Bringing you the best of mental health every week.
The other day, someone invited me to sign the Citizen Therapist Manifesto. This is a petition, already signed by thousands of therapists, expressing their alarm at the candidacy of Donald Trump, which they see as a threat to the well-being of their clients. Do you want to know if I signed it? I might just tell you at the end of this post.
I must have started and abandoned six blog posts about this year’s election without publishing any of them. On the one hand, I want to comment on the madness I see around me. I consider it my professional duty to point out madness when I see it. On the other hand, it’s no simple matter to point out madness. You have to recognize it while not succumbing to madness, yourself. You have to be fair; while you are pointing out madness in one spot, you don’t want to miss it somewhere else. You also have to point it out in a way that people will listen, without causing more madness in the process. Finally, if everyone already seems to know about the madness anyway and goes ahead regardless, what’s the point?
The manifesto indicts the rise of what it calls Trumpism. Its concern is not with the candidate, himself, but with an ideology he represents. What do they say is this ideology? It’s an unapologetic embrace of bigotry, misogyny, and xenophobia. It’s a disregard, distain, and dismissal of rivals and critics; it’s a disparagement of the truth, and a disinterest in rational persuasion. It’s a fostering of the cult of the strong man who comes in, knocks heads together, and sets things right.
Trumpism has been around a long time before Trump. We’ve heard it in incendiary radio talk shows, ugly political ads, and debates that are long on attack and short on substance. It’s corrosive to democracy, but it’s the result of democracy. Trump certainly didn’t invent it; he simply caught the wave.
The result of Trumpism is also made clear in this manifesto. Hispanics and Muslims have their teeth set on edge. Trigger warnings for people who’ve been sexually assaulted should precede the news. You don’t have to scroll through Facebook for long before you find a coarsening of discourse and a polarization of opinions. Those who favor Trump are troubled, too; incited to violence in a few cases and mistrustful of institutions in many others.
The Citizen Therapist Manifesto is not aimed at Trump. No one believes he will read that petition, see how many eminent therapists have signed it, and withdraw his candidacy or check himself into rehab for sexual predation or narcissism, should such a rehab exist. The manifesto’s objective is to speak out and say that we have all gone stark, raving mad.
Agreed, but are the citizen therapists succumbing to madness in the process, themselves? Are they effectively pointing out madness in one spot and missing it somewhere else? Are they speaking in a way that people will listen, without causing more madness in the process?
Many of my male clients come in because their wives, girlfriends, or mothers call me up and make appointments for them. These women explain that they have looked at my website and believe that I would be able to relate to their men. When I meet these men, they make no bones about not wanting to see me, but their backs are against the wall. Their women are making them do this, and they’re pissed.
There are times, when I meet these men and I say, thank God someone made them go to therapy; they’re that desperate, insecure, and dangerous. There are other times when it seems, like the one who sent them should be getting her head shrunk; they are making much ado about nothing. In every case, there’s a whole lot of misunderstanding going on. But, here’s the thing, I do relate to them, and they learn to relate to me. Scary, ain’t it?
I share this because I think there is a great divide, one of many, in our country that is generating much of this strife and many of my referrals. It’s not the divide between Republicans and Democrats, Conservatives and Progressives, The 1% and the 99%, the young and old, Black and White, male and female. Those divides are certainly present. The divide I’m talking about is between the manners and ethics of those who work in an office, with people, and those who work outdoors, with things.
It happens that I can relate to both sides of this divide. At one time, before I got a degree, I busted my butt every day in the construction, farming, and lumber industries. In high school, I played football and hockey. If there ever was a man’s man, a man among men, I was he.
Then I became a shrink.
When I became a shrink, the guys I knew used to bust my chops that I was becoming a woman. I didn’t become a woman. It changed me, but becoming a woman was not really what was going on. I became a person who worked in an office, with people, rather than outdoors, with things.
The difference between working indoors with people, versus outdoors with things is really quite profound. For instance, when you work outdoors with things, stereotypically men’s work, feelings don’t matter; in fact, feelings just get in the way. If I cared about how I felt, I’d never be carrying shingles up a ladder in the heat all day, I’d be sitting in the shade with a cold beer. If I cared how others felt, I wouldn’t be hitting that ball carrier when he crossed the line of scrimmage. The important thing when you work outdoors with things, is getting stuff done and who you’re doing it for, not how anyone feels.
When you work in an office with people, feelings, both yours and theirs, are paramount because you can never get away from them. It’s not necessary to be a bigot when you work outdoors; outright bigotry is a residual tribal thing; but you do have to watch how you say things in offices in a way you never have to on a construction site. Consequently, in an office, tolerance and diversity are more valuable; so is political correctness. On a construction site and a football field, or any dangerous environment, having a single authority, someone who takes charge and doesn’t take shit from anyone, is important. In an office, you can have committees in which everyone’s voice is heard.
Our country, over the years, has become more of an office and less of a construction site. While there’s still plenty of work to be done with things, our manners have changed. Many indoor people don’t understand that working outdoors with things requires you to be a different kind of person. Moreover, the indoor people are now in charge. They generate the paperwork that drives the outdoor people nuts. Indoor people are the lawyers, accountants, and bureaucrats who rig the system against the outdoor people. They’re the teachers, mothers, and ministers who tell them to sit still. They are personified by Hillary Clinton, an indoor person, extraordinaire. They look at her and they see their persecutor.
Many outdoor people haven’t caught on that times change or they resist the changes. They confuse learning to get along with being emasculated. More seriously, office ways don’t make sense to them. They believe office ways are dangerous. Well, outdoors, they are.
I was able to make the transition from working outdoors with things to indoors with people. Not only was I not emasculated, but I also get to sit out of the wind and the cold and wear nice clothes. It’s more suited to my old bones. When I look at Trump, I see a man I might have become, had I inherited riches and always gotten my way. He never has to change, he can just bully his way through. When I meet these men sent to me, I’m meeting with my people; people forced to make a transition I’ve already made. I believe it’s incumbent on those of us who have been successful to help those who struggle.
What kind of help do they need? Two kinds; they need help catching up and they need to be taken seriously.
So, does this manifesto do this? Does this petition help anyone catch up or be taken seriously?
A guy who works outdoors with things appreciates clarity. He trusts people who tell it like it is, straight up, with no dicking around, so he knows how things stand. That is, provided you have earned the right to call him on his shit. That’s what they say they like about Trump. That’s what the men who come back for a second session say they like about me.
On the other hand, a guy who works outdoors is not going to be very impressed with a manifesto. He sees plenty of corporate directives, OSHA requirements, and PR bullshit produced by people with better verbal skills than sense and they don’t believe any of it. If I were to sign that manifesto, I’d be trading in what is, for them, true authority for a questionable piece of paper.
For the person who works outdoor with things, true authority doesn’t come from the initials after your name or where you went to school. True authority comes from being there, with them in mud and the wind and the rain. True authority comes from what you do, not what you say.
No, I don’t think I’ll be signing that manifesto. I already have a manifesto. It’s the work I do, bridging that great divide.
Click here to go to the Citizen Therapist Manifesto.