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GUEST POST by Nelson Borelli, MD: Steve Jobs, the Unpious-In-Chief 02/22/2013

Posted by ALT in Guest Post, Philosophy/Spirituality.
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Steve Jobs, RIP.


Steve Jobs transferred the natural piety for his body to his idol, the computer.

(For the thinker: just the above; for the curious: my two bits, below.)

Natural Piety

Piety is a disposition and behavior that is based on the recognition and respect of nature. Nature is what is outside of me (that is the metaphysical me, or “I”, — as in “I am”).

A person’s physical body is part of nature. My body is not me. “God gave me my body in stewardship, and God will take it away when God should so decide” is a helpful metaphor to understand that my body is not me, that it is part of nature. My body is outside me, separate from me.

The same metaphor suggests that I have to take good care of my body (maintenance and repairs) to best profit from its capabilities. Think of this: I own my body as I own my horse (or automobile); the care of either is very important to my living. Yet the care of my body is more important than the care of my horse, because if my body dies I cannot replace it.

My body is, by far, my most important possession. It is a most respectable tool because it allows me to live. There is no tool in the world that could serve me better than my body, not even the most sophisticated computer or robots could do it (they cannot tell the love in a woman’s eyes or the perfect doneness of a paella).


Steve Jobs, the super technocrat, ignored the scientifically based medical technology when his body started to have trouble. The scientific method (widely recognized as the best predictor of outcome) demands objective observation of nature, a pious posture, and many other things. Unpiously, Steve Jobs went into the world of mystical treatments for his illness until it was too late for formal medicine to help him.

Steve Jobs’ (pseudo) piety was to the machine. He venerated the machine as a religious fanatic would. At the cost of his life.

Yes, Steve Jobs was the Unpious-in-Chief of modern time.

His enormous, superb, technical skills and charisma greatly enhanced the contemporary idolatry of material things. Material objects — machines, computers — can be very useful in pursuit of human projects, provided we do not ignore nature, piously.

Steve Jobs’ tragic end may stand as a metaphor for the way we seem to be going on this planet. Let us think about that metaphor, for what it represents may be Steve’s best legacy to us.

Nelson Borelli, MD

(Mailed to Apple Corporate Headquarters 2/22/2013)

Poison Spreads — Creative Maladjustment is the Antidote! 01/14/2013

Posted by ALT in Activism, Patient Rights and Advocacy, Philosophy/Spirituality.
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Martin_Luther_King_Jr_NYWTSOn September 1, 1967, Martin Luther King, Jr. was invited to give a Distinguished Address to the American Psychological Association. The speech was in proofs for publication in the Journal of Social Issues when King was assassinated less than a year later.

[Read full speech here.]

“Our struggle for human freedom and dignity”

This was how Martin Luther King, Jr. referred to his work.

That struggle hasn’t ended!

Human dignity is trampled with every instance of dehumanization. Institutions (like public schools and the mental health system) are inherently dehumanizing, because they expect humans to behave like machines.

Human intelligence and thought are reduced down to standardized test scores. Human behavior is reduced down to the physical interplay between neurotransmitters (and perhaps a few “bad genes” as well), and subsequently blasted into oblivion with harsh chemical interventions.

What does it mean to be human? Humans are flesh and blood, soul and spirit – not machines. Humans have emotions and feelings. They have agency. Unlike a computer program, which has no choice but to follow each and every command given – even a command to self destruct – a human has free will, and can exercise it in his own interest (whatever that may be).

Beware anyone who tells you that a human – or any part contained therein – is a machine.

Poisoned to its soul

“White America needs to understand that it is poisoned to its soul by racism,” says King. “All too many white Americans are horrified not with conditions of Negro life but with the product of these conditions – the Negro himself.”

Transpose these words to the current state of mental health care in our society, and see the astounding insight here. Psychiatry is poisoned to its very soul – most of the self-proclaimed “soul healers” have abandoned their connection to the soul entirely, opting instead for the biochemical model of mental and emotional distress. And most of the treatments they offer are – literally – brain disabling, poisonous.

How many more stories do we need to hear of triumph over psychiatric adversity – of painstaking years spent withdrawing from medications that, in the long term, made distress chronic, and can bring with them a host of adverse effects far worse than the original distress ­– before we’ve heard enough? As inspiring as it is to hear about resilience and recovery, I anxiously await the day when there are no more stories like this to tell. When trauma is not a necessary part of each and every individual’s initiation into this society.

It gets worse. You see, poison spreads.

Did you think it could be compartmentalized? It cannot.

American society needs to understand that it is poisoned to its very soul – toxins in our environment, in our food, our water. Toxic consumerism, greed, and waste.  Glamorized violence and a worship of death permeating every aspect of our culture.

Most of all, the poison of dehumanization – everywhere.

Nearly every human being, for the first 18 years of his life, is sentenced to serve time in a dehumanizing institution that is practically indistinguishable from a prison.

What do we teach in our schools today? How to read uncritically, how to ask only the questions written in the discussion section at the end of the chapter, how to assign only the meanings we are supposed to assign. In general, how to be remarkably incurious about many topics in history, science, economics, mathematics, etc.

But these are really secondary. Here are the primary lessons:

How to rank by numbers. How to judge, badger, and bully your fellow man.

How it feels to be constantly surveilled, subjected to random drug tests and unwarranted searches, how to grovel before police dogs and armed guards.

The Seven-Lesson School Teacher, by John Taylor Gatto.

This is only the beginning. It goes on, through adult life. Especially for the unfortunates who live out their adult lives with institutions like the mental health system, the justice system, the social services system, etc. watching their every move.

And we as a society are horrified, not by the conditions of institutionalized life, but by its products: dehumanized, distressed individuals who are angry, and rightfully so!

Creative Maladjustment

Here is how King’s speech ended:

There are some things in our society, some things in our world, to which we should never be adjusted. There are some things concerning which we must always be maladjusted if we are to be people of good will. We must never adjust ourselves to racial discrimination and racial segregation. We must never adjust ourselves to religious bigotry. We must never adjust ourselves to economic conditions that take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few. We must never adjust ourselves to the madness of militarism, and the self-defeating effects of physical violence… And through such creative maladjustment, we may be able to emerge from the bleak and desolate midnight of man’s inhumanity to man, into the bright and glittering daybreak of freedom and justice.

“Maladjustment” may not be a popular word these days. It is said that Adam Lanza was “maladjusted.”

But society has also judged as “maladjusted” people like Sandy Loranger, a Santa Cruz woman who went to jail for feeding soup to homeless people. When the judge offered her counseling instead of jail Sandy Loranger replied, “If feeding my fellow man is a crime, I am beyond rehabilitation.”

People like David Oaks and Mary Ellen Copeland, who started talking about real, long-lasting, stable, unmedicated recoveries from so-called schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, long before it was even considered scientifically possible.

People like Martin Luther King, Jr. himself, who knew that poison spreads and that injustice cannot be compartmentalized.

As I looked at what this war [Vietnam] was doing to our nation I found it necessary to speak vigorously out against it. There are those who tell me that I should stick with civil rights, and stay in my place. I can only respond that I have fought too hard and long to end segregated public accommodations to segregate my own moral concerns. It is my deep conviction that justice is indivisible, that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere

On some positions cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?!’ Expediency asks the question, ‘Is it politic?’ Vanity asks the question, ‘Is it popular?’ But conscience must ask the question, ‘Is it right?!’ And there comes a time when one must take a stand that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular. But one must take it because it is right. And that is where I find myself today.

Taking a stand that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but RIGHT: this is the kind of positive creative maladjustment we’re talking about.

Taking a stand for human dignity. A stand for humanity.

From the MindFreedom website: David W. Oaks is a psychiatric survivor who has been given labels such as schizophrenic, bipolar, schizophreniform, clinical depression. He is holding a copy of the American Psychiatric Association's book of psychiatric labels. David directs MindFreedom International and is a human being!

 Are we ready enough – are we “crazy” enough – to take on, in a peaceful loving creative way – what is called “normal”?

David W. Oaks



GUEST POST: Psychiatry and its Tragedy, by Nelson Borelli, M.D. 12/19/2012

Posted by ALT in Guest Post, Philosophy/Spirituality.
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I am honored to present another guest post from reform-minded (former) psychiatrist Dr. Nelson Borelli.  His website and manifesto are well worth reading, and the thoughts he puts forth here about moral agency and psychiatry come at a very important moment in the national dialogue about these topics.


By Nelson Borelli, M.D.

ALT_mentalities kindly invited me to write a critique on the practice of psychiatry.  I accepted it with reluctance for several reasons.

First: There is not much original thought I can add to the matter after the monumental contribution of many others, Thomas S. Szasz and Karl Menninger in particular.
Second:  Psychiatry,— and I will use that word to include psychiatry and other enterprises such as clinical psychology, social work and all “therapies,” and most respective practitioners — are faith-based organizations, not open to rational thinking and dialogue, let alone change.
Third: History seems to show that critiques to psychiatry are perceived as callous attacks to “science”, to psychiatry practitioners, and to the “mentally ill.” This is usually followed by the hardening of the faith and more closing of the thinking.

Yet I’ll try; the youthful vitality of ALT_mentalities inspires me.

Saving the Underdog

Psychiatry’s tragic course began in the sixteenth century when the political rulers lined up for execution of a woman because she was a “witch.” But a well-connected doctor saved her life by showing she was a sick woman, not a witch. The doctor was Johann Weyer. His deed was certainly good but the reason was bad. That saving-the-underdog became a tragedy of unlimited proportions. After half millennia the tragedy is still with us and it is growing.
The “witches’ law” was wrong then; many social intolerance laws are wrong now. Bad laws should be confronted morally, politically, because that is what they are. They are manmade laws.

Confronting them by “biological-disease” means results in tragedy. The heroic “biological”, medical shortcut is bad. It has built-in badness because it results in bad consequences for the hero (psychiatry) while the moral problems remain unresolved.

Visitors from another planet would be sympathetic to us in learning about our seemingly unsolvable moral problems: When does life begin in the unborn child? Is it permissible to unplug life-supporting equipment from the terminally ill? If so when? Is abortion permissible and if so when and in what circumstances? Should we abolish the death penalty in the USA? Do children have rights? If so what rights, at what age? Do we go for gun control or the Second Amendment? What are the boundaries between Personal and State rights? Et cetera.

Contemporary psychiatry is suffering the bad consequences of the heroic acts of “saving-the-underdog.” Psychiatry is discredited. Self paying patients are fewer and fewer. Third-party payers refuse to pay for “services.” The only thing that keeps the psychiatric industry alive is the state-sponsored/enforced “mental illness/mental treatment” dictum. Nor has the psychiatric industry’s “stigma” cry been working well either.

It is an unnecessary, self- inflicted tragedy, to put it mildly, (for the profit factor cannot be ignored). Psychiatry could be of help to the many folks who suffer from emotional problems. Psychiatry could have room in medicine as a (soft) branch of it. Although the causes and pathology of emotional problems remain obscure, they could continue to be investigated by scientists interested in the field. Emotional problems could be dealt with by professionals who are patient enough to deal (humbly) with diagnoses’ uncertainties by using trial-and-error techniques.

There are already some significant scientific contributions on the relationship between bodily physiology and the perception of emotional reactions. Psychoanalysis and related disciplines have also contributed to the understanding of human emotional conditions. Even the dreadful, drug-pushing, disease-manufacturing pharmaceutical industry has made some contributions. However limited the knowledge of psychiatry at present, there is room within medicine and related disciplines for a respectable Psychiatry specialty.

But that would require present day psychiatry to drop the “mental-illness” ideology.

Psychiatry & Moral Agency

At the core of the “mental illness” ideology is the notion that a person can lose moral agency, this is that the person is no longer able to know what he/she likes or dislikes, or is not able to form and execute (“correct”) personal opinions due to a “biological ill condition.” That is that the person has become “mentally ill.”

That is wrong.

The fact is that humans’ opinions cannot be (biologically) ill. This is a travesty with terrible consequences such as the deprivation of civil rights to citizens who have not committed any crimes.

A court of law may order involuntary psychiatric treatment, known as “Civil Commitment” for a “mentally ill” person. Although the large majority of the “mentally ill” persons are not subjected to involuntary treatment, all “mental Illness” diagnoses suggest possible Civil Commitment, that is, deprivation of personhood.

The fact is that psychiatry is not able to predict criminal behavior on a given person. No legally responsible psychiatrist would publicly state to what percentage of probability a person would act criminally because there is no publication of any scientifically conducted study that objectively demonstrates such a prediction.

Human opinions can be wrong, or right, with respect to a prevailing social code of ethics. A quick look at the history of humans’ opinions shows that even very “important” opinions, come and go. Examples: The learned ones used to sure the Earth was flat. Now the learned ones differ as to whether humans were created or evolved. These are human opinions; they may be errors. But they are not forms of “insanity” or “mental illnesses.” Incidentally, the utterance “sick opinion/belief” is only a pejorative metaphor, an unfortunate metaphor because it is often used literally.

Unfortunately (or fortunately) we humans were born without a God-given “user’s- book.”  If we were we might be angels of God like Adam and Eve were before they CHOSE to eat the apple.

Ever since, we are born with the ability to choose. We are born to be on our own stewardship.

One may or may not choose to use the Biblical story, but the fact is that each one of us is ultimately responsible for the management of our lives. We have to manage our lives by the use of science or inspiration and hope for the best. No guarantee of success.

Be aware of false “saviors” such as psychiatry that offer you the “the brain-made-you-do-it” way out as a means of angelic tranquility. If you go for it you become a robot; a Mental Patient Green Card carrier, with entitlements but deprived of personal moral agency.

Personal Moral Agency

Personal moral agency means that one is born with the ability to know, choose and act in accordance to what one thinks is right. Just in case: What you think is right may not be what others think is right.

Psychiatry did not get a “users’ book” from God either. Psychiatrists’ opinions on persons’ life management can be wrong, very wrong! Psychiatrist Egas Moniz won the 1949 Nobel Prize on the “benefits” of lobotomy on “psychotic patients.”

How to manage your life? Simple: Each of us gets information, input, from the world around us and from our own bodies. It’s up to each of us to look, examine, re-examine the information, look for more information and consult with others as needed. Then we reason. Then we act, execute. The more we work on the information, particularly information-that-I-do-not-want-to-know, and do the reasoning, the greater the chance that we would be pleased with our acts or execution at a later date. Of course there is no guarantee that we would be pleased with our acts at a later day. We humans are not perfect, period.

The more one practices on information gathering and reasoning, the greater the chances to be content with our acts at a future date. Unfortunately, just too often people choose to delegate to others the information gathering and reasoning. In so doing, they dull their minds; this is the ability-to-mind. Minding is an inborn ability. However, the quality of minding depends on how much we practice it.

The tragedy of psychiatry will eventually end in the same way other tragedies ended: the death of the hero. In this case, the “mental illness” heroic attempt to “solve” humans’ moral problems.

Good, serious psychiatry is badly needed. But even more needed is for us to get in touch with, to honor and respect our precious minds and humanness.

Doing community-level healing RIGHT 11/12/2012

Posted by ALT in Historical Context, Philosophy/Spirituality, Survivor Voices.
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Can you see it? Do you see the gaping soul wound in our society? It has many facets, myriad layers: the valorization of death and abuse,* promulgated through supposedly “light-hearted” entertainment for mass consumption. The unstoppable drive to commodify everything  — let no space remain private, let nothing remain free of a price-tag (the death of the personal, priceless life). The indiscriminate psychiatric drugging (forced, if necessary) of children, adults, anyone who doesn’t quite “fit” into a highly artificial consensual reality designed to free us of any and all moral qualms so that we might give ourselves up fully to the consumerist frenzy, human cost be damned. We wander, drunk on possessions and electric lights, more and more oblivious to the world of the simple, human.

Death, everywhere.

Another example: the “Bodies” Exhibition (circa 2006) displayed human cadavers — several of them executed Chinese political prisoners — stripped down to various organ systems for our collective enjoyment/entertainment.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that this country was built on a consciously planned and mercilessly executed genocide spread over several generations. And today we see a significant portion of our economy – our livelihoods, our lives — built on the production of killing machines.

Were we as a society foolish enough to think there would be no consequences for placing death above life?

I believe we are in need of healing. On a vast, societal level (that also acknowledges and encompasses the small, local level – right down to the individual). I think that healing needs to address several centuries’ worth of pent-up, intergenerational trauma sustained by the many peoples of this land, and the land itself. It would also have to address some of the mechanized institutions of ongoing wounding (for private profit, for the advancement of state power, etc.) whose actions are so very widespread these days.

To fully accomplish the level of healing required will likely take something or someone truly extraordinary. Perhaps, as John Perry suggested, we are in need of a visionary or two that can show us the way.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t get started without him!

Getting started: One example of a seriously inspiring community-level healing project


Sand Creek, CO was the site of one of the numerous cold-blooded massacres carried out against Native American peoples. In this case, about 160 Cheyenne and Arapaho women, children, and elders were gunned down by US cavalrymen in what had been designated as a “safe camp” in 1864. As a recent Boulder newspaper article stated, “the gruesome killing and depraved mutilation of people’s bodies that occurred at Sand Creek are unparalleled in U.S. military history. Reports of the slaughter horrified the nation and a Congressional investigation condemned the massacre, but no one was punished. Colorado landmarks honor the perpetrators: Evans, Chivington, Downing, Nichols.”

The Restorative Justice movement teaches us that everyone involved in a crime or injustice (victims, perpetrators, and the community of people whose lives are touched and altered) needs healing and must participate in the healing process.

…How does healing happen? The Arapaho and Cheyenne peoples themselves initiated a process 14 years ago…  Over this month’s Thanksgiving holiday, Cheyenne and Arapaho runners will complete a 170-mile Spiritual Healing Run/Walk from the Sand Creek Massacre site to Denver.

– from a Boulder news article about the event

I love everything about this healing project. First of all, it takes time – they’ve been doing it every year for the past 14 years. And though they’ve made some amazing progress (remains of Sand Creek Massacres victims being held by several museums and national parks were repatriated in 2008), the work is far from over, and each year the healing process is renewed.

This event sets aside the passive identity of “victim” and allows human beings affected by this tragedy to take on agency and work together for healing. There’s a role here for everyone – Native and non-native alike. In 2008, the organizers even chose to stage the event in honor of a non-native, Army Captain Silas Soule who refused to shoot unarmed people at Sand Creek, brought the atrocity to light, and even testified against his commanding officer.

Spiritual healing walkers’ and runners’ triumphal entry into Denver last year.** (photo by: Leah Millis, Denver Post)

This is not some kind of branded marketing scheme, a pink-washed “awareness run” a la Race for the Cure.  It is something much deeper. Cheyenne and Arapaho leaders have stated, “The Sand Creek Massacre Spiritual Healing Run/Walk is a prayer. It is not a race. It is a commemoration for the victims and survivors of the massacre, and for healing ancestral homelands.”  A conscious and intentional effort towards real, spiritual healing.

A call to Boulder residents puts it this way:

Through ceremony, remembrance, prayer, honoring, and running, the Cheyenne and Arapaho peoples seek healing. Will we meet them on this healing path? We cannot change history, but we can seek to build honest, healthy relationships in our time, in this place.

*more on that here.

**more pictures from last year’s event can be viewed here.

A culture unaware of itself 09/17/2012

Posted by ALT in Alternative Lifestyles, Historical Context, Philosophy/Spirituality.
Tags: , , , ,

I recently came across a book entitled Learning Native Wisdom: What Traditional Cultures Teach Us about Subsistence, Sustainability, and Spirituality, by Gary Holthaus.  Did you ever spend years of your life unknowingly waiting for someone to come along, the person who had the key in his pocket and would effortlessly open doors long closed to you, just by being himself? 

That’s what this book is to me. 

Here’s a little bit of what I’ve learned:
[excerpts from the book in italics]

We are a subsistence culture

We [Americans] are as dependent on the land as any traditional people ever were. We may not see ourselves as such, but our frantic hunt for the last barrel of oil is not a metaphor but is very real hunting and very real gathering… Our culture is a subsistence culture unaware of itself.

…we all live in a subsistence relationship to the land, every economy regardless of cash, credit, stocks, or other media for the exchange of goods and values, is but one part of a subsistence life based upon what the land has to offer.

Subsistence – far more than economics

Subsistence is not an economic system, mere “hunting, fishing, and berry picking.”  It is not a somehow inferior “level” that others (unlike our superior selves) live on — the poverty level, the subsistence level.  Subsistence is a complete, holistic way of life. 

Native people see subsistence as a base upon which an entire culture establishes its identity: philosophy, ethics, religious belief and practice, art, ritual, ceremony, and celebration, law, the development and adaptation of a variety of technologies, and an educational system that will ensure the survival of the people.  All fall within the realm of subsistence…  Subsistence, then, is not an economic system, nor a matter of numbers of fish and game harvested in the course of a season; it is a matter of worldview.

A fundamental understanding of the relationship and reciprocity between humans and the natural world (all my relations), explored through ritual, art, and philosophy.  A subsistence lifestyle is a life filled with meaning.

It is my right to choose my own meaning, no matter what the various institutions hoping to profit off my life’s blood have to say about it.  Endless consumption as the means and the end?  If I can resist it, in part or in whole, then NO!

Here is the meaning I seek – two feet planted firmly on the ground, the Earth, and a heart that beats in concert with others.  Simplicity, frugality, wholesomeness, from the moment I awaken to endless possibility, to the moment I close my eyes on a day-well-done. 

No more pollution!  The actual pollution of the Earth, yes, but there is so much more.  Genetic manipulation of our food (are there any pure landraces of maize left?).  The pollution of our language, a thousand new Orwellian words to make beautiful vagaries out of what is clearly hypocrisy and lies. The pollution of basic moral and ethical codes, until there is nothing under the sun which has not been blasphemed.  Even our wants, desires, choices – is there a spare second of the day when we’re free from advertising? We have to fight for it, build a fortress around every a moment of pure, real silence.  Will our defenses hold? I think the armed forces of mass consumption will not rest until the walls are breached, and privacy and all space for meditative introspection is gone for good.

Does anyone care to own a part of me? Much of it is for sale to the highest bidder – my emails, keystrokes, purchases.  Who my friends are, what we talk about.  What books I read, what movies I watch.  Every prescription written (and whether or not it was filled), every lab test, every medical procedure.

My body, my mind, my time.  This so-called culture claims them all as products, “human resources,” to be bartered for, stolen, bought, traded, prostituted. But there are some things that simply aren’t for sale. 

An older way, a better way…

Holthaus makes a compelling comparison between a culture like ours (which he calls a “structural culture”), where all is for sale and most things are done for supposed individual gain, where science is seen as somehow “other” than art and personal experience, and data is valued much more highly than wisdom, and another, older, more sustainable model, which he calls “functional cultures.”  He takes his time and builds his case exceedingly well.  Here are a few extracts from this beautiful idea: 

Functional cultures are complex, balancing and holding together a huge web of information, intuition, ritual, spirituality, arts, humanities, and science to create a whole cultural system that operates within greater natural systems… Structural cultures tend to put their faith in a harder, more structured knowledge called “science.”  Structural cultures tend to suppress the disorder of intuition and to create order in the structure of their ritual or religious systems; they are based on hierarchies, including codes.

The aim of education in a functional culture is wisdom that will ensure the survival of the people.  The means of education are storytelling, dance, experience, imitation of elders, and careful observation of the natural world and of the human, social world that is included in it… The aim of education in a structural culture is knowledge that will lead to personal advancement or advantage.  The means are “facts,” acquired via books or computers.

Functional cultures have members who belong, all of whom are enfranchised to participate in public life.  These are members in the sense of family members, recognized as such by the community.  Structural cultures have citizens who may or may not participate in public life, and some have no role in civic life because they are disenfranchised by poverty or lack of education, race or sexual orientation [ALT: or a label of so-called “mental illness,” an unwillingness to conform to consensual reality!].  Those who live in a structural culture become citizens by various kinds of legal certification rather than recognition…

Both cultures seek power.  Functional cultures seek the power inherent in good relationships.  They try to find their place in a system in which they live.  They want to stand in right relationship not only to the human community but to all the creatures in the natural system.  They are horizontally integrated: their own structures are part of the larger system and the other natural cultures that surround them, everything connected and reaching out to affect and include everything else… Structural cultures seek the power inherent in dominion.  They try to create a place in the system that will give them what they want from other cultures and from Nature, both of which are seen as resources.  They want to maintain a more powerful stance than other human societies and to be vertically integrated in the highest positions in their own system, regardless of what that may mean to other cultures, human or otherwise, around them…

The healing that functional cultures seek to employ is aimed at restoring balance and harmony in relationships… Structural cultures aim at healing the self first.  Psychiatrists assume that if individuals get themselves together, their relationships with other humans will automatically improve. 

