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.

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.” 

 

LONELINESS

Many years ago I treated a patient who was suffering from a near fatal case of loneliness.

 

No, I am not exaggerating for this person would later confess that she had come to me in a last-ditch attempt to resolve her problems while promising herself that if I couldn’t help she would hang herself. She was a 20-something attractive and very modestly dressed woman who did indeed look very despondent with the psychomotor retardation and furrowed brow characteristics of clinical depression. When I asked her why she was there to see me, she hung her head, stared at the floor, and tearfully responded that she had been shunned.

 

She went on to tell of how her infraction of the church’s rules (one that most of us would consider a minor infraction) had resulted in her being officially designated as one with whom the entire church should have no contact whatsoever. You may be thinking: “Big deal go find another church.” But her story was more complicated. She had grown up attending this church. It was the center of not only her spiritual, but also her social and family life. Since the church doctrine insisted that only members of their church were true Christians, the members were warned about the dangers of consorting with people outside the church, apparently convinced that sin was contagious. Thus, when alienated from the congregation, which to make matters worse, included her entire family, she found herself totally alone.

 

Such stories are not new as evidenced by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s tear-jerker, THE SCARLET LETTER, but give witness to the importance of relationships and the pain of loneliness. Many religions have used banishment of varying degrees of severity to punish wayward members. The Catholic Church’s policy of excommunication appears to be less stringent and is viewed by the church as a means to save souls whereby one can return to the fold and regain salvation by repenting. Such tools are powerful and their use can have long lasting effects. For example, I recently discovered that my Great, Great, Great Grandfather was shunned and ejected from the Quaker church. It occurred to me that if he had toed the line, I might be a Quaker.

 

AND YOU THOUGHT SMOKING WAS BAD

Solitary confinement has long been used as a means to enhance the discomfort of imprisonment, and is agreed by many to be a form of torture. In a previous blog, WHAT’S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT? I contended that our need for relationships is encoded in our DNA, having evolved long ago as a major contributor to the survival of our species. If one were to accept that premise, it would be logical to assume that loneliness could be a major problem for us. Indeed, according to Vivek Murthy, M.D., the former Surgeon General of the U.S., loneliness has become “a growing public health crisis.” He has said that loneliness is a more effective agent in reducing longevity than obesity, and that its toxic effects are worse than smoking 15 cigarettes per day. Recent research into the prevalence and effects of loneliness tends to confirm Murthy’s assessment. Last year Cigna released a report on a study of 20,000 people age 18 and over as measured by the UCLA loneliness scale.

 

Nearly half reported loneliness as a problem, but even more concerning was that 27% felt no one understood them, and 43% admitted they felt their relationships were not meaningful. One in five felt they rarely or never felt close to others or that there was anyone they could talk to. It was also noted that Generation Z (those born after 1996) were the loneliest of all the generations measured.

There have been a number of studies which confirm the effects of loneliness on physical and mental health. It is not surprising that it could result in affective disorders such as depression, and may help explain the increase incidence of suicide as mentioned in my previous blog, but there is also evidence that loneliness can cause or aggravate innumerable maladies including: hypertension, coronary artery disease, dementia, inflammatory diseases such as arthritis, impairment of immune systems, and even some malignancies to name a few.
A study in the Archives of Internal Medicine sponsored by the National Institute of Health followed 1604 people over the age of 60 (average age 70) for 6 years and measured their physical decline and mortality rate. Their stark conclusion was: “Among participants who were older than 60 years, loneliness was a predictor of functional decline and death.” Need I say more about our need to engage with our fellow man?

 

WE ARE NOT THE ONLY LONELY

It turns out that we are not the only nation where loneliness has become a problem, both from a public health and productivity perspective. Great Britain’s parliament has recently appointed a commissioner to investigate remedies for what has been called a silent epidemic after a study showed that 20% of Brits reported they were lonely most or all of the time. It appears there are similar studies in progress in other European countries. It would be helpful to know if loneliness is a worldwide problem or peculiar to our culture.

NOTHING ELSE TO DO

If one accepts the premise that loneliness is a significant problem, the question arises as to how did we get this way and what can we do about it. Prior to the industrial revolution, multi-generational families provided a sense of belonging. Relatives galore, including parents, siblings, cousins, grandparents, aunts, and uncles usually lived in close proximity. With the switch from an agrarian to an industrial society, there had been a migration to cities where houses were built close together, which resulted in the development of neighborhoods usually composed of people with common interests. There was the inevitable clustering of children who interacted with only minimal adult supervision, and stay-at-home moms who could relate to each other in a very personal way. Neighbors were evaluated based on certain standards including friendliness and mutual respect. The lack of air conditioning and television made front porches very popular especially on hot evenings, and provided an opportunity for informal socializing. The only taboo subjects were sex, religion, and politics.

 

BETTER THINGS TO DO?

Soon after World War II ended, front porches began to disappear from neighborhoods, and there was a wild rush to the suburbs where large green lawns were treasured and families had fewer opportunities to be “neighborly.” On hot summer nights, it became more comfortable to be inside the house (with air conditioning) than outside. There were also new-found entertainment devices available – first radio, then TV, movies in the VCR and then DVD Player, video games, and then the internet which gave us social media and streaming. One could go for months or longer without ever having face-to- face contact with one’s neighbors. There was no longer danger of an errant foul tip sending a baseball through someone’s window. Privacy became important, and it was no longer considered a snub to build a fence between houses.  There were no kids playing hopscotch on the sidewalks, as a matter of fact, there often were no sidewalks in these new neighborhoods.

Competing Schedules and Activities

As more mothers joined the workforce and children were exposed to more structured extra-curricular activities, long-held family traditions changed. There was concern about the “latch key children” so named because they would come home to an empty house. The evening meal, often the only time in which the entire family came together, was often disrupted due to conflicting schedules. This led to the so-called crock pot families where the family meal was available to all who passed by…making it easy to just grab a bite and be on your way without any hassle (or conversation).

Forced Socialization in the Pew

Another effective defense against loneliness was the weekly church service. Traditionally, religious institutions encouraged socializing (and in some cases, demanded it). However, attendance at religious institutions has declined in recent years (one study says church membership in the U.S. has declined from 70% in 1999 to 50% in 2018).

 

WHY SO MUCH LONELINESS?

It is ironic that in this digital age when we have vastly improved modes of communication, that we would identify loneliness as a problem. Facebook’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, insists that he saw his invention as a tool by which relationships could be fostered throughout the world and help dispel feelings of loneliness and dissention, but it appears that it has done more to promote divisiveness and distrust.

 

With the invention of the telephone we gave up non-verbal cues in our conversations, and the trade-off for its convenience seemed like a good deal. Now kids have largely given up talking on their cell phones in favor of texting. Voices from the internet, news media and politicians all conspire to promote divisiveness and paranoia to the point that it is almost impossible to have a rational conversation about many of the issues of the day.

 
Today people are marrying later and living longer. As reflected in the census figures of 2012, 32 million or 27% of Americans lived alone which was up from 17% in 1970. As you might expect, widowhood is likely responsible for many single occupant households, and in another study it was found that 47% of women over the age of 75 lived alone. With aging, comes the inevitable debilities and limitations. The National Institute on Aging reports that nearly half of all people over the age of 75 have hearing loss, which can be a major impediment to any meaningful social interaction resulting in withdrawal from friends and family.

 

It has been said that Americans are losing faith in our institutions, and our political leanings are often shaped by who we hate rather than who we like. Political discourse has hit a new low. Muck raking is no longer good enough, and has been replaced by personal insults a la grade school rants. Respect for contrary opinions has now gone out of fashion. Divide and conquer is the new strategy, and a tactic that seems to have even been adopted by the news media (Matt Taibbi has written an entire book about it, called “Hate Inc.”). We lack heroes. We frequently hear the term “disenfranchised” these days, a synonym for “left out” and to be an outsider is lonely for any herd critter.

ALL IS NOT LOST (stay with me…a little break from “downer” time)

There is some evidence that there may be some efforts underway to deal with the loneliness issue. I was pleased to see a recent article in Psychiatric News suggesting that psychiatrists are focusing more on loneliness as an underlying psychiatric problem (don’t know why it took so long to figure that out). A former president of the American Psychiatric Association has suggested that assessment for loneliness be part of any evaluation or perhaps become a diagnostic category in the DSM 5 (the shrink bible). There is also a growing awareness of a worldwide suicide epidemic which most would agree loneliness all too often plays a part.  Lonely lifestyles also frequently seem to be common with mass murderers.
lonely quote

LONELINESS VS. BEING ALONE

Proximity to other people is not necessarily a solution for loneliness, for it is not unusual to feel lonely in the midst of a crowd. Obviously, some type of emotional engagement is necessary to dispel lonely feelings. Ordinary discourse involves much more than words. Unfortunately, in our digital world many of the nuances of communication are lost. Not only are the tone, rhythm, volume, and timbre involved, but there are multiple non-verbal cues which can modify or even completely change a communication. As a matter of fact, some very significant interactions may occur without any words spoken. In that vein a text hardly measures up to a face to face encounter as a means to communicate feelings.

 

Emotional tone is less relevant, for even an argument can dispel lonely feelings.
Although, until recently, there have been few attempts to measure the extent of loneliness, there is definitely a consensus among sociologists and mental health professionals that there has been a definite increase. Employers have taken note of recent research which has shown that employees are more productive when they are encouraged to interact with each other. As a consequence, in many cases the traditional office cubical arrangement has been scrapped in favor of a more open environment, teamwork is encouraged, and brief chats at the water fountain are less likely to result in a dirty look from the boss. Since most workers spend nearly half of their waking hours in the workplace such changes could be very beneficial for large segments of society.

