A LETTER TO NON-RELIGIOUS THERAPISTS
ABOUT ISRAEL AND MY"SELF"
|This letter was written to a number of colleagues of
mine who were discussing the middle east
situation. I listened for a long time then wrote
this answer. None of them live here. I think it is a good
example of judgmental attitudes......
I have been reading the exchanges about the middle east and peace with a growing sense of uneasiness. I am well aware of my part in this situation - I haven't said anything yet. So I wish to correct my contribution of this feeling. Someone wrote that westerners tend to talk tooooo much. I agree. I try not to talk in therapy. In the end I do talk and the compromise works to the betterment of both effectiveness and efficiency.
The middle east is more important to me than 'therapy'. One is an occupation the other is a matter of life and death. That is not a metaphor. I was born and raised in San Francisco - which is a state of mind on the west coast of America. Left wing - radical - That is a religion unto itself. I supported the p.c. causes North Viet Nam, women's' rights, the poor, etc. My dad, taught me well. He was a communist working for the Daily Worker and I was his son.
Ho Chi Mein (the person not the city) said that a radical is someone who is willing to kill or be killed for what he believed in. By that definition I certainly wasn't a radical. I was a gentleman farmer radical. radical chic . But that was enough - then at least.
I didn't go the university in the states, I traveled to see the world. My traveling stopped when I reached Jerusalem. I felt at home, something that I never really felt before but hadn't missed because I didn't know that it existed. My soul fit here. I started reading Jewish History. Another fit.
As is required in Israel, I went into the army. I was, of course, anti military. (Radical chic.) But this time it was different. A peoples army. Everyone went in. Rich, poor, Ph.D.., and the uneducated. Officers (both men and women) were friendly. It was a family affair. Like in most families there were arguments but things worked when they really needed to. What was most interesting to me a participant/observer was that no one wanted to be in the army. There is built into the Israeli army 'planned obsolescence'. All officers (professional soldiers) must leave by the age of 45. The message is 'don't get too comfortable'. The army was and still is seen as terrible temporary solution.
Keeping to radical chic I went to the Hebrew U. School of Social Work. I chose to work were I felt most at home - poverty neighborhoods, 'multi-problem families' (and other victims). My clients helped me a great deal and I am still thankful that I chose the right thing even though it may have been for the wrong reasons. I started learning about helping, about being present in times of pain and crisis. Not just present physically, but present spiritually. About life decisions that are not theoretical, but have very real immediate results. violence, hospitalization, jail, or 'just' being very very alone.
I remember reading critique of the constructionist approach in a treatment center for violent men. It went something like this, 'when he shoots you with a real gun it is difficult to understand this is just 'one more perception' and attitude or something to talk about. It came home to me when I was working with a father who would pull the arms of his children out of the shoulder sockets when they did something wrong. I abandoned the idea of neutrality when I saw a four year old with both arms out of place.
To abandon neutrality I had to UNlearn something I was taught in social work school about being 'non judgmental'. That is a paradoxical attitude in and of itself. Being non judgmental is in fact being judgmental about life. The question then becomes what type of judgmental attitude are you going to use? You can not not be judgmental.
The sft therapist can be extremely helpful by attempting to withhold his judgment. This, I understand, is a tactic. When and under what conditions is there something like right and wrong? Are all things equal? Is there no 'real' answer? Are we non-judgmental about 'unimportant' things? Who decides that? Is injustice just another type of conversation?
I remember a woman who I had helped some years ago came to me again because she had become pregnant out of wedlock. She was struggling with the question of abortion - yes or no. I am now an ultra orthodox Jew, a person who submits his very being to the written law. Abortion is out of the question for me. I reminded her that I would have only one answer - so why would she pick me for such a dilemma? Her answer was very helpful to me. She said, 'of course I know your position, you almost always made you position clear on every subject we talked about. But you always asked difficult questions an never tried to force me to do anything.' I see my job to force the client to think and at the critical moment I withdraw -- knowing full well that I CAN NOT accompany anyone on the next frightening step. Rarely can I 'be' with my client in the moment of truth. I will, though, be around to help pick up the pieces if that is what is necessary.
My oldest boy said it best when he wanted (against my opinion) to go into the army. I feared that he would be hurt spiritually by going in. I told him that he was running towards a wall, and he would be hurt. In frustration I told him about the wall. He said to me that he wanted to find out for himself. 'What could I do to help? I asked when it was clear that he would go in. He wanted me to be around to help him get up if there was a wall AND not to say 'I told you so'. I was there to help him up and I pained his pain and remained silent.
Today I firmly believe that clients prefer a clear ethical stand from their partners in help. What they don't want is being told 'do it my way'. They want to be challenged about what is just, what is correct. Being in the right is helpful even if you fail. Being ethical is being part of a Community (and not just feeling good for the moment) and community is part and parcel of good mental health. The bond of common struggle and goals is a glue that 'helpful' words don't and can't match. I'm sure many of us read the book "When Words Were Magic". As an orthodox Jew I would have called it "When Words Were Real". There was such a time. I try to return to that time. Words are real.
The world is not flat - all things are not equal. There is a reality, it just ain't simple as we liked to believe. I know the truth when I see it. I have core beliefs. They don't cover every situation. I also know when I don't know. Part of my ability to help is knowing the difference. Some things are not open to negotiation.
My 'self', my family, (and here we get to the subject) my country are open to negotiation, but not their existence - - physical or spiritual. These are core beliefs. This not a call for "my country right or wrong". My country should be right. With a great deal of pain and embarrassment I know my country has been wrong more often then not. We are not Northern Ireland, not South Africa, not American Indians, nor Algeria.
In 1973 I was in the States studying in a doctoral program when the Yom Kipper war broke out in Israel. I lied my way onto the last plane for Israel. We lost that war, even though some of us didn't die. I was demobilized a few days after war and mistakenly returned to study. I got off the plane in N.Y. and started to cry. It took about six months to stop. In my program were 2 Viet Nam veterans who knew how to take care of me. The pain didn't go away, I have though befriended it. (The university was extremely understanding and helpful. The only thing they didn't do for me is give me six credits for "War" 1A)
King David was prevented from building the Holy Temple in Jerusalem because he had blood on his hands. One of Gods name is Peace and peace is described as the ultimate gift. By that definition I too will be prevented from taking part in the rebuilding of our Third Temple. I have though another avenue of contribute to the reconstruction. I can prevent my children from having to take part in what we call in Israel " the terrible temporary solution" (army and war). The other is to talk and talk and talk and talk to anyone anywhere at any time who will do two things: promise not to kill my children and respect my total identify with Jewish Law. Here is my core. You see, Not everything is open to negotiation. Not with my enemies, not with my clients, not with my wife, and most important not even with myself. Some things are right and my desires or weaknesses will not change that.
This long personal monologue is an invitation to start something and not a policy statement. It is both imperfect and temporary - two qualities that are equally as appropriate a description of the author. I am more than willing to exchange and change ideas with anyone who will accept my two preconditions for talking. Not everything is open to negotiation.
For this type of problem - - house calls are recommended.Please send us your comments to TorahPsychology@shemayisrael.co.il