Read the rest here if this comparison speaks to you, as it did to me.

People in mental or emotional distress more likely to consult a pastor than a psychiatrist 06/25/2012

Posted by ALT in Mental Health Research, Philosophy/Spirituality.
Tags: , , , ,

In recent posts (here and here), I’ve asked some questions about the spiritual content of the psychotic visionary process, and the general tendency of mainstream psychiatry to deny – at all costs – that spiritual content as being in any way valid or “real.”   Though the very language we use to describe our dealings with mental and emotional distress acknowledges its roots in the spiritual world (“psychiatrist” literally means “soul healer“), our society’s standard response is fundamentally clinical, biopsychiatric, and entirely secular.   

Put simply, we do not acknowledge the possibility of mental and emotional distress as spiritual suffering; we claim it is wholly biological in kind.  An imbalance of neurotransmitters maybe, or a genetic problem. 

Or maybe a cat virus? That would be E. Fuller Torrey’s theory on the cause of schizophrenia. No joke.

But is this how people experience such distress – as a biological problem requiring a chemical solution?

Here’s a statistic (and a partial answer to my quesiton): people going through mental and emotional distress are more likely to consult with a pastor or religious counselor than any other type of professional, and it is often the only type of professional help they seek (in one study, only 10% of people who sought help from a clergy member were referred on to a mental health professional).

What kind of response do they get?  I’m sure it varies widely – this study reported that responses were often positive, but about 1/3 of mentally distressed folks who sought help from the church got a negative reaction, “abandonment or lack of involvement” being the most common.** 

On the flip side, this recent news story profiles a number of ways that churches across the country have attempted to reach out to folks with mental and emotional problems.

Some are offering home-cooked meals, personal hygiene items, and clothing, others do day programs with self-directed art, gardening, and other activities, or just a space to experience peace and quiet; all provide a culture of listening without judgment, a strong sense of community, and prayer.  The focus is on faith, hope, and the possibility of healing.

The sense of community and the loving support are big reasons why people are interested in accessing the clergy and church for help.

 Faith helps. Faith helps greatly. And coming to the church where everybody knows me, acknowledges that you’re there—that helps.

– Ruth Reskey, psychiatric survivor who accesses the clergy regularly for help (quoted here)

Another contributing factor could be the lack of mental health training that the clergy has received – they’re not trained in the art of diagnosis, and consequently, the art of over-pathologizing and stigmatizing.

But most of all…

We conclude that those coming to the clergy for help in times of psychological distress are seeking religious rather than psychological counseling. Spiritual help appears to be what they want.

–  from this study, showing that 41% of participants turned to clergy first for mental health needs [emphasis added]

I say, give the people what they want!

*This does vary quite a lot across cultures, however here are three studies [from disparate cultural groups] showing this is true in El Paso, Texas amongst Caucasian and Latino populations, amongst African Americans, and in Northern England.

**Rossa Forbes also has some excellent posts on this topic at Holistic Recovery from Schizophrenia.  Check them out here and here.

Photo credits: infobarrel.com

Where have all the prophets gone? (Part Two) 06/19/2012

Posted by ALT in Philosophy/Spirituality, Psychosis.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

[read Part One here]

Ezekiel 37:1-14

(New International Version)

The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”

I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know. ”

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath [in Hebrew, the word also means “spirit”]enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath [spirit] in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord. ’”

So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath [spirit], from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.

11 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord. ’”


This was the text for the sermon I heard at the church of my childhood, a few weeks ago.  I had never encountered this story before, and it floored me.

What powerful imagery, and how relevant to our times!  A valley of dry bones, the people dead and desiccated, no breath to enliven them… until the Spirit reclaims them.  And I was struck – thunderstruck, really — by the fact that Ezekiel’s vision bears a striking resemblance to the visions experienced by many during a so-called “psychotic episode”: death and destruction, an Apocalypse, the voice of God, a rebirth.

In The Far Side of Madness, John Perry proposes a series of interrelated archetypal images/ideas that consistently make an appearance in the psychotic process (though not necessarily in a linear fashion):

A. Center – A location is established at a world center or cosmic axis
B. Death – Themes of dismemberment or sacrifice
C. Return to beginnings
D. Cosmic Conflict – a battle between good and evil
E. Threat of Opposite
F. Apotheosis  – direct communication or identification with God
G. Sacred Marriage
H. New Birth
I. New Society/a New Age
J. Quadrated World – a fourfold structure of the world or cosmos

(from John Weir Perry’s Far Side of Madness)

Perry illustrates, with numerous case studies, the amazing regularity with which these features appear in psychotic processes.  Ezekiel’s vision contains many of them: death (dismemberment), cosmic conflict, apotheosis, new birth (the bones and flesh made alive), and quadrated world (breath “from the four winds”).  The book of Ezekiel, an account of Ezekiel’s seven visions from God, contains them all.

The idea that some [not all] psychotic processes are spiritual in nature, and serve (in part)* to convey a message from the divine, is an old one.  In fact, in many traditional cultures, it was and is the dominant interpretation of these experiences

But in our culture, the idea that psychosis/the visionary process has value for the individual experiencing it and the community to which he belongs is downright revolutionary!

On the micro level — the individual — it is valuable as

a self-healing process – one in which, specifically, the pathological complexes dissolve themselves. The whole schizophrenic turmoil is really a self-organising, healing experience.

-John Weir Perry, in this interview

But there is an analog at the macro level, the level of the community, that is equally important:

Our new understanding shows that the process of re-connection to the Unconscious [psychosis]…  is   nonetheless made up of the same stuff as seers, visionaries, cultural reformers and prophets go through. They also experience much of the same content, except that in their case it is specifically concerned, first and foremost, with the culture itself.

What’s more:

Any kind of therapy that deals with the psyche at this deeper level of the collective unconscious, one comes to the inevitable realisation that we are not going along in our psychic life, you know, just in a realm of interpersonal relationships. A very powerful culture such as ours projects huge patterns, huge conflicts and turmoils, and we all experience them, although we may not be conscious of their inner meaning at all.

In this sense, Humankind is still enormously alienated; the point is, it doesn’t happen just in Washington and Moscow – it happens within the psyche of the whole people…

This brings up the question of myth-form. You see, the big problems facing society are perceived in symbolic, mythic expression, and for this reason their resolution takes place on the symbolic, mythic level as well. If there’s work going on in a culture to reorganise itself, then it’s a process that must occur on both levels simultaneously: individuals will go through their personal visions, and collective spokesmen will express collective visions, which get worked out and implemented on a cultural level.

– John Weir Perry, in this interview**; emphasis added

Where have all the prophets gone?

Does this culture have problems of epic proportions facing it?  I would say: YES.  Are we in need of reorganization, a drastic reordering of priorities, some serious soul-searching?  Again, my opinion – YES.

And is it possible that somewhere in the vast expanse of humankind exists a visionary, one who will journey across an archetypal landscape and bring back to us a spiritual message, a breath of life to the dry bones of our culture of death?

Will we listen?

Or will we label (as psychotic) and medicate (with “anti-psychotics”) until that voice grows silent?

* They also serve as a process of self -reorganization, psychic re-invention.

** More from John Perry on these ideas in this excellent video interview, recently uploaded to YouTube (!):

Where have all the prophets gone? (Part One) 06/18/2012

Posted by ALT in Philosophy/Spirituality.
Tags: , , , , ,

I haven’t talked about spirituality much here.  In some ways, that’s a glaring omission, given that this blog is concerned mainly with a critique and rethinking of mainstream psychiatry, literally, “soul healing.”  The big critique being mainstream psychiatry’s denial of the soul, its insistence on treating only the bodies and the brains, forgetting the spirit that brings them to life.

I’ve avoided it because, well, I didn’t want to offend.  Most people (myself most definitely included) are allergic to proselytization — run at the first hint of it.

So, fair warning: I’m going to start talking about spirituality.  I may even talk about some of my spiritual beliefs.  But with the important caveat that while this evolving faith seems to be true for me, something entirely different may be true for you.  And I respect that.

A spiritual battle

I view the struggle for mental rights and freedoms as a battle to secure for the discerning and self-actualizing part of a human being – “soul,” if you will – the right to exist, fully and dynamically.  From this perspective, it’s almost inappropriate to approach questions of wellness, of being-in-the-world, from an entirely clinical, secular point of view, because these issues are inextricably tied up with matters of the heart (the seat of spiritual insight). 

Again, we’re not robots, not just bodies with a helping of brains on top – there’s a spirit in there that makes us alive!  With that spirit we quickly transcend the bare chemical fact of our existence.  Carbon atoms bonded to other carbon atoms?  That is only the beginning; truly, we are much, much more!

So a person in emotional distress needs more than a chemical intervention, a pharmaceutical or a “natural” vitamin for the body (though a vitamin probably wouldn’t hurt…).  This person needs spiritual comfort and guidance.  Mind, body, and spirit – I believe that healing requires a balance of all three. 

This battle for mental rights and freedoms is fought on several levels: we say forced treatment is a violation of a citizen’s rights (body) and a thinking individual’s free will (mind).  But we must not forget the spiritual ramifications – to be restrained, secluded, unwillingly drugged or shocked, is it not a violation of the living spirit?

Anne Woodlen, whose writing I greatly admire, states it starkly:

American medicine treats the body with drugs until it kills the soul.  It’s rather like a root canal:  the tooth is left in place but the nerve is taken out… More and more people are crying out in spiritual pain, and their cries are being silenced with drugs… You call this caring—this business of silencing the pain of wounded spirits?

–  Anne C. Woodlen, “Mind, Spirit, or Soul” [emphasis added]

We live in a society where every spirit, every human being, is systematically assailed.  No one escapes entirely.  How did this come to pass? 

How did we, as a society, come to be so very, very sick? 

A related question

I grew up attending Baptist church services every Sunday.  In sermons, and in conversations, I would often hear a question that seemed to trouble whoever asked it, and it troubled me, too:

Where have all the prophets gone? 

Why doesn’t God send us messengers anymore?

The Old Testament is full of prophets, visionaries, men who saw God, talked with God.  If a society was on the path to ruin and evil, God sent someone with a message, a mandate, to make things right.  These were real, undeniable miracles, and they happened all the time!

This stuff would be big news, today, right?  You just don’t miss a man proclaiming the word of the LORD and then ascending to heaven in a chariot of fire.

Ultimately, I learned to accept that for some mysterious reason, God doesn’t do big, obviously miraculous stuff like that anymore.  He answers prayers and works on the small-scale, individual level – but sending messengers with miraculous visionary and prophetic powers to lead a community back to righteousness?  That’s a thing of the past; it just doesn’t happen like that anymore.  This answer to the question never did sit quite right with me, but it was the best I had.

Until I revisited the church of my childhood a few weeks ago after a long absence, and a resoundingly powerful answer, one that has been building for a while, finally burst into being in my consciousness.  There are still spiritual messengers that come to us with a vision of healing, societal change – but they’re silenced.  Routinely, as a matter of course.  They MUST not be allowed to speak.

This “business of silencing the pain of wounded spirits” and the quelling of revolutionary visions for community-wide healing are one and the same.  The practice of biopsychiatry encompasses them both.

I repeat: it is a spiritual battle.

(to be continued…)

Dystopian Dreams of a World Without the DSM 05/15/2012

Posted by ALT in DSM-5, Patient Rights and Advocacy, Philosophy/Spirituality.
Tags: , , , , , , ,

A world without psychiatry’s “Bible,” the DSM [Diagnostic and Statistical Manual].  I can see it now…

In this world, much like our own, there is still suffering.  There is still poverty, crime, crushing sadness, despair.  There is still violence.  Regrettably, there may even still be some people who choose to take their own lives, preferring death over the pain of the moment.

But things are a helluva lot better in this world.  Not perfect, mind you.  Nevertheless a far more hospitable place for humans to be (in distress or not).

Not a utopia

I don’t promise you a utopia, because I have learned that utopian thought is always a trap.  It inevitably leads to State supervision of, well, everything.  We’ve got to maintain that perfect agreement about what constitutes the perfect order, right?   At any cost.  Moreover, utopian thought requires the mechanization (and consequently dehumanization) of the culture, the community, the human beings involved therein.