 

GO TEAM

The needs for engagement with other humans has long been addressed by the formation of millions of organizations that bring groups of people together with myriad goals, but which also provide an opportunity to relate to others. The sense of belonging to a group is a powerful antidote to loneliness. Young people who feel neglected or alienated are more likely to join street gangs (easier to radicalize for terrorism and/or recruit for “religious” cults*). Athletic events and concerts attract millions, most of whom “show their colors” and cheer as one. One of my all-time favorite TV shows was Cheers which identified the locus of the show as the place “where everybody knows your name.” Organizations of all kinds including sports teams, military, and political groups or for that matter any group of people with a common goal make use of the need to belong which at the end of the day is an antidote to loneliness.

THEY NEED EACH OTHER

AARP sponsors a very interesting and apparently successful program called “Experience Corps” in which volunteer over 50 are enrolled in a program where they are trained to help children develop literacy skills. They spend 6 to 15 hours per week working with K-3 students with spectacular results including as much as 60% improvement in reading skills, fewer behavior problems, improved attendance, and increased graduation rates  The AARP foundation at last report had 2,000 volunteers throughout the country serving over 30,000 students. However; it appears the volunteers may be benefiting more than the kids from the program. A University of Michigan study reported a statistical decrease in depressive symptoms and functional limitations among the volunteers after two years involvement in the Experience Corps. There may also be a secondary benefit in that some kids may learn to venerate rather than denigrate us old folks. (Score 1 for the Old Farts!)

 

BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR

None of this should be interpreted as an attempt to diminish the value of solitude. Certainly, this need to relate can be overdone, and in some cases become pathological. In many cases of marital therapy, for example, too much togetherness can be identified as the problem. In testimony before Congress, Prof. Julianne Holt-Lunstad defined loneliness as ” the perceived discrepancy between one’s desired level of social connection and their actual level of social connection.”  She explained that some people who are socially isolated don’t necessarily feel lonely, and some people who are lonely are surrounded by people who make them feel more alienated.

 

One’s work may require so much contact with others that it can become oppressive, and some personalities may cause anal pain of the worst kind!  Nevertheless; before you make plans to spend the rest of your life on a deserted island or join an order of non-verbal monks, be careful what you wish for. Time-alone can be refreshing, relaxing and creative, but as with most things in life, it can be overdone. Alone can be good, but lonely can be very bad. In this time in which we are all mutually dependent, it has become even more necessary to have relationships than we did in those days when we needed help to bring down a woolly mammoth. It is difficult nowadays to survive in this world as a loner. We face enormous problems including an increased global population, competition for resources, and degradation of our environment. It is once again time for us to hang together or hang separately.

WHAT MAKES THEM TICK?

The ability of the human race to relate to each other has allowed us to survive and to thrive.  We need to exercise that talent now more than ever.  As I finished writing this, once again two hate-filled young people described as loners committed horrible atrocities within hours of each other. It goes without saying that we need to take logical steps to limit access to those instruments designed to kill people, but the prevalence of these kinds of behaviors also require us to learn more about the milieu in which they occur.  For example: are there genetic influences involved, does our society in some way generate such hatred, are certain personalities more easily recruited to violent organizations, is shyness a precursor, and finally does the hatred cause the loneliness or vice versa?  We need to understand more about how these people end up the way they are if we are to have any success at solving the problem.

The Way It Was | Part 2

Note from the editor: Click here to read Part 1 of “The Way It Was”

Conversations Overheard

There was a fringe benefit for me from the depression in that I received my first indoctrination into the ways of the world which included comprehensive discussions of politics, economics, world affairs, and morality but with a special focus on means of survival in difficult times.  My education occurred while lying on our living room floor listening to Dad and friends (not to be confused with Fox and Friends) debate all kinds of issues while they focused on possible work sites.  The men were regular visitors to our house where they met and planned strategy to find work.  It is likely that they were attracted to our house as a meeting place by Dad’s famed home brew.  Although he was not a bootlegger per se, he was known to have occasionally traded a bottle or two for some needed commodity.    I was an accomplice in the enterprise as I took great delight in placing a cap on each bottle and watching Dad press it in place. 

There must have been a robust feeling of camaraderie amongst those guys who were all in the same sinking boat.  There was laughter in spite of their dire circumstances, and there were frequently told colorful stories which without benefit of Dad’s home brew would not likely have reached my tender ears.  The coarse language was not lost on me, and was quickly incorporated into my vocabulary, the use of which would often get me in trouble.   One particularly memorable event occurred when Dad took the guys down to our cellar to show them his success of the day.  He had received a feisty old rooster in return for a day’s work, and the rooster was confined to the cellar, a small space with a dirt floor cool enough to render the beer palatable.  Someone stumbled over the pan of water left for the rooster and Dad filled it with beer.  Surprisingly, the old guy imbibed with gusto and was soon stumbling, flapping his wings, and attempting to crow in a falsetto voice.  If he was hung over in the morning it was short-lived as a few hours later he would be on a platter sharing space with some drop dumplings.

Work

In spite of the bravado most of the conversations had to do with work or rather the lack of it.  The meetings were unscheduled and men would drop in at various times during the evening with comments like “I thought I would drop in to shoot the shit.”  There were always rumors of things to come both good and bad… this place was laying off, another was going to be hiring, another business was in trouble and about to go under, etc.   In 1933 the unemployment rate is said to have been 25%, but that number does not tell the whole story.  Many who were said to be employed were actually able to work only part time.  For example, Barb recalls her Father listed as an employee at a local steel mill, but usually actually working only one day a week and sometimes sent home early even for those days.  He avoided eviction by painting houses owned by his landlord. 

One conversation in particular stands out in which one of the men who was employed at a local glass container factory said he had just come from his workplace and had been turned away.  He reported that at every shift change there were huge crowds of employees at the entrance hoping to be chosen to work that day, but few would be chosen.  He loudly and profanely complained that the foremen “suck asses” and relatives were always the first chosen to work.  Some jobs or professions previously considered ordinary were highly prized.  Postal workers, school teachers, and local government jobs were highly prized for their stability.  The lack of available cash led to a great deal of bartering, especially with farmers who had no one to whom to sell their crops.  Conversely, professionals such as doctors and lawyers along with day laborers were often paid with food (e.g. the story of the inebriated rooster).   

Civics (Yesterday’s Term for Politics)

No education is complete without lessons in civics and the down-but-not-outers were not shy about expressing their opinions in such matters which was probably enhanced by the tongue loosening effects of Dad’s beer.  There was considerable disagreement amongst the group with almost everything.  In our home Dad was registered as a Republican and Mom was a lifelong Democrat.  I have the opinion that in those days one usually belonged to the party with which they had grown up much as with they do with religion.  Dad in spite of his upbringing had experienced an epiphany: he blamed Hoover for the depression and lauded FDR’s efforts to restore the economy. 

Those on the negative side of the debate were equally vociferous in their ridicule of FDR’s “make work programs” and “socialist stuff.” There were all kinds of jokes referring to the WPA and their workers having a penchant to be seen leaning on their shovels.  With the establishment of social security in the mid- thirties the idea of government taking money out of his check (if he had one) and giving it to someone just because he got to be 65 years old did not sit well with the naysayers.  A typical analysis might go something like this: “What ever happened to the idea of saving for old age” or “If they can’t take care of themselves, they should go to the poor house” (large forbidding appearing buildings euphemistically referred to as county homes).  Families were expected to care for their elderly or infirm parents consequently; they shared in the disgrace, and were denigrated for forcing their parents to “suck on the public tit.”

The most often discussed and vilified make work program was the WPA (Works Progress Administration).  The average wage was $52 per month yet one of my uncles worked in the program until it was disbanded in the early 1940s.  During that time, he managed to raise two children with the help of his wife who was able to find work cleaning the house of an affluent neighbor.  Although largely removed from most employment opportunities, wives did find ways to contribute.  For example, Barb’s Mother did laundry in her home in spite of a childhood injury that left her crippled.  The WPA worked on infrastructure projects while the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) focused on environmental projects.  It was an organization for young men who were housed in barracks throughout the nation and paid even less.  They were best known for planting millions of trees, often in areas where logging had left a desolate landscape.  Roosevelt in announcing its formation said; “forests are the lungs of our nation.”  They also fought forest fires, worked in national parks and landmarks building roads, trails and camping facilities.  Many such projects remain in use to this day.

Philosophy 101

While listening in on those conversations from my vantage point on the living room floor I was also privy to discussions of moral issues some of which have bedeviled philosophers for eons.  For example, one evening one of the guys reported that he knew of a place where it was possible to steal casing head gas.  Although gasoline was 18 cents a gallon, he did not have 18 cents, his car was out of gas, and he couldn’t look for work. (For the unenlightened of my readership: casing head gas is formed by compression of natural gas by functioning oil wells.  It is a very low quality fuel and can cause significant damage to automobile engines.)  Since he was without the means to get there, he was attempting to recruit an accomplice.  This provoked a heated debate.  Not only was his proposal illegal there was that “thou shalt not steal” thing in the Bible for which some thought there were no exceptions.  This brought up oft delivered hypotheticals one of which was very relevant to their situation which was “would you steal food if your children were starving?”   

Keep Walking or Go to Jail

Vagrancy laws made homelessness even a greater problem than it is today for one could go to jail for “having no physical means of support.” When I looked up the origin of such laws, I was surprised to find they were written after the Civil War as as a means to get freed slaves off the street and into the chain gangs which could be rented out, a process some called a new form of slavery.  These laws were found to be useful during The Depression as a means to rid the parks and other public facilities of the homeless.  I had always wondered where all those men I used to see walking along the highways were going.  Later it became obvious that they must stay on the move or go to jail.

