A Comment on Current Race Relations

August 27, 2020
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

I’m not getting into any specific arguments about who thought or did what regarding Jordan Blake, George Floyd, or any of the other black and brown people we’ve seen mercilessly killed. I’m not going to explain away, justify or even say the name(s) of those who have enacted white supremacy by taking the law into their own hands outfitted with a lethal weapon.

We have a problem in this country with race, guns, and violence. Simple.

We have reached a tipping point regarding race and everyone needs to take action to fix this problem. As I have said elsewhere on CNN, we have a history of projecting all of humanity’s complexity into the identities of people with darker skin. Simple. This needs to change.

As a female who would be identified as a white psychologist, mother, daughter, sister, wife, and friend I stand with my black and brown friends, colleagues and strangers because we are all humans – parents, children, siblings, spouses and friends.

Simple. We are one family of people.

We must always stand for one another; if one of us hurts we all hurt. I can’t experience the exact same pain of many black and brown people. It doesn’t matter. Members of my human community are hurting. Simple.

And yes many white working class people have also been hurt by the greed and injustice of economic inequality. I’ll stand with them as well. It is, however, its own and different form of oppression. If we had run half as many news stories about black men in bars as white rural men in bars we might understand this better.

Let’s keep perspective. One story doesn’t cancel out the other. And they don’t require the same psychological challenge to overcome. Oppressed workers shouldn’t out voice the tragedy of racism.

Who are we that this even needs to be said?

In this fight we need everyone – the entire human community has to come together to fight the practice of putting the bad in someone else rather than ourselves.

As a psychologist my job is to help. This is what I can and will do.

1) Validate that racism exists.

2) Focus on the real impact of racial violence on our black and brown citizens. Listen.

3) Think twice before making attributions about people.

4) Scour my inner self for any vestiges of unconscious racism and root it out.

5) Ensure that psychological work is available to all who need it regardless of their income level.

6) Promise that all the people with whom I work receive the dignity of my interest in their story and not only the imposition of psychological ideas onto their narrative.

7) Challenge the ideas inherent in psychological theory and history that creates hierarchy, pathology and discrimination out of difference.

8) Make equal and economic justice for all people something I work on everyday; embed these principles in my every action.

9) Stand up and fight for my fellow black and brown citizens when they ask and don’t dismiss or disparage their pain.

10) Be a good person, a civically minded person, toward everyone.

Simple. What’s your plan? What else can I do? Let me know. I’m here, open and ready to change.

Sexual Assault: How it Happens, What to Do

August 26, 2015

(Courtesey of The Campus Sexual Assault Study from The National Institute of Justice)

(Courtesy of The Campus Sexual Assault Study from The National Institute of Justice)

My letter to the editor in the New York Times discusses the issue of sexual abuse in relationship to the alleged assault that took place at St Paul’s.  Below I offer a more thorough discussion of the role of cognitive confusion in sexual abuse and what to do to help prevent it.

Update: Also see this post from the Harvard Crimson about a young woman’s sexual assault at a campus function.

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Where You Go is Not Who You’ll Be: An Encounter with Frank Bruni

March 19, 2015


A year ago Frank Bruni wrote a series of columns that were to become his book Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania, published March 17. I read those articles avidly. After many years of offering words of wisdom and comfort to many anxious and wigged out teens and parents during the college admissions process, I, a seasoned psychologist, had become one of them.

Worried that my olive branch wouldn’t stand up to the armored vehicles that now hovered on the junior year turf, I had started to doubt myself – both our family values and our child rearing style. I wrote to Bruni thanking him for his insights and burdening him with the details of what many people call the hell that passes for junior year. We communicated a few times via email. Even though my son’s class dean had warned us all to “stay in your own movie,” I found myself straying into other people’s movies almost daily.

I’m not alone. Both professionally and personally, I’ve now had more conversations with parents about college admissions than I even thought possible. The topics can dizzy one – pre-college summers, Saturday music school, tutors, connections with board members, the lack of middle-class financial aid and legacies, especially legacies with money. All of this I shared with Bruni when he asked to interview me.

Admittedly, seeing my worries and vulnerabilities fully revealed in the last pages of Bruni’s book caused a few internal shudders. Bruni had caught me with my guard down.

Yet, I’m glad that he did. It’s time to reveal the truth about what parents endure when their kids apply to college.

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An Open Letter to Young Adults about Sex, Drugs and Alcohol

February 27, 2015


Dear Young Person: Alcohol, drugs and sexuality can enhance and create life. They work. They can alter your moods, change your perceptions and disinhibit you. It’s fun to be able to behave differently. Blotting out discomfort relieves anxiety. Going wild can release tension. Alcohol, drugs and sexuality have always been part of the human experience. Think of them as elegant enhancements to already very wondrous life experiences. The young adults I know move me with their energy, brilliance and dedication to causes and creativity. Even those making traditional choices bring unique voices to their work and professions. When I think that you are the future, I want nothing more than to nurture and support you, paving the way for your dreams. Yet, some of you have taken a dangerous detour. The current style of drug, alcohol and sexuality misuse both deprives and potentially harms you.

Our society, and that includes the people who raised you, haven’t figured out how to talk about limits without going back to a more repressive past. Rock and rap stars make tons of money pushing an image of sexy macho hooking-up druggy behavior but it isn’t real. When real people try and live that way, it usually feels really, really bad. People get hurt and violated. Further, attending high school, college or graduate school for the purposes of wild partying disrespects yourself, the concept of education, and all those people in the world who would give anything to have the privilege of education.

I know you have been given mixed messages about all of this stuff and it isn’t your fault if you think the only way to have a good time is to obliterate your mind. So, if you will allow me, I have put together a few modern guidelines for how to navigate the difficult terrain of drugs, alcohol and sexuality. Here goes: Read the rest of this entry »

Teach Your Children Well

February 26, 2015


I’m not going to link to every reported instance of college or high school partying getting out of hand. Nor am I going to link to the number of emergency room visits that occur every weekend due to alcohol poisoning or drug overdoses; nor every instance of campus sexual abuse. In almost every adolescent community a brilliant and talented student has to be rushed to the hospital each weekend. Or a young woman comes to my office feeling confused and violated by an unwanted sexual experience that arose out of too much alcohol, or having been “roofied.” Pre-gaming and tailgate parties occur openly in our culture. Americans abroad are known for their wild partying.

Recently a private university sent twelve kids to the hospital, two critically ill due to the effects of bad “molly.” The four student dealers were among the school’s brightest students. I’m not going to link to this particular incident or any other because it is too easy to blame individual students or the institutions or the families.

Let’s be clear: I am not advocating prohibition or demonizing the responsible use of drugs and alcohol.

Rather, I’m suggesting that along with a national conversation about campus sexual abuse, it’s also time for a national conversation about how getting wasted has become commonplace for kids as young as thirteen and fourteen. Sexual and alcohol abuse are, after all, related events.  Is it time to start setting some limits on the youthful narcissism and entitlement that makes excessive alcohol use and hook-up sexuality more rewarding than the development of good character?  In ways no one intends, do we not reinforce adolescent substance misuse? Do we cultivate the culture of getting wasted over the development of sober social skills? Consider what I have observed in my work as a psychologist:

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How to Date in Five (not so easy) Lessons

February 23, 2015


I’m not sure why exactly it is easier to arm the student population than to simply reinforce the idea that sexuality is an extension of a relationship. I’m not advocating a return to a repressive sexuality. Rather, I’m thinking that the brilliant talented kids who constitute our country’s future might benefit from learning how to date.

I once suggested to a client that she have dinner with a man before having sex with him. She looked at me in horror.

What?” she exclaimed, “Have a meal with someone I’ve never met before? Are you crazy?”

No, I’m not crazy.

No matter how it may be publically depicted, the alcohol and drug fueled hook-up sexuality simply feels awful – especially the next morning when your breath stinks and you can’t find your underwear. Let’s get real. Sexuality without intimacy isn’t quite as fun as the hype would have you believe. Further, you get hurt or hurt someone else when you neither know nor understand your partner.

