Friday, January 21, 2011


By Brian Lynch"

David Brooks has always seemed civil to me and conversant. He has a regular gig on the "News Hour" and although I don't watch it much it should be noted it is in a "civil" setting with Mark Shields another seemingly civil man. They have a civil conversation. It is not about "winning" but exploring ideas for a few minutes. But you all know that. 

"So this is where civility comes from — from a sense of personal modesty and from the ensuing gratitude for the political process. Civility is the natural state for people who know how limited their own individual powers are and know, too, that they need the conversation. They are useless without the conversation."

This editorial was brought to my attention by a member of the Tomkins Organization. 

I first say that when I listened to Obama's speech I was pleased and shamed. I was shamed as for a short while I had jumped on the bash the Sara Palin band wagon and stop the "cross hairs" speech. But form the first lines of the President's speech he set a tone that raised the bar. I came back to work and had conversations about it. That said it is also important to point out we too need not have the language of "hunting" and killing in our political speech or business. Witness the man arrested at the town meeting telling the "Tea Party" member "your dead." Of course this was and is a mental health issue along with a short laundry list of others.

But I protest to myself a bit in a "conversation" with myself is it so simple? In the ensuing days the conversation in the media has been somewhat civil and rational and brought discussion of the "mental health" issue and the insanity of the system and how those in psychotic states get bantered about the system and usually will end up in jail often with felony counts. Again the "conversation" which I heard and was introduced first hand to me while it was first happening years ago when the hospitals where being emptied and the community health centers where not being built and where not being funded. Not a political issue? And therefore not directly or indirectly related to the shooting? I think not. There is a direct cause and effect. Things do come home to roost. 

But to Brook's central point of civility and our all or nothing attitude. We of course see or claim to see the whole picture and see it in terms of the whole range of shame and pride. It is either too much or to too little. 

The dangers of the "self esteem" movement: I come to think that I am the center of the universe and that I am not to have any bad feelings at all. Can there be too many trophies given out? These ideas apply then more to those of us then that should be capable of "conversing" and fixing the problems and helping the psychotics, those not capable of conversing at least much of the time. 

Brooks says "The problem is that over the past 40 years or so we have gone from a culture that reminds people of their own limitations to a culture that encourages people to think highly of themselves." 

I see it then too in larger society that this is the irony and the conundrum of the "rights" movement and have often expressed it as such. Everyone is "equal." Unfortunately everyone becomes equal in all ways. So why would anyone have anything to say to anyone? Everyone is right in their own way and beautiful as the song says. Give me my space and I'll give you yours. Just leave me alone. No discussion. I can't risk the humiliation. 

As a physician, one that de facto has to be in a position of "power" from time to time, I as many here I am sure, has had to suffer through many embarrassing situations of being told that someone is just as "equal" as a themselves; a janitor, "housekeeping" , an administrator --and would you please (or your lucky to have the politeness thrown in there) vacate the room now, tell them exactly when you will be done, finish your work in thirty minuets or whatever when in fact you are engaged entirely in patient centered care. I have essentially been fired on the word of the janitor. 

I am too not sure that calling us to and reminding us of our "sinfulness" is an answer. Brooks "But over the past few decades, people have lost a sense of their own sinfulness. Children are raised amid a chorus of applause. Politics has become less about institutional restraint and more about giving voters whatever they want at that second. Joe DiMaggio didn’t ostentatiously admire his own home runs, but now athletes routinely celebrate themselves as part of the self-branding process."

Yes, I agree with the overall sentiment. And that is again I think the idea of looking out to the community to a "conversation" but I do cringe at "sinfulness." This is what I think we do not want? Brooks is struggling due to a lack of vocabulary to go back to "back in the day when." Except I and I think we all get queasy or should when we talk about a "wished for day" of here what? A wished for day of "conversation?" When and where exactly was that? Yes there were times of greater bipartisanism of the great backroom deal, great conversation. And I suppose you can say that is what helped bring us out of segregation, sexism and gave us social reforms. 

But of course that conversation of yore did not precisely include all. Ted and Orin where able to reach across the aisle in the greatest deliberative body. W can only hope it will continue to be that and I suspect there is no reason to believe that other odd pairings will materialize. The challenge is that the tent is now big, the reforms now made, the positions taken. Can we risk the humiliation and leave "Everyone is right in their own way and beautiful as the song says. Give me my space and I'll give you yours. Just leave me alone. No discussion." behind? I think this challenge to be true on all levels no matter even our understanding of affect.

Then we have to even be careful, unfortunately, of what we mean and how we carry out "conversation." I went well out of my way to steep myself in the tradition of education vis-a-vi what anyone might call "civil conversation" and have found it to be the refuge of mainly of those who wish to "cogitate." Certainly not all, of course, but it is no news to anyone here that one might say the problem of all education is an almost complete lack of education in EI. So that students can be highly educated in the "art of "logic" and 'the art of conversation'" for four years and come out emotional cripples or at least no better off then when they entered. 

Online encounters proving later to show that four years of formal education in "conversation" ( and indeed this being the center piece of the school) seemed to have caused but no effect in their evidently basic "true" affective makeup. At a alumni gathering a "prospective" parent who was a psychiatrist shied away form me when I pushed the idea that schools should deal with emotional health and education. "Oh no they have enough to deal with!" So a conversation, I suppose, you have to start some where. But then have early, often and frequently. Practice, practice, practice. Point? Just that it, as we know, is quite a trick to bring both reason and affect together and sustain a conversation for anytime at all no matter the group.

Shame and Humiliation (Summary of Principles used in these posts.)

Tomkins, Silvan S.: Affect Imagery Consciousness NY: SPringer Publishing Company, 1963.

Shame and Pride : Affect, Sex, and the Birth of the Self by Donald L. Nat

On  Amazon by Brian Lynch Paper Back and Kindle:
"Knowing Your Emotions"
"Doing- Thinking- Feeling - In The World"

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