These were the same guys who would sometimes appear at my Grandmother’s back door offering to do work for food.  Of course, there was no expectation that work would be done.   Grandma would bring a plate out for them and after a brief repast they were on their way. Since farmers were those who were most likely to have food to spare and cops were scarce these backroads were fertile territory.   I heard stories of farmers who discovered “bums” asleep in their haymows especially during inclement weather.  Depending on the compassion of the farmer they might be awakened by the business end of a pitchfork or sent to the house for something to eat then on their way.

Many of these hoboes or bums as they were called in those days would become so enured to that lifestyle that they would spend the rest of their lives on the move never staying more that a few days in one place.  They became expert at hopping freight trains, knowing their schedules and where they slowed enough to get on them.  They often migrated with the birds following the seasons.  They eventually developed places where they could hide for a few days at a time usually close to a rail depot but far enough away to avoid the railroad police.  It is said they verbally catalogued places that were soft touches for hand-outs.  Thus, a nomadic subculture came into being demonstrating the remarkable change which can be brought about in an industrial society by an economic crisis.

An Early Exit Prevented

At some undetermined time during those preschool years I experienced life threatening incidents one of which would label my Father as an unlikely hero.  In what was probably an effort to provide food and recreation simultaneously, he had decided to take me, my brother and mother fishing probably with the hope of making a meal of our catch.  The site, called Pleasant Valley was a favorite of mine and was next to a small conclave of houses reached via a covered bridge over the Licking river.  Its only reason for existence was a Post Office situated next to a major rail line.  It was a mail distribution facility for a large part of the county, and its fascination for me was to be able to watch the train rush past at what seemed to me to be at least 100 mph, while a metal arm reached out from the mail car, dropping a bag of mail, while snatching a similar bag, and pulling it back into the car without even slowing.

Most likely, on that day I was preoccupied with the hope that the mail train would come by.  The river was high, and I recall staring at the water as it rushed by, then everything was suddenly brown.  Probably that memory remains so vivid due to fact that I would have a recurring dream of that incident for years although; such dreams were not frightening but consisted of the sensation of floating in that brown water.  I am told that Dad saw me fall into the swollen river and immediately jumped in although he could not swim.  I was told that my life was saved by a single button for I was wearing a light jacket with one button fastened and Dad reached out with one hand and was able to grasp the jacket with one hand.  He threw me upon the bank and as he was floating by, managed to grab a root growing out of the river bank and save himself.  Thanks be to God that the button held for had it not you would have been denied the joy of reading these blogs!

Editor’s Note: Stay tuned for Part 3 of The Way It Was! 

WHO CRITIQUES THE CRITICS?

The critics of the world are puzzling to me. I am puzzled not only by what they say, but how they become experts in the particular activities they critique. I have always seen myself as the possessor of normal intelligence and on good days think I may even belong on the plus side of that bell-shaped curve. But when I read some of the reviews of music, books, movies, art and even scientific articles, I realize how really stupid I must be. I often have no idea what they are talking about, and wonder if I am on the wrong page.
It reminds me of something one of my patients said when describing his former psychiatrist’s intelligence. His assessment was: “He was so smart that I could hardly understand a word he said.” I admit that I have used the big word tactic in the past hoping to impress people of my superior intellect, and with that in mind have accumulated several multi-syllabic ones which I keep in reserve for special occasions, but I could never compete with these guys in the weird word department.
Most of my exposure to critics comes from the several publications to which I subscribe (and sometimes even read). Much of human behavior can be explained in my opinion by our origins as herd animals, and to be a good member of the herd one must follow the leader or in this case the expert. As a relatively compliant human I tend to take seriously the critics’ recommendations, but often find their assessment so far from mine that I have difficulty touting it to others. All is not lost in those situations for it gives me the opportunity to let my audience know that I am well read and something of a connoisseur myself. If that is well received I may even launch an attack on the critic.
Their in-depth analyses especially of artistic stuff runs so deep that I often find myself drowning. It has been said that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, and I suppose that also applies to ugliness. For example, the music that is pleasing to my grandchildren is experienced by me as simply loud and irritating noise. This would not likely result in an objective review by me of the latest hip hop or rap song. In like fashion, my parents were turned off by the swing music of the ’40s and ’50s with which I grew up.

Art: Ugly or Genius?

Nowhere is the critic more likely to wax poetic than when reviewing visual art. For me a painting for example is either pleasing or not, but these guys find hidden meanings which continue to be invisible to me even after they point them out. I am very fond of the impressionists who were the “Polly-Annas”  of the art world in that they chose to enhance the beauty of things they portrayed. I do realize that ugly has a legitimate placed in the art world. If the purpose of art is to elicit emotions, then art can be a powerful tool which forces us to face the world’s ugliness. Unfortunately, it appears to me that much art that is ugly was not intended to be so, nevertheless it may be taken by some critics to be a mark of genius. It has occurred to me that were Picasso to have shown up in an art therapy session in my hospital and do his cubism thing, I would have set about forming a plan of treatment for his psychosis.
Could this be yet another example of the “Tail Wagging the Dog?”

The better-known critics have a great deal of power. A favorable review from a big-time critic can put a starving artist into a much higher tax bracket, or conversely send him looking for a low paying day job. Many critics become celebrities in their own right. I can only imagine how many wannabes would gladly suck up to an art critic from the New York Times. Likewise, a visit from one of these gurus must be a major coup for a gallery owner. With all this influence available could it be that this is another example of the tail wagging the dog? Are the ever-changing fads in art due to boredom with the status quo or simply another instance of follow the leader?
Poetry: Schizophrenic Word Salad or Genius?

Perhaps the most glaring example of my literary deficiency lies in the inability to understand much of contemporary poetry. Admittedly, when it comes to poetry, I am a simple-minded person of the roses are red, violets are blue category. However, I recently inadvertently read a rave review of a book of poetry and subsequently happened on one of the poems in that collection. It reminded me of the “word salad” sometimes heard from those who suffer from a severe form of schizophrenia. The alleged profound thoughts these words were to elicit never reached my brain. It probably sounds heretical to many, but I can’t help wondering if I am really missing something or if these guys are just blowing smoke.
Art: The Language of Feelings

As you might expect, an old-fashioned guy like me is a big fan of Robert Frost. I must have been in junior high school when I first read his classic “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” After all these years I am amazed at how it still takes me to that place and time, and leaves me in that snowy place for a minute or so. Were I a critic, I might describe the last three lines of the poem (“I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep “) as a metaphor for life, but I choose to simply luxuriate in the feelings the poem elicits. When I attempt to define those feelings, I am at a loss for words, but perhaps that is what art is all about i.e. the language of feelings.

 

Music

Music is another category of which I am blissfully ignorant. Having flunked out of a couple of attempts to learn to play a musical instrument, I am vaguely aware of the complexities involved, and have the greatest respect for musicians of all stripes not only for their talent but dedication and work ethic. Nevertheless; since I am unencumbered by enough knowledge to analyze music I am left free to either enjoy or abhor it

Movies

When it comes to movie critics, my favorite hands down was the Siskel and Ebert TV show which lasted nearly 25 years. These two guys who must have spent most of their waking hours watching movies presented their opinions of current movies. The interesting part was that they frequently and sometimes violently disagreed in their critiques. Their debates demonstrated that pronouncements by experts are by definition subjective.
Where the Critics Really Shine: Scientific Literature

None of this is meant to diminish the value of critics for we are in need of those who can sort through the massive amounts of information dumped on us, and make recommendations. Nowhere are critics not only important but essential than in scientific literature.  Studies are often very complex and beyond our ability to understand.  Fortunately, there are always other scientists familiar with the subject at hand who are passionate about the pursuit of truth, eager to examine the data, and study the design and conclusions.

The Undiscovered Geniuses are Waiting…

No matter the subject scrutinized, it behooves us to remember that that in most cases such critiques are only opinions, and one should not close their mind to other possibilities. Undoubtedly, there are many undiscovered geniuses among us. What a tragedy if there were a Michelangelo or Shakespeare out there somewhere lost in the crowd.

P. S.To the best of my knowledge there are no blog critics active as yet, but if you happen to be one please be merciful.

LEST WE FORGET

In a previous blog I mentioned our local newspaper, and recounted “the good old days” when our small town had three competing daily papers. I subsequently made a number of disparaging remarks about our one remaining paper which was purchased some time ago by Gannett. Nevertheless, my day usually begins with a cup of coffee and a perusal of the Times Recorder. It doesn’t take long. The front page usually has some local human-interest story which I don’t find very interesting so I usually proceed to page 2 and the obituaries which is the real reason I continue to subscribe to the thing.

WHY THIS SUBJECT?
Barb insists that it is absolutely morbid that I choose obituaries as the subject of this blog, but I feel it is both important and timely. Long before he had reached my present age, my Father wrote his and my Mother’s obituaries. He was always one who liked to be in control and I am sure he did not have much faith in anyone getting it right. Regardless of his motivation, it turned out to be a blessing for we survivors.

As you may have surmised motivation for my daily obituary searches has much to do with the fact that at my age I now see more familiar names on page 2 than I have in the past. Indeed, my contemporaries are dying at an alarming rate. I have no plans to write my obituary as we have an experienced obituary writer in the family. Before leaving for less green but more lucrative pastures in the big city, Maggie was in charge of obituaries for the TR (don’t you hate acronyms?). She tells me it is standard practice to assign that job to cub reporters, which says much about journalistic priorities.

