Wednesday, April 24, 2013


In the panorama of life going on around us we notice what helps us see ourselves, search out what’s relevant to where we’re going and affirm our sense of the beautiful and ugly. The choices we make regarding where we look are a window on deeper motives and can expand self-awareness. We may or may not get the point. On a psychological level, the thing the eye is scanning for is something that will clarify things about the self that need to be seen. Marcel Proust and Willa Cather are just two of the many writers long before modern psychology to have pointed out the human tendency to criticize our own faults in others. It’s not just on a personal level. It’s easily seen at every level of human interaction. This came to mind today listening to a man on the radio demonizing North Korea for its extensive prison system. Since the US is known world wide for the growing private prison system housing a higher percentage of the population than any other country, his statement was an excellent example of projection regarding our own national pathology. There are lots of things he might have criticized North Korea for but the one he chose was the one he recognized from the inside. And since he didn’t get the point, what could be changed doesn’t. He talks about extensive prisons as a problem to be solved, not thinking to turn that energy to the problem in his own sphere. Our society is too punitive. Rather than celebrate positive qualities we limit behavior with the threat of punishment. We’ve become more focused on obedience than justice. Anthropologist Jean Liedhoff observed that the Yequana people of Venezuela had no word for “disobedience”. They looked at children as children and didn’t get into a power struggle making them into little adults. The children don’t hurt others because adults don’t. 

If kids are bullying others there’s a good chance they are being bullied at home, whether or not the parents realize it. They’re just imitating the behavior of the adults they see like their parents did before them. Teasing shades into ridicule then into humiliation, which is institutionalized by the prison system where brutality is common, a national symbol of the mandate to obey enough laws to make everyone a lawbreaker. And everyone is immersed in a culture where ridicule is entertainment. Too much damage has been done by dominant cultures forcing their worldview on people with entirely different life experience. It happens at every level of society. It’s time for us to transcend our national ego and learn from all that’s good in the world. The hyperconcern for safety only cultivates fear and distrust of others, a population of isolated individuals cowering in their houses with only their screens for safety. We should start to notice and question the coercive systems that disrespect the variety of individuals by labeling and diagnosing from childhood, when a world of talents could flourish in each one.

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