Finally, by popular demand, I am posting my five tips toward successful dating. In other words, here are some ideas for how to behave before you even think about having sex with someone. Here goes:

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Shades of Intimacy

February 19, 2015


Everyone is talking about Shades of Grey.  Having neither read the book nor seen the movie and with no plans to do so, I can’t comment on whether this creation is liberating for women or an exemplar of abuse.  I can, however, say this: sexuality without the constraints of judgment harms men and women.  No one wishes a return to a repressive sexuality. Yet, a modicum of restraint would add tremendous value to the healthy exploration of everyone’s sexuality.  I’m comfortable with sexual relationships between sober consenting adults. Disinhibited sexuality fueled by drugs and alcohol and quick hook-ups may have a merit under certain very specific conditions. Mostly such encounters inflict pain and shame.  Hook-ups offer short-term solutions to a longing for love. Drunken and drug-enabled sex often leads to or downright empowers abuse and rape. What people really need right now is less titillation with fantasy and more support for how to make real relationships and genuine intimacy fanciful. Start with long walks through the park.  Or playful conversation about a shared topic of interest.  Build a snow man.  See theater. Listen to music.  Talk about the complicated landscape of life.  The sexuality that arises from really knowing someone might very well enlighten you with fifty shades of living color.

And the violence, it goes round and round . . .

June 11, 2014

Let me make one thing clear.

As of May 2014 there have been at least 70 mass shootings or shooting sprees with legally purchased guns, according to Rolling Stone.

As Ezra Klein reported in 2012, while violence in general declines, more episodes of a lone individual, or team, involved in killing sprees or mass murders increase.

Why? And, as Tim Kreider recently wrote, do we really care?

No one answer can solve this problem.

Is it even worth trying? Do we have an obligation to murdered children, youths and adults? To their families?

Do we even owe it to ourselves because any of us or our families or our kids could be next?

Pundits, politicians, the NRA reach for the simple answers. Yet, no one explanation moves us forward to stopping this crazy epidemic of young men going wild upon the world around them.

Mental illness alone doesn’t cause a person to buy a gun and shoot a bunch people.

Access to guns makes violent crime easier to commit but they don’t motivate the shooter.

Exposure to violence can impact how people process information, but individuals vary widely in how they internalize violent imagery. Most violent gamers don’t become mass murderers.

Overstimulation in general can alter how a person perceives others.  Yet, many people with even the most sensitive temperaments or the propensity toward reactive anger don’t decide to kill.

The confluence, however, of persons with unregulated temperaments, who have learned violent pathways to manage emotions, and who have easy access to guns enables more people than ever to enact this complicated call from within their psyches.

So while calling for more mental health treatment, legislating new gun safety rules and placing limits on kids’ access to violent imagery, also ask this question: how come so many people with the above described profile have emerged in the past thirty years or so?

Perhaps these individuals with a particular skew toward vulnerability enact exactly what they have been taught by the world in which we live: rush to do violence.

Children around the world have this in common: suicide bombings, acts of terrorism, exposure to the effects of nuclear arms and chemical weapons, savage treatment of animals in the production of food, obliteration of the world’s beauty and environmental health, sexual aggression towards women and children, pornographic representation of said violence, idolatry of gang culture, and massive overexposure, albeit fantasized, to destructive acts between humans.

Of course these behaviors have always existed. And yes, people have always killed. Mass murders and killing sprees punctuate all of history.

The beauty of the modern world, however, resides in our exquisite technology.  The violence we can commit is so much grander. The vulnerable and confused children who grow up under its shadow can enact their vehemence with far greater power.

So limit guns and enhance mental health. In the meantime, think about this: are these troubled lone gunmen with easy access to weapons behaving any differently than that which the world reflects back to them?

Thinking Through Diversity

May 28, 2014


I have been very involved in thinking about how the ideas of diversity help us build our shared society.  I recently published this piece on CNN.com trying to pull together a way of conceptualizing how in our diversity we are together.

Unresponsiveness to climate change: one reason

January 20, 2014


The more news about the impending consequences of climate change, the more I wonder why individuals react so slowly to the reality of climate change.  Many behavioral scientists now attempt to address this issue.  In the UK an organization called Climate Psychology Alliance serves as a hub for analysts and other practitioners of therapy who try to understand the human relationship to climate change. Last summer, they published my “letter from the U.S.”   I’ve been wondering whether or not too much time spent on technology and indoors can lead to a flattening of consciousness. Maybe we need to re-dimensionalize human consciousness?

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