BORING!!!
Sadly, most obituaries are boring recitations which are little more than death notices which say little more than when and where he or she was born and died along with a brief chronicle of their life with a focus on their occupation. This is followed by a list of family members living and dead, and information about funeral arrangements. It does appear to me that those traditions are gradually being swept away as I see many instances in which there is only a graveside service restricted to family members, but that’s another story. For many families cost may be a factor in the length of obituaries as they usually charge per line of type. In larger cities it is much more expensive. For example, the New York Times charges $263 for the first 4 lines and $52 for each subsequent line. Each line contains only 28 characters and is printed in very small (7 point type).
WORTH REMEMBERING
In spite of the brevity of the average obituary in our paper there are some which give hints as to the nature of the subject’s life. Just this morning I read the obit of a 96 year old woman and found the loving portrait inspiring. She was said to have had a “long well-lived life.” She was described as a “feisty woman who lived life to the fullest and enjoyed the thrill of playing slot machines.” She also enjoyed her grandchildren, great grandchildren and great great grandchildren. She had worked in a factory all her adult life and attended church which was “just up the road from where she was born.” Most important was the statement “She was a loving woman who will be missed by family and friends throughout Morgan and Perry counties.” In my opinion, to be missed allows one’s life to continue in others’ thoughts; consequently no one wants to be forgotten.

FORGETTABLE
Throughout history it has been important to immortalize our heroes with statues and other icons so they will continue to inspire us, and not be forgotten. It is also not unusual for the living to build their own monuments. Likewise, it is common for people to prescribe in detail the hymns to be sung, the burial method and even the entire process of the funeral with the possible exception of the eulogy. This is done in spite of the realization that they will not be a witness to the festivities. In the old days one could easily identify the most affluent buried in the graveyard by the size of their gravestone. Now modern cemeteries are devoid of monuments expressly to be more egalitarian, but coincidently eliminating impediments to mowing the grass.

In spite of our best efforts, we will in all probability soon be forgotten. The odds of our being remembered for longer than a couple of generations is probably much less than winning the power-ball jackpot. Millions have gone before you and failing extinction of the species millions will follow. You will need to be very, very famous to stick out in such a crowd. Even a famous blogger is not likely to make the cut. Although your name will be recorded in various places you will have been long forgotten until someone encounters your name as they work on their genealogy, and they will wonder what it would have been like to-know you.

FAVORITE OBITS
It is true that obituaries have a certain utilitarian value in that they not only announce the death but list those to whom you might want to send a sympathy card, provide the time and place of the funeral, etc., but I find little information which would help me to know the person. There have been some examples in which anecdotal information has provided me with an idea as to a person’s identity, and a feeling that I would like to have known them. One such case was a single statement in an otherwise generic obit of an elderly woman as follows: “Edna’s family gathered at her home for Sunday dinner at 1 o’clock every week for over 60 years and welcomed all guests with open arms. Edna will be remembered for her peach-pecan and pumpkin pies, noodles, and birthday cakes, her patience, kindness, and unwavering and unconditional love for others, and most of all, her heart of gold.” In the annals of motherhood, it is difficult to imagine anyone topping that record of nurturing. I felt as if I would like to have known Edna. Maybe I could even have wrangled an invitation to Sunday dinner.
My all-time favorite obituary was one which kept me laughing. It was written by a daughter who began with a quest for anyone interested in dinner plates. It turned out that her mother had been a collector of all kinds of different items, including dinner plates, and the daughter was overwhelmed. She went on to describe all her mother’s quirks in a most loving and tender but funny way. It was my all time favorite and I consider it a masterpiece. I tried to save it, but since we have a rule in this house to never lose anything unless it is important it has disappeared.
WHY THE IMPORTANCE
For those of us who will not have a bronze likeness in the courthouse square, our obituary will be the most lasting chronicle of our lives. It will probably be written or directed by someone who loved us and thus emphasize our better natures providing a template for living a full life. Obituaries remind us of our mortality which is not always a bad thing as such awareness can be a powerful motivator.
Obituaries have been with us since Roman times but as print media is replaced by the internet, obituaries are likely to follow suite. One such example is “The Blog of Death” written by Jade Walker who was formerly a chronicler of the deaths of the rich and famous in the New York Times. She was also hailed for producing a publication of the obits for all the victims of the nine eleven attacks. She describes her blog as: “…featuring the famous, infamous and interesting unknowns.” Undoubtedly, major newspapers will continue to publish obituaries deemed newsworthy. One often cited example is the Los Angeles Times preparation of Elizabeth Taylor’s obituary two years before her death presumably in order to be ready for the great event. Ironically, the person who wrote it died before it was published.
With the demise of local newspapers throughout the country, I assume that their archives containing millions of obituaries will be lost. There are organizations which profess to have access to nearly a century of published obituaries; however I am not sure how that is done, e.g., do they simply access newspaper archives? For most of us our obituary is all that remains of us to be remembered for longer than a few years.

SAVED BY THE CLOUD
As Jade Walker points out, the internet provides opportunity to include pictures, personal anecdotes, and experiences which could allow us to relate to lives that are gone. In an era when there is data available to unravel the human genome, keep track of who and where we are, who we talk to, and what we buy, it does not seem unreasonable to catalog obituaries. Perhaps the information could be managed by the Library of Congress, and the millions of wondrous stories which are now literally buried could be available for all to see. It could even contain the recipe for Edna’s peach-pecan pie

THE SMARTEST GUY “He’s so smart, I didn’t understand a word he said.”

Editor’s Note: Due to my ability to type really fast, one of my first jobs was to use the Dictaphone at my dad’s office to type information dictated by the psychiatrists. I would use my foot to press the peddle that played the tape and type along as they spoke. I typed letters to consulting physicians and articles they wrote for publications. I remember being surprised at my dad’s vast vocabulary. He certainly didn’t use those fancy words in the office or at home. When I discussed this perplexing issue with my dad, I learned two lessons that have stuck with me my entire life. 1) Don’t use a dollar word when a dime one will do. 2) Know your audience and communicate in the language they speak. One of our running family quotes is part of this blog post: “Doc, he was so smart I didn’t understand a word he said.”

THE SMARTEST GUY 
My Grandson gave me an interesting book for Christmas. This is not a book review so the title is not important. Suffice it to say, it has to do with some theological issues which he and I had discussed in the past, and in particular a “doubting Thomas” streak owned by me. There was much food for thought, some of which was not very digestible.
The author was obviously well read as there were 53 pages of references cited. It was well written; although I found some of the reasoning a bit convoluted. It was a tedious read for me, but I must confess that I also have trouble deciphering the Bible. All of the quotes the author offered throughout the book often added to my confusion. I am sure those guys are all very famous; however I had never heard of most of them. The author would make his point then throw in a “in the words of……….” which was not nearly as coherent as his original statement. Perhaps he was only paying homage to the experts in his field, but I was impressed that he must be a speed reader to have read all that stuff. I was also surprised to learn that Christianity could be so complicated. 
As I read the book, I was reminded of an experience from many years ago. I was seeing a patient for the first time. His was a chronic, although not disabling condition, which had been exacerbated by the unexpected death of his psychiatrist. He talked warmly of his feelings for the deceased, and shared that he missed his counsel. He also spoke of his respect for the man’s intelligence with: “Dr………. was the smartest man I ever knew. He was so smart that when he said something I couldn’t understand a word he said.”
Now all these years later, I can identify with this patient’s assessment of the good doctor’s intelligence for some of the guys quoted in the aforementioned book were much too smart for me to understand. You may be thinking that the alternate explanation might be that I am too stupid to understand, a conclusion that I am loath to accept. After all, I did manage to limp through 24 years of school even though my scholastic career was admittedly undistinguished. My mother proudly said that I knew my ABCs, and could count to 100 by the time I entered the first grade. I have a vivid memory of my father showing my third grade report card to everyone in Varner’s store who would look. Even though this was the first and last time he would be able to exhibit a report card with all A’s, I feel it should count for something. 
There is the possibility of another less flattering explanation, which could help explain the comprehension problem. I have a friend whom I have always admired for his scholarship. His writings demonstrate a vast knowledge of classical literature, history, philosophy and classical music. He is also a veritable expert in psychoanalytic theory. His writings make use of metaphor and relevant quotes. Imagine my surprise when in my confessions of envy for his use of all this knowledge in his writings, his wife responded, “I think it is just showing off.” Perhaps she was having a bad day or he had forgotten to take out the trash, for she has shown her love for him in many ways during the many years they have been together.
The comment by my friend’s spouse does raise the question as to whether our writings are often more about ourselves than the subject about which we are writing. Could it be that sometimes the message intended may be corrupted by our ego needs? How much of the motivation of this author’s writings were motivated by a need to “show off”? For that matter does that same dynamic have anything to do with my writing of this paper. I have often said in jest that I would like to be rich and famous. Since the former has escaped me, perhaps I am still holding out for the latter. But then I have also had fantasies of winning the $1.5 billion power ball thing; even though I have never bought a ticket. 

When I was a kid we sometimes perpetrated cruel party jokes designed to humiliate and embarrass. One such stunt involved telling a joke with a nonsense punch line. The group who was in on the joke would laugh loudly, and the butt of the joke would join in the laughter even though there was nothing remotely funny. We called such tactics “shaggy dog stories.” I must admit there are times when I feel I have nodded in agreement with someone when I had no idea what they were talking about, much as the patient who idolized his dead psychiatrist must have done. 
There are times when reading something that is clearly beyond my abilities to grasp, I wonder if I am the victim of a shaggy dog story, and that the author is having a good laugh at my expense. The most recent example is my attempt to wade through a book on quantum mechanics. I was humbled by my inability to make any sense of that stuff. Upon learning that the book was written for ordinary people like myself left my ego was left in shreds. This was not Greek to me. It was more like a mixture of Mandarin Chinese, Arabic and Apache indian. What I could decipher was so implausible that I found myself thinking “can this person be serious?” and again wondering if this was not a variation on the shaggy dog theme. 
It has been said the best defense against Alzheimer’s and similar dementias is to make liberal use one’s brain. All intellectual pursuits are encouraged, but I have noted that this can clearly be overdone. I submit that a brain can also become fatigued; consequently, I will now put down my book on particle physics, fire up my kindle, and escape to a mindless mystery novel.