I had one of those weird thoughts that pop up on occasion while driving home the other day from doing therapy and thinking about theology.
As you have no doubt noticed recently, the number of insane and violent attacks all over the world has gone up recently. At the same time, the ability of politicians and the general population to deal with it has gotten lower during this political season, as politics has gotten crazier. In family systems theory, there are those who say that parents set the tone for the family, and increase or decrease the health of depending on their own mental health or lack of it. There are those who say that “executive functioning” — those in charge of the family, like the brain is in charge of maintaining the body — is the most important thing in determining the mental health of the family. If this metaphor is correct, then the ability of our leaders (or potential leaders) to be mentally healthy and act sanely is the ability to cope that our society will have as well.
In the world of family therapy among addicted people, mental health comes from not engaging in “crazy-making behavior”. Crazy-making behavior is most often tied to not being able to tell the truth and finding ways to avoid dealing with it. Virginia Satir, my model for therapy, noted that patients became schizophrenic in families where people said one thing and acted differently at the same time. They make it worse when there are rules that all people must act the way the powerful crazy one acts.
The Big Lie that was used by Hitler and Ghoering and all would be a prime example of this. The idea for the Big Lie is that if you say something unbelievable over and over, people will believe it. For example, when the Nazis said “all Jews are evil” and Jews looked at themselves in the mirror and knew they weren’t, it felt crazy to them. When the Nazis enforced this kind of thought with brutality, they increased the craziness/mental un-health exponentially. Not only did this crazy-making make the Jews heads spin, it made those who were inflicting the pain try to justify their behavior and try to make the irrational rational. This, of course, can’t be done, so the Nazis heads spun trying to come up with double-talk that would fit the situation. Pretending that evil is good takes a lot of mental energy — energy that could be used actually solving the challenges of daily life.
The cure for this is, in essence, telling the truth as the truth and then coping with it as though the truth is reality. So, for instance, when police shoot citizens and then say, “no, we didn’t” or when they say, “I was afraid” while the unarmed person ran away, the community feels crazy. Then, when the police or the public tries to justify that behavior, they have to lie. They spend a lot of mental energy as well, and they get exhausted and go crazy as well, just in a different way. Both forms of craziness lead to anger and anger leads to violence and this clash of police and citizenry.
This is true of all leaders. When Bill Clinton said, “I smoked marijuana, but I didn’t inhale”, that’s a crazy statement. The only way to smoke marijuana is to inhale, at least as far as getting smoke into the mouth. For people to rationalize that statement as truth requires some major mental gymnastics. For Hillary to be Secretary of State and not use a secure system if/when her job required it means either 1) she did her job poorly (intentionally or unintentionally). For her to say that there were no problems with it and/or it didn’t happen is crazy-making as well, especially when thousands of emails appear.
When Donald Trump says Mexico is send us rapists, and the Mexicans who came here illegally look at themselves know it’s not true, they feel crazy. When he doubles down on it, they feel crazier, and get angry. When Trump says he’s going to make them pay for their sins (which they know they didn’t commit), he blames them for his lies — more crazy-making. For people to justify his remarks with some rationality would take the impossible, so they justify his remarks with their own insane behavior and hostility. This happened nearly at the beginning of his run for office, and anger between Americans has only gotten stronger.
Racism, sexism, class-ism, xenophobia (fear of strangers) and homophobia/heterosexism are all lies, because they assume that all of group X is bad, evil, and wrong, while all of group Y is good, saintly, and always right. We know that neither of these is true, and yet we try to justify them all the time. If one group were always bad, evil, and wrong, they’d have killed each other off by now and that hasn’t happened. If the other group were always right, they’d have no problems coping with things, and that’s clearly not happening either.
When people who are supposed to run things and have the power to make things happen say one thing and do another, we get a little crazier. Remember “No Child Left Behind”? When it was the slogan of the Children’s Defense Fund, it was a call to justice for children. It had power. When it was a law about education, it became mired in controversy as we tried to use good words to make bad things happen. When the Pentagon uses words like “peacekeeper” for a missile, it seems more than ironic for most of us. When politicians promised “Trickle Down” economics would work, and it didn’t, we knew we”d been lied to.
The more powerful, the more rigid, and the more untruthful our leaders are, the crazier and angrier we become as a family of American citizens. As the election comes around, let the buyer beware.
If politicians want to build this country, they need to tell the truth, mean what they say, and do what they say they are going to, as best they can. Expecting “perfect” from them is expecting the impossible from human beings, and is also a lie. To the extent that our leaders and those in authority can do just that, we will be calm and sane. The more they lie, the worse we’ll be. Let them understