Archive for the ‘personal value’ Tag


The latest thing in “explaining” mass shootings is to focus on the shooter’s mental health. All good and well. Why wouldn’t this Psychologist be happy to know people’s mental health is gaining in focus and purpose?

But this Social Psychologist doesn’t like the way it’s being used to avoid the more basic horror – the cultural grounding in which poor mental health is being fostered. What sensible, alive, and aware person doesn’t carry a substratum ache of empathy, concern, and fear in this world of cruelty, killing, and destruction. It almost seems like a mark of emotional health to be disturbed. No, I don’t like the implication that the cause lies in an individual’s deviation from the norm. On the contrary, the cause lies in the culture that fosters the human potential for evil.

Will we ever get around to looking at the painful, destructive inequities in childcare, education, financial status, health care, gender acceptance, respect, and expectations for individual accomplishment (not necessarily measured by financial wealth)? What did I leave out?

It could be done. We could create a culture based on encouraging personal growth, self-confidence, gratitude, appreciation, cognitive competence, kindness, personal value – dare I say love?  But that would require reducing the “blame the other” emphasis implied in the focus on individual mental health and looking instead at our own responsibility as part of a culture. As it is, I’m afraid we have adopted “mental health” as a way to avoid looking at our own selves.

Please notice, I haven’t used the words “mental illness.” That’s a related but different story.


He called me Auntie, I called him Uncle Joe. There was no logical reason for it, given that he was my former husband’s brother-in-law. But Uncle Joe he was.

Being in the process of reading “Atlas Shrugged” was the stimulus for my remembering Joe. You don’t need to have read Ayn Rand’s works, though, for this to make sense. I just want to point out how creative and essential Joe was, and how unlikely it would be that anyone would recognize him, either financially or through reputation, for what he did.

Joe earned his living as a school custodian. I’ll admit, before I understood his job, I thought it was pretty insignificant. Not the heralded creativity of those who obtain patents and money for their inventions of new things or ideas. He would certainly not be recognized by those who think the contributions of the mind outrank physical labor.

No, janitors don’t just wash floors and clean up messes after careless students. Daily Joe was met with the challenge of something not functioning properly. Heating and air conditioning breakdowns, electrical failures, plumbing problems, structural damage, animal invasions – I can’t name all the problems. And that’s just the point. Whatever the event, it was his job to diagnose and repair, to apply his creative skills to arrive at the most efficient solution. He kept the school running.

In the meantime, he served, as so many custodians do, as unofficial counselor to troubled students.

I confess, I have joyfully engaged in an occupation where the mind was paramount. That’s why I so fear falling on my head which contains my most important working parts. But I am unwilling to join those who belittle folks like Uncle Joe. We are all of potential value. We are all served if we appreciate and encourage what others have to offer. That includes the young man of limited ability who greets us as we enter the concert hall. Maybe that’s why, in the 60s, I identified with those who opposed elitism.

So, here’s to the memory of Uncle Joe.

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