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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Who are Your Heroes?

It's been a while since I've blogged about a psychological topic. This one seems overdue.
We all need heroes. You know, people to look up to—and maybe even pattern our lives after. When I was a kid, heroes were commonplace. If you asked any young person who they admired, they could rattle you off a list and that list usually included the President of the United States, a scientist or two, maybe a sports figure and even a parent or relative!

My heroes were Dwight D. Eisenhower, Anna Pavlova, Leonard Bernstein, Anais Nin, Carl Jung, JFK, Jean Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Margaret Meade, and quite a few others. Not all at the same time, of course. Any not necessarily in that order. The point is that I always had someone I respected, who I wanted to be like.

That was all pre-internet. Today's media is intrusive and delights in digging up dirt. Maybe because I'm a psychologist, or maybe just because I'm a human being, I'm not under any illusions. We all have skeletons in the closet, dirt under the rug and things we've done that we're not very proud of. Things we'd just as soon others either forgot about, or never knew in the first place.

Because the media delights in tearing anyone and everyone down, they've contributed to the death of heroes in our culture. Once you've made a mistake—any mistake—you're just not hero material anymore. The fallout from that is a generation (actually a couple of them, now) without role models.
I was riding the shuttle from Red's Meadow (a popular camping area here that's three miles from town and accessible only by bus) a few days ago and struck up a conversation with a seventeen-year-old boy. He seemed really glad to have someone to talk with. Turned out he'd just moved here a week ago and is living with an aunt. I asked him who his heroes were. After he got done rolling his eyes, he said no one. He'd idolized Joe Paterno. After his fall from grace, my young acquaintance decided there wasn't any point. "All adults are liars," he told me. "I only believe in myself."

I thought about telling the young man that just because Joe made a serious error in judgment covering up for Sandusky, it didn't wipe out all the good things he'd done. But I kept my mouth shut. After all, the University fathers were quick to remove Joe's statue from campus. Apparently, they wanted to distance themselves from the catastrophe. Not that it's helped much. Penn State has lost far more than their premier football program from Sandusky's shenanigans. The remaining 45,000 students and all the other faculty (who are innocent, by the way) are suffering, too.

I saw the same thing happen here in my little town when a well-respected doctor engaged in sex with a young teen. He lost his position on the school board and the hospital terminated his contract. The doctor, who couldn’t live with the shame, killed himself leaving a widow and two young sons.

Somehow, we've evolved to a place where once someone does something (anything) bad, it cancels out the entire rest of their lives. JFK couldn't have survived today's media. If I recall correctly, among his many extra-marital partners, he was sleeping with an East German spy. Regardless, JFK was—and continues to be—a hero in many people's eyes. Which is as I think it should be.
Shakespeare (who couldn't have stood up to close scrutiny, either) said: The evil men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones… It's a well-known line out of Julius Caesar. Let me throw down the gauntlet here. We can choose what we wish to remember about people. We can also choose not to allow one misstep, or even a string of them, to wipe out every other part of that person's legacy. Maybe we could turn that Shakespeare quote around and bury the bad, while remembering the good.

Was Sandusky guilty? It certainly seems so. Was what he did wrong? Of course. Did he do good things, too? I believe the answer is "yes", since few of us are unmitigated monsters. Did Paterno cover for him? Yup.
As individuals we need to develop the gumption to learn to pick and choose for ourselves. There are no perfect people. Even as a child, I didn't think my heroes were perfect. Yet, I understood on some level that I needed heroes for my own personal growth. And I still do. Carl Jung will be one of my heroes until the day I die, not because he was perfect. He wasn't. Today's media would have had a heyday with his ménage a trois setup. I admire him because he was a visionary who wasn't afraid to look beyond the strictures of his time for answers to the mysteries. I don't like it that he slept with a few of his patients, but that doesn't negate his brilliance or his contribution to our understanding of the unconscious mind.

What do you think? Do you have heroes? Who are they? Most importantly, would they still be your heroes if the media hung them out the dry?

Saturday, August 4, 2012

One, Two, Three, Punt!

Living through this past week where the temperature hit ninety degrees nearly every day has made me think. I live in the mountains at 8000 feet. It's never been that hot here consistently in the twelve years I've lived here. Never mind the thirty years I vacationed in the Eastern Sierra before I moved. In fact, I don't think it's ever hit ninety before.  When I look at the list of drought-ridden states that have applied for Federal assistance, I know I'm not alone in my knowledge that climate is changing—and rather quickly.
Then I started thinking about growing up in the nineteen fifties and sixties in Seattle. One summer, the Public Health Department closed Lake Washington to swimming. Seems several people had come down with e coli infections. Unbeknownst to most Seattleites, the city had been dumping raw sewage into the lake for years. They quietly diverted it out into Puget Sound after the e coli crisis.

That's a good example of moving a problem on, rather than solving it. Sort of like has been happening with carbon emissions. We actually have a long history in this country of shunting problems "out of sight", slapping our palms together and moving on. How many of you remember when New York City used barges to haul their garbage out to sea? Worked fine for years until the ocean was so polluted that garbage washed up on New York's beaches.

In retrospect, the oceans support fish. Fish support life. One wonders just what NYC authorities were thinking when they came up with the bright idea to dump millions of tons of crud into the Atlantic.

The vast majority of the damage to Earth has really happened in the past two hundred fifty years or so. That's not very long, considering how many thousands of years people have been here. The technology that we're all so fond of is quite the two-edged sword.

We like our cars. And our planes. And our houses both heated and cooled to a temperate 72 degrees. A hundred years ago, if I'd wanted to go to Europe, I'd have gone by ship. Not surprisingly, most people stuck close to home.  Even growing up—which wasn't a hundred years ago, it only feels that way—if I was cold, both parents advised me to put on a sweater. And if I was warm of a summer evening, I'd sit outside until I cooled off.  We ate seasonal fruit and vegetables, not grapes flown in from Chile in the middle of December.

I won't be here when this story ends, but I'll have to admit I'm curious whether mankind will develop more of a group consciousness. In plain-speak, that's the ability to forego personal pleasures for the good of the planet and the rest of its population. Because that's what it will take.

When I was a practicing therapist, I'd frequently see clients with what I called the, "fix me, but don't make me change anything" syndrome. I see the same mentality applied to climate change. While most of us want to do something conceptually, we'd rather not be inconvenienced. After all, why not get on that airplane? The planes are flying anyway. Same with the Chilean produce. Gee, it's already in the store. If someone doesn't buy it, it will rot. True, it will. But if no one buys it, the major grocery chains will quit flying it in. Seems like a worthy goal to me.

Having just gotten back from the UK, I'm as guilty as the next person. Did I think about what I was doing before we left? Sure, but I went anyway, filled with a plethora of self-righteous excuses. Think I wrote a blog post about my ambivalence, but I didn't cancel my tickets.

How about the rest of you? What are you doing personally to ensure we have a planet to live on a hundred years from now? I'm writing fictional books to help raise awareness. Lare McInnis is a great protagonist, but I feel like I need to do a whole lot more.