A feature of nearly all utopias has been addiction to elaborate social machinery like schooling and to what we can call marvelous machinery. Excessive human affection between parents, children, husbands, wives, et al., is suppressed to allow enthusiasm for machine magic to stand out in bold relief…

All machines are merely extensions of the human nervous system, artifices which improve on natural apparatus, each a utopianization of some physical function. Equally important, the use of machinery causes its natural flesh and blood counterpart to atrophy, hence the lifeless quality of the utopias. Machines dehumanize, wherever they are used and however sensible their use appears. Yet the powerful, pervasive influence of utopian reform thinking on the design of modern states has brought utopian mechanization of all human functions into the councils of statecraft.”

– John Taylor Gatto in “The Lure of Utopia

So I give you, instead, some dystopian dreams of a world without the DSM.

In this world…

Psychiatrists, as a profession, en masse, have admitted: WE WERE WRONG.

We shouldn’t have done it,” they will humbly concede.  “We shouldn’t have insisted it was a fact that the ‘disorders’ we outlined in the DSM were objective, scientific, distinct pathologies (just like diabetes!) when we had virtually no proof of that.  We shouldn’t have told our patients that they had ‘faulty genes’ or ‘faulty brains,’ that they were doomed to suffer chronically, for the rest of their lives, from the effects of chemical imbalances of neurotransmitters in their heads when we literally had no way of measuring balances of neurotransmitters [in the brain] in the first place, no way to establish a baseline for what is ‘normal’ and what is not.

And we certainly shouldn’t have partnered with drug companies, we shouldn’t have accepted their bribes, their promises of prestige and honor, allowing them such tremendous influence over the development of the diagnostic criteria.  We shouldn’t have turned a blind eye to the terrible, terrible harm the pharmaceuticals they were so enthusiastically peddling were doing to our patients, to our communities.  We should’ve looked further than the drug company-sponsored ‘research,’ we should’ve listened to what our patients were telling us, the facts that were staring us in the face, if only we were willing to take off the blinders so kindly provided us in our years of PhD training in pharma-sponsored schools and research hospitals.

Folks, we were wrong, and we’re deeply sorry for the harm we’ve caused.  We’d like you to send back your DSMs (don’t worry, we’ll cover the postage), so that we can dispose of them in a safe and secure manner.”

(Dumping them down the drain, so to speak, simply won’t do.)

Interring them in an underground tomb, however…

Now, as my significant other likes to say, there are three kinds of apology:

Type One: “I’m sorry you didn’t like it, but I fully intend to do it again.”
Type Two: “I’m sorry it happened, but it wasn’t really my fault.”
Type Three: “I’m sorry I did it, I take full responsibility for my actions, and I will make sure not to do that again.”

This will be a full-on, Type 3 apology, and it’s going to force all psychiatrists to ask of themselves some very serious questions about their profession, their practice, their beliefs about humankind.  The self-proclaimed “soul healers” are going to do some critical thinking and some soul searching (like this).  With humility and a greater sense of empathy, many (but probably not all) will emerge on the other side, repentant, contrite.

We move forward, having abandoned the purely “biopsychiatric” approach to mental illness, with a renewed commitment to seeing mental distress and madness for what they are (instead of trying to fit them to a biopsychiatric model that was flawed from the start, given its roots in pharmaceutical marketing campaigns, NOT actual observation of the process).

We move forward.

Our cultural narrative about mental distress has fundamentally changed.

Once this monumental apology has been issued, the books sent back, the labels redacted, “bipolar disorder,” “schizophrenia,” and “dysphoric mood disorder” won’t exist anymore as such.  [oh wait, I guess Dysphoric Mood Disorder doesn’t quite exist yet… well, give it time, give it time.]

But there will still be people convinced of the coming apocalypse, walking circles around the city at night with visions of destruction surrounding them.  There will still be children throwing terrible tantrums day in and day out.  There will be racing thoughts, deep depressions, panic attacks; there will also be euphoria, epiphanic realizations of the oneness of humanity, creation, deep outpourings of love and spiritual healing.

Yes, there will still be “extreme states of consciousness” – some of which will be quite distressing to the people who experience them.

But our cultural narrative explaining the presence of such extreme states will have changed dramatically.  When they are no longer catalogued “symptoms” of a fearsome “disease” that some people get and some people don’t, but just one part of a vast spectrum of human experiences possible to all humankind, it will no longer be feasible to adopt an us and them mentality.

“Mental illness” as the “bad genes” of “unfit stock” manifested? Not anymore.  We weed out our old eugenical ideas about “the mentally ill,”  roots and all (and that includes the idea that there exists a class of people called “the mentally ill” and another class called “the normal” and that the one is fundamentally different from and dangerous to the other).

Goodbye, weed. Move over and make room for the flowers!

We understand that “it” (extreme states of consciousness and diasgreements with consensual reality) could happen to any one of us – and that if it does happen, each and every human deserves to be treated with compassion, respect, lovingkindness… like this.

In practical terms, we don’t give folks forced “intramuscular medication” (time-released injections), we don’t electroshock people against their will, we don’t chain them, humiliate them, perform experiments on them, stigmatize them, silence them, lie to them “for their own good,” condemn them to a slow, drug-induced death, brand them again and again as a “danger to society,” something fundamentally different, other.  We don’t do any of these things because we refuse to violate anyone’s humanity  — and we recognize that when we do this to someone else, we open the door to having it done unto us.

People are able to define, for themselves, their subjective experiences of reality.

Without a so-called “scientific” definition of mental illness spelled out in the DSM, readymade for the force-feeding, people will be left with a blank page on which to write out their own truths.  Truths about our society, our world, and what is “acceptable” in these contexts.  Truths about what it means to be well, right-minded, living right.

Those who reject the DSM are already doing this:

In the culture of the Icarus Project some years ago we developed a rough prototype of a document we call a Wellness Map (or affectionately a “Mad Map”.) It’s a very practical document to be written in good health and shared with friends and loved ones and it starts with the simple (yet not always easy to answer) question:

How are you when you’re well? What does wellness look like to you?

This question is followed by: What are the signs that you’re not so well?

and eventually: What are the steps that you and your community need to take to get you back to wellness?

-Sascha Altman DuBrul, in his essay “Mad Pride and Spiritual Community: Thoughts on The Spiritual Gift of Madness

Maps of wildly diverse terrains, pages and pages of difference!  What’s right for me may not be right for you – and that’s a beautiful thing.   As you can see, this is no utopia.  We don’t have to agree about what “perfect order” is [and then single-mindedly enforce that order everywhere]; we don’t even have to strive for perfection at all!  We just have to be honest, creatively living our lives each day, mapping out our mental, emotional, and spiritual geographies, all the while respecting our fellow humans as they do the same.  And most importantly…

We offer our compassionate, “un-professional” support to our fellow human beings in distress (and out of it!).

This is crucial.  We humans weren’t made to be lonely – not in joy or grief, and certainly not in madness.  We long to share our experiences, to bond, to connect, to feel the lovingkindness of someone else’s attention, care.

So in distress and out of it, we can follow as an example the standard of care provided by luminaries like Loren Mosher and John Perry .  In distress and out of it, let’s be with each other, without judgment (diagnosis) or manipulation (“for your own good interventionism”), without “professional opinions” (self-fulfilling prophecies of chronicity and doom) or prescriptions (forced care).

Let’s make maps together; let’s be fellow geographers of the human condition.  Allow for grief in response to the deep sadness that is inevitably a part of life.  Allow for terrible fear, at times, and unbelievable joy.  Allow for madness as a transformative process, when it occurs; the birthing of a new consciousness.  Allow a safe passage, in loving company, through difficult times.  Allow our fellow human beings to emerge, on the far side of their extreme states of consciousness, “weller than well.”

We move forward.  We don’t look back.

On the subject of meaningful goals 03/09/2012

Posted by ALT in Children's Mental Health, Philosophy/Spirituality.
Tags: , , , ,
1 comment so far

Exhibit A:

WordPress is “modernizing” itself, as fellow users can testify to.  One of the biggest changes to the interface is a feel-good sidebar that pops up every time I publish a post.  It looks like this:

Yippee!  Only 1 post away from my “goal” of 90 posts?  What an accomplishment!

Never mind that I didn’t set this goal – WordPress did.  In fact, WordPress resets my “goal” by increments of 5 or 10 every time I come this close to elevating my lime green levels to that little star at the end.  Truth be told, readers, I have never reached the gold star, and I never will.

If I did, I hope it would look something like this…

(but with golden stars, of course)

But what if my goal were quality of writing, not quantity?  Or perhaps something even more nebulous and difficult to measure, such as raising awareness of the issues herein discussed; processing my own thoughts about the treatment of the so-called “mentally ill” as it reflects our society’s values or lack thereof; or offering information, comfort, or hope to folks dealing with emotional distress?

These goals simply don’t fit into the computer-generated, lime green paradigm.

Which brings me to my first point:

A goal set for you by an outside entity is about as useful as a bicycle in the middle of an ocean.

It doesn’t fit the context.  It can’t get you where you’re going.  And by distracting you from the conditions at hand, by challenging your very experience of reality (are we on land or at sea?), it may very well sink you entirely into someone else’s view of your trajectory and existence.

Exhibit B:

I think I might’ve mentioned that I teach music lessons.

About a month ago, I started a new student (let’s call her “Liz.”)  She’s a freshman in high school with no less than EIGHT extracurricular activities!  Three private lessons per week with different music instructors, numerous choir and band rehearsals, physical therapy, music contests and performances to attend on the weekends.  Her mother proudly told me that Sunday is the only day she has any free time at all!  (Liz quickly added that she has to do homework on Sundays).

This mother believes that her child needs to be kept BUSY in a very structured, institutionalized sort of way.  It is safest, wisest, if her daughter’s time, decision-making, and activity are all managed by, completely filled up by, the expertise of professionals.

This doesn’t leave much time for self-discovery.  Quietude.  Mindfulness.

And with EIGHT extracurricular activities going at once, it doesn’t leave much time to develop real skill in any of them.  Liz is being taught the art of dabbling.

Learning to play a musical instrument takes time.  Daily time alone, actively cultivating the skills and the ears necessary to produce a sound, and then refine that sound until it truly sounds good (we call this “practice,” and it is a practice – a meditation).

It is a discipline, a pursuit.  But it is something to relish!  During this alone time you are invited to continually reflect on the sounds you are producing and how to make them more harmonious, more resonant, more beautiful.  You are wrapped up in the magic of the music you are creating, and you are creating that music – not for pay or reward, not because you are forced to – but simply for your own pleasure and betterment.

If we are too busy to take the time to do this for ourselves – in any capacity; not necessarily music – can we achieve anything truly satisfying?  What are we really teaching our children when we enroll them in far more activities than they could ever really complete satisfactorily?  Again, here is this issue of quantity vs. quality.  My student Liz probably has more participation medals, trophies, and certificates than she knows what to do with.  Her college application materials will list a truly impressive array of extracurricular activities, a veritable cascade of golden stars!

But moving once again beyond the lime green paradigm, what has she accomplished?  Is she satisfied with the level of skill she has obtained in any of her areas of study?  Does she know what true competence in any field is like?  Will she ever?

Liz’s mom contacted me the other day.  The high school band has been selected to march in a parade at Disney World!  Liz really wants to go.  Unfortunately, she plays piano and sings – no place for these instruments in the marching band.

The solution? I am to teach Liz to play the music on a saxophone.  An instrument she has never touched before.  We’ve got 3 weeks to do it, and judging by Liz’s incredibly busy schedule, she won’t have any time to practice outside of our lessons, so that makes three hours to do it.

As her mom explained it: “if she doesn’t learn to play the sax, she’ll have to just hold a flag or some cymbals, and that would be embarrassing.”

Maybe her mom doesn’t realize it, but she’s going to be marching around pretending to play the saxophone (that’s all I’ll have time to teach her) – what could be more embarrassing than that?  Finding yourself onstage, ready to perform, and realizing that you don’t know how to play the instrument… it is the stuff of nightmares!

The band’s invitation to march in the Disney World parade is seen as a great achievement – all the students, Liz included, are going to be congratulated for their “hard work,” their “effort.”  There will probably be a trophy to display with all the others in the glass case at the front of the band room, they will be told that they have accomplished something.

But who among those students has ever known, independent of any medal or rubric or congratulatory figure, that he has accomplished something?  That it is an accomplishment by his standards, and no one else’s.  Who among them has ever privately or publicly rejoiced in reaching the end of a journey that was plotted, from beginning to end, by him and him alone?

If our children were permitted to do this — set goals that are meaningful to them and pursue them in their own fashion with the loving support and guidance (when called upon!) of their communities, their families – our society would look dramatically different.

I’d LOVE to see the looks of it.


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