Paying Attention Bill McDonald’s
June 2008 - Volume 08, No. 6
STRESS! - it's not just the economy
Recently I received a phone call from a local TV channel newswoman, inquiring of my professional experience about the great amount of stress local people are suffering, noting especially the price of gasoline, the housing financial crisis and employment uncertainties. (I'm writing from Michigan, where it's especially tough.) The invitation was to be interviewed, apparently on camera, for a news special on the subject.
My immediate response was to feel conflicted. Definitely part of me was intrigued by the possibility of notoriety and professional exposure (call it "marketing opportunity"). I am blessed with having minimal stage fright, and I enjoy an audience - especially if I have a chance to prepare. Another part quickly reminded me of how much "good" I could do people by offering professional advice and expertise.
However, something in my gut was saying "enough" - my own stress level signals were stepping in. So, almost without further thought, I found myself telling her that yes, the stress level is definitely high out there these days - but I was choosing at this time to not accept her invitation, and thanked her for the consideration. (That latter part works well in getting rid of telemarketers as well.)
Immediately afterward, I began to second-guess my decision - thinking about the 'wonderful' insights I could have shared, etc. But it was a gut-level decision, and it was a right one. Slowly I began to understand what my gut had already been telling me:
TV news, especially local TV news, exists primarily to entertain people. And the primary medium of this "entertainment" is bad news (sad news, tragic news, disaster news, "breaking" news). Sometimes it's bad news disguised as information - and in such manner I would be their "public service" manipiulee of the moment. How much of the hidden stress of our lives comes from being manipulated in the name of a supposed virtue? Sure it was tempting - marketing exposure, an audience, "fame." Though for sure, I've already had more than my share of my Andy Warhol's "fifteen minutes."
A close friend encountered this as well, when she allowed herself to be "arrested" for Muscular Dystrophy - toward which I gave $20 toward her "bail" on the promise she'd never do this to me again. She had said yes too quickly before the wiser part of her told her to say no.
My professional work frequently involves helping people reduce the stress in their lives. I can't directly save them from mortgage foreclosure, disappearing manufacturing jobs, $4 gasoline. But I can help them reorient their lives away from being manipulated for some soul-foreign virtue by more carefully looking at the background and subtle binds that are running the show - inside and outside.
Deep within us there is a part that does know when we're being used. However, our culture is as wicked as any in the subtle repressing of that knowledge. Most know the story of "The Emperor's New Clothes" - where a young boy is still 'open' enough to blurt out the truth that "he's not wearing any clothes!" (every parent's nightmare). Sadly, in our day, the crowd itself instead would kill the kid - or at least make sure he or she is well-drugged.
Had I been interviewed, the "still free" part of me would want to explain that the primary source of stress is not the local economy, or high gas prices. A better example (one example among many) of this deeper stress, is to have a government (parental structure, those in charge, etc.) that so smoothly got us into an unwise pattern of foreign involvement from which we cannot disentangle for probably decades. Way back then (2001) a great many of us immediately knew that something in our response was "wrong" - but . . . The official use of the term "communist" in my younger days, is now the "terrorist." Again, we're being used, manipulated, in the name of official "rightness." We'll give up anything for "homeland security"- or at least we'd better.
I've noted that the TSA security lines in airports are perhaps the most docile places on the entire planet. We carry our stress very well out of sight.
Why did my gut tell me to say no? Because I was afraid. If I spoke my truth, the truth that makes me a good psychotherapist, I would be speaking against the system that had invited me. I don't want to be the heroic boy who announces the emperor has no clothes. Yes, I'm wise to be afraid. But it's not a fear that keeps me silent - just keeps me sharp. I will speak, but my greatest power is in the privacy of my consulting room - freeing people one by one from the most pervasive stress of all - the betrayal of the soul.
Maybe it's doing the right thing for the wrong reason. Perhaps it's doing the wrong thing for the right reason. Still, it's wrong - and I want people to be free enough withal to know that. Like singing of "God Bless America" now for the "right" reasons. Or adhering to a political or moral platform or slogan, which gives us a socially comfortable "right" place to stand.
These are not friendly days. This is not a friendly culture. Yes, I know the prevailing stress level is high. People are betraying each other and themselves all over the place - maybe more than in most other times and places in our human history. It's the stress these days of the human soul being beating down - and that's what's often slowly revealed in my office.
Or maybe I should just invest in pharmaceuticals, and enjoy an enhanced retirement income.
By the way, what are the chances my appearance on the TV news would have been followed by a pharmaceutical ad? Scarey.
Just after completing this, the news comes that George Carlin has died. He was one of my heros. He, as many of the great comedians, could see what I'm talking about, and continually (and creatively) berated us for being so blind. May his soul rest in peace. Bill
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