the virtues of one party while trashing the other. This results in their gaining a loyal audience of people, who as a result of this confirmation bias, will rarely hear the other side of any story, i.e., they are only told that which is consistent with what they already believe. Those in the news business know conflict sells, and no one is better at promoting conflict than our President. This was noted early in the Trump campaign by the former president of CBS, who said of Trump: “He is damn good for CBS.” Little wonder that he seems to have had unlimited access from the beginning of his campaign. As a candidate, Trump must have been very aware of this, for his approach was to exploit divisiveness rather than to promote unity.

 

Image result for trump with his maga hat

The essentials of good stagecraft are followed carefully by Mr. Trump. He utilizes such tactics as always keeping audiences waiting for enough time to make grander entrances, with carefully choreographed “spontaneous” news conferences that occur on the walk to the helicopter where there just happens to be a cadre of reporters waiting to pay homage to the great one. Everyone knows that costuming is important in any show and Trump’s genius came into full flower with the Make America Great Again trucker’s cap. The ball cap has become a nearly essential part of the working-class uniform of people who had become disaffected and felt left behind. The message printed on them harkened back to a time when living wages were the norm and labor unions were powerful. When Trump donned his cap, he became as one with them. Quickly forgotten was his history of paying starvation wages to immigrant laborers, stiffing tradesmen who worked on his projects, and his privileged “silver spoon” childhood that allowed him to dodge the draft during the Vietnam War and only “get a small loan of $1 million” from his dad to start his business.

Editors Note: Just a few articles to support eshrink’s statements above regarding Trump’s history of hiring and exploiting immigrant works, stiffing contractors, and using his privilege to avoid military service.

Business Insider: Donald Trump avoided the military draft 5 times, which was common for men from influential families

A Brief History of Trump Swindling Small Business Owners including a cabinet maker from Philly, a paint seller and servers in Florida, a drapery business in Vegas…and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Fortune: Trump Got a Tax Break for Stiffing Contractors

USA Today: Hundreds allege Trump doesn’t pay his bills

Reuters: Trumps Art of the Deal: Dispute Your Bills. A review of 50 court cases brought by workers and contractors against Trump

Nothing Unites like a Common Enemy
Trump has made good use of his showmanship skills to appeal to his supporters who nearly all remain loyal no matter what. They obviously like him and want to believe him consequently, when something unfavorable is written, and he tells them the press is “the enemy of the people”, they switch to Fox News to get the straight scoop where they will likely never hear the other side of the story. Mr. Trump has united his “Trumpsters” with the time-honored strategy of inventing an enemy, in this case immigrants, and convincing his followers that they are a menace.

 

There’s No Such Thing as Bad Publicity
Although I continue to believe Trump is significantly impaired as the result of a serious personality disorder, he continues to demonstrate his genius at self-promotion, with adherence to the Public Relations dictum that there is no such thing as bad publicity. With that in mind, he immediately sensed the value of Twitter, an instrument by which one can instantly reach millions with a few key strokes. It is also an effective tool to transmit any message repetitively for it has been proven that when something is repeated often enough, it eventually is believed. If there is any doubt about the success of his strategy, consider this: even though Trump is a serial divorcee who paid hush money to hide his adulterous relationships, used bankruptcies as a business strategy to line his pockets at the expense of others, is known for his casual relationship with the truth, paid $25 million dollars to settle a lawsuit over the Trump University fraud case, and was filmed bragging about his sexual assaults on women, he received 71% of the white evangelical Christian vote!

 

We now live in a shrinking world with enlarging problems, including perhaps the most pressing one of all, namely climate change, while our energies and attention remain focused on fighting with each other. We ignore the wisdom of our ancestors who when faced with monumental problems coined phrases such as “united we stand, divided we fall” and “we must hang together or assuredly we will all hang separately.” Our current problems are unlikely to be solved in an atmosphere where we have no respect for each other’s point of view and only react to disagreement with anger. The polarity is so complete that even on a personal level, politics is a taboo subject. Gone are rationale debates, a desire to ensure opinions are based on facts rather than confirmation bias, and a basic interest in seeking the truth.

 

Impeachment
As I write this, we are in the midst of impeachment proceedings against the President. Although I feel he should be removed, I am fearful that regardless of the outcome, the proceedings may further increase the divisiveness and rancor that pervades the country. Senator McConnell has guaranteed the President will be found not guilty regardless of what evidence is brought forth, but no matter the outcome we can be assured that half of the country will be angry. I even wonder if the words of a hack like myself who enjoys writing about this stuff may in some small way simply harden opinions and inhibit discussion.

 

Power: The Wisdom of our Founders
This impeachment is in the final analysis about power. History teaches us that power is for most people like money in that we never have enough. That is especially true for those who aspire to positions of leadership. Those who risked their lives in order to found this republic were students of history and well aware of that trait. They also had first-hand knowledge having suffered the consequences of authoritarian rule. They wanted representative government to chart the course of the ship of state, but needed someone to steer it in the prescribed direction. With people being the way they are, I suppose it was inevitable that the guys at the helm would vie with the Congress for power, and it seems clear that Presidents have been gaining in that quest for a long time.

 

Presidents had been chipping away at the restraints placed upon the power of the executive branch for decades. In my lifetime, Roosevelt defied a predominantly isolationist Congress which was still recovering from World War I to finagle a way to send war materials to England during WW II in spite of their objections. Prior to that, he had been credited with reviving the U.S. economy from the Great Depression. He was elected to four terms and died in office while still immensely popular. Out of concern that others might become “president for life” a Constitutional Amendment was passed by Republicans in 1951 that set the current term limit for the presidency. Ironically, in 1987, Ronald Reagan suggested rescinding the rule.

 

So far, watching this impeachment thing has been a grueling experience. Nevertheless, I have suffered through a few hours of it. I’ve come away convinced that if there is no conviction, certainly the most likely outcome, Trump will have wrestled more power for the presidency than did even FDR. I find this very frightening for tipping the scales too far on which that balance of power rests would send us to a very gloomy place. Ben Franklin’s answer to the question that was posed at the Constitutional Convention “Do we have a republic or a monarchy?” should be a rallying cry for all citizens:  “A republic if we can keep it.”

 

We are the stewards of this republic: the great experiment of democracy. Most of us did nothing to earn the right to grow up under the freedom, opportunity, and liberty this great nation provides, except to be born here. Our founders and our ancestors did the heavy lifting so we could enjoy the privilege that freedom provides. At the very least, we owe it to the country’s founders and our ancestors, to learn about history, to read the Constitution, read the Declaration of Independence, and to refresh our memory of the basic lessons in civics. Get informed. Get involved. Seek the truth.

 

While it is the sworn oath of those serving in Congress, the President, the Supreme Court, to follow the Constitution of the United States of America, it is ultimately up to each of us to own our part of that responsibility.  To quote President Lincoln who led this country through arguably the most divisive period in our history:

“…that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”