The old saying, “you never know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone” applies this morning. For all the complaining about our press — liberal bias, conservative bias, sound bites, etc. — we at least have a press. In some part of Mexico, this morning, they, in essence, don’t. According to today’s news, a newspaper in Mexico which has had two reporters die at the hands of the drug cartels has asked the gangs to tell them what they want reported and what they don’t. Many other papers down there either don’t cover the drug war at all or limit their coverage of it.
I simply can’t imagine it. We kill ourselves as human beings when we don’t speak the truth of our hurts. If my family were killed by a gang or drug lord or, frankly, any evil entity, and the press didn’t even acknowledge it, I would go insane. Then I would go about telling anyone who would listen until I was dead.
There is a reason I do what I do for a living. As a therapist, I listen, acknowledge, and believe people back to health. It is not enough for God to know every hair on our heads or the worth of each human life. As human beings, we need to be known by each other. Whether we live or die, if we are happy and successful or miserable and in pain, we need to be acknowledged by others. Yes, folks, we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keeper. Not just about things like food and shelter, but about memories and truth as well — the very reality of our being. Life that goes unacknowledged by at least one other person withers and dies. Pain that goes unacknowledged speeds the process tremendously.
From the child who brings home their art work to Mommy and Daddy to be put up on the refrigerator to the husband or wife boyfriend or girlfriend who wants to unburden themselves after a long day at work, being known and loved is as basic as it gets. I don’t mean that everyone has to have their own reality show or have their lives magnified to an absurd degree. That rings hollow. What I mean is that everyone should know they are important to someone else — if only one person. Resiliency studies (studies about why some people overcome incredible odds while others don’t) indicate that the one single factor which makes a difference is having one person in your life that will always listen and tell you the truth. That’s the secret to mental health and a successful life — having somebody else care about your existence. It’s not money, fame, a big house, a nice car or any of those things. It’s knowing that somebody knows and cares that you exist.
I’ve been reading a book over the summer called “Power vs. Force: The Hidden Determinants of Human Behavior” and it talks about something Virginia Satir knew intuitively years earlier: that people are strongest — their voice is stronger, their posture is better, they seem more alive — when they tell the truth as they see it. Lewis Thomas a scientist and philosopher of sorts, once pointed out that the reason that lie detectors work is because they pick up on stress responses when we lie. In other words, it is stressful to lie. And it seems to me that denial is a form of lying — either to ourselves or others. So speaking our truth, our reality makes us stronger and denying our truth or reality weakens us as human beings.
When the press in Mexico says, “tell us what the truth is that you want to hear” to people who cause trauma, it effectively destroys the mental health of those effected. When Mothers of the Disappeared showed pictures of people taken in Chile’s political battle to the world, they grew stronger in spirit. When people listen to us, we feel cared for. When people deny our existence, we feel neglected. This is basic human nature.
This means two things on two different levels. First, in the political or institutional world, a thriving press means a healthy country, region, and world. We must do everything we can to support the telling of truth by the press. We must have support for reporters to do their jobs, no matter what, because the truth gives us life. The difference between us and Mexico right now can be shown in our freedom of the press and the Wiki-leaks scandal about documents in Afghanistan. Our government hated the fact that these documents became public, but they didn’t do much to stop it or punish the people involved because the documents showed truth and we value that as “freedom of the press”. Contrast this to “tell us what to print” and you can see the difference. To the extent that our press does the same thing in response to corporate pressures or government pressures or what-have-you, we suffer as well. A healthy, free internet is a good way to keep the press free, if only as a way to tell stories of people as though they matter.
On the personal level, any time you can listen to someone else, you give them life and/or you protect their soul from dying slowly, and you make the world a better place. From the nerdy kid at school to the loner at work, from the abuse victim to the war refugee, from the three year old to the rebellious teen or the senior in a nursing home, you have the power to make a difference in their lives just by taking time and listening. You give hope, you give power and strength, you give love and energy all by simply listening and acknowledging another human being. Try to do that every day and see your world change.
And if you have some pressing Truth that you have to be heard about, speak up and say it. In doing so, you free yourself and you make the world a better place.