Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Something We Might Even Call Holy

My wife and I live on what I call the "Amazon campus" here in downtown Seattle. The other morning, as I was on my way to catch the bus to work I overheard one side of a business conversation, not an uncommon thing in this land of junior business whizzes and smart phones. The fellow was behind me, offering what sounded like sage advice to the person to whom he was talking. When he caught up with me at the crosswalk, I noted his disheveled appearance. When he returned my gaze, I saw that he wasn't holding a phone, nor wearing any sort of ear piece. He continued yammering about meetings and spread sheets and negotiations as we stood there, sounding for all the world like a real go-getter as it slowly dawned on me that he was yet another of the thousands of mentally ill people that populate our streets, talking to themselves.

Anyone who has spent any time in an American city has seen them. Usually, they come to our attention because they are yelling angrily, even violently, at some unseen tormentor. We shake our heads and cross to the other side of the street, feeling both pity and fear, but increasingly I've noticed that there are a lot more people talking to themselves than I once was able to "see," and most of them are having what sound like perfectly normal conversations with those unseen others. I once overheard one woman who sounded like she was giving solace to a child. Another was carrying on what seemed like a casual, jokey breakfast dialog with a spouse. Yet another was telling a wild story about air travel. The yelling seems "crazy," but much of the rest of it doesn't, the only distressing part being that these "sick" people are apparently convinced that they are speaking with someone who is clearly not there.

The easy answer, the likely answer, is that they are responding to the voices in their heads. But that doesn't stop me from wondering. Perhaps, as many indigenous peoples believed, these people aren't crazy at all, but rather actually connecting to something beyond my ken. There is an infinity of things about existence that we don't know, that we can't perceive, and maybe these people are able to see into one of those mysteries, to communicate with people from another dimension or something. Maybe the problem isn't with them, but with a society that has, in its ignorance, labeled them "sick" instead of "blessed."

I mean, it's not as if we don't have a long, long track record of pathologizing behaviors or orientations that are a bit different than the norm. To this day, there are those who think there is something wrong with a woman who isn't fully satisfied with the whole barefoot and pregnant thing. Some of us still believe that homosexuality is a diagnosable mental illness. And most of us feel that talking to oneself in public is a sign of mental illness. Maybe, like so many things, the illness is not found within the individual, but rather within our society. If we treated these people the way they were in, say, Native American or aboriginal societies, we would treat them as holy rather than crazy.

Indeed, much of what we shove into the box called "mental illness" or disorder in an individual might really be more accurately viewed as an illness or disorder in our environment. Sometimes we can be "cured" on a personal level, like by moving to a sunnier climate or hanging out with different people, but often there is no cure without approaching it as a problem with society. I've found that many of the "problems" we see in children, for instance, are really a problem with us expecting all the kids to fit into the same little box called school, a place that typically does not accommodate the full range of human normalcy.

The longer I've worked with young children, the more I've come to understand that it's our job to create places that work for all the children, not just the ones who present as "normal." Yesterday, a four-year-old girl spent nearly a full hour playing alone under our loft, singing and talking to imaginary others, engaged in exactly the behavior that is considered crazy when we see it in an adult. Yet, in our school environment, this is normal behavior, something we may even celebrate, something we might even call holy. It seems that rest of society could learn something from preschools.

I've just published a book! If you are interested in ordering Teacher Tom's First Book, click here. Thank you! 

I put a lot of time and effort into this blog. If you'd like to support me please consider a small contribution to the cause. Thank you!
Bookmark and Share

No comments: