Wealth without work
Pleasure without conscience
Knowledge without character
Commerce without morality
Science without humanity
Worship without sacrifice
Politics without principle
Donaldson's elegant description of evil reminds me of the interlocking dynamic of evil and mental illness. In my last two blogs, I focused on the mental illness of the Narcissistic Personality Disorder and how that mental illness creeps into our public life of business religion, and politics. Turning the topic around, in this writing, I will offer a description of mental health.
I call it the four-legged stool on which our life rests. If a leg is missing, or if a leg is too short, the stool is not balanced and we may fall off. The legs are work, play, affection, and spirituality, and this is the way I describe each of the legs.
It is not true that people do not want to work. It is not true that most people are lazy. Most people want to work. Those who do not want to work quite often are found to be people who have been abused in the workplace through demeaning duties, bullying supervisors, or pay that does not provide means to match the cost of living. In these cares, people "drop out," turn to crime, attempt to con the system for welfare, or drop into a debilitating life of drugs, suicide, or institutionalization.
For example, as reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, "the mortality rate for white men and women ages 45-54 with less than a college education took a sharp turn upward in 1999." (November 5, 2015) What has happened to account for this spike in the mysterious deaths of these people?
In the same article, five reasons for the high mortality rate were offered: (1) Our nation's opioid epidemic, (2) Alcohol poisoning, (3) Suicide, (4) The end of the American dream, coinciding with the disappearances of manufacturing and construction jobs, (5) Breakdown of family support networks. Underlying all of these proposed reasons is the loss of meaningful, rewarding work, the first leg on our stool of mental health.
The second leg of our stool is play. As Jay Asher says, "You can't stop the future. You can't rewind the past. The only way to learn the secret ... is to press play."
But the importance of play is not really a secret. Even though we may not do it well or often enough, we all know we feel better when we play. It is a biological/archetypal force in our lives. When Carl Jung was in his sixties and seventies, he often would sit by the Zurich sea and build sand castles, sometimes joined by little kids who wandered by.
Play, when we lose ourselves in it, restores our sanity . New neural pathways are created in our brain. We laugh. We create. We move our bodies in new ways. We find a joy that releases the stress of work and worry, or as Dr. Vanderscharen of Utrecht University puts it, "Dopamine makes us want to play, while endorphins make us enjoy it."
And, if we are mindful about our play, we may even take it back with us to our workplace and approach our work in a new way. "This is the real secret of life," says Alan Watts, "to be completely engaged in what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, we realize it is play."
This third leg, affection, is the stuff of poetry, love songs, and Hallmark cards. It is the dynamic in relationships that breaks down walls of misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility. And it begins in the first moments of our life when we are held lovingly by parents whose adoring eyes connect with the infant's expectant gaze. In that first encounter between mother and child, a secure attachment is formed that enables the developing child to feel secure in all of life, to be able to give and receive love.
"The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances; if there is any reaction, both are transformed." (Carl Jung) This is the epitome of mental health, is it not, to be able to experience this level of affection with another human being (or pet), to feel secure enough to be trustingly vulnerable in acts of friendship, sexuality, and teamwork; while, on the other hand, to be able to recognize those persons, places, and events that are not safe physically, mentally, emotionally, psychologically, or spiritually. In these cases, love compels us to leave others for the sake of our souls.
Which brings us to the fourth leg, spirituality. It is the experience of Ultimate Concern that connects your deepest self with meaning, purpose, and a moral core that makes possible a healthy relationship with all sentient beings. You may find this experience through participation in organized religion, but you may not. In fact, you may have to escape organized religion in order to realize your authentic spirituality.
If you have found the idea of spirituality to be so vague you either feel confined or just uncertain what it would look like, you may find helpful the following list of behaviors that describe the spirituality experience:
-- being honest... and able to see yourself as others see you.
-- being able to stay focused in the present, to be alert, unhurried, and attentive.
-- being able to rest, relax, and create a still, peaceful state of mind.
-- developing a deeper sense of empathy for others.
-- finding the capacity for forgiveness.
-- being able to be with someone who is suffering, while still being hopeful.
-- learning better judgement, for example, about when to speak or act, when
not to speak or act, and when to remain silent or do nothing.
-- learning how to give without feeling drained.
-- being able to grieve and let go.
(from the Royal College of Psychiatrists)
This is the leg on our four-legged stool that gives meaning and a depth perspective to the legs of work, play, and affection. For if we care nothing for the Ultimate, it is most likely we will have ultimate care for nothing.
Sigmund Freud's definition of health is having the capacity to work and to love. I have extended his definition by placing mental health on the four-legged stool of work, play, affection, and spirituality. In so doing, I hope I have extended our range of consideration for what a mentally healthy person might look like. In this season of bizarre and dangerous politics, we do well to review Donaldson's definition of evil. But even more closely to our everyday life, we must consider the mental health not only of ourselves, but of those entrusted with our welfare as it is experienced in work, play, affection, and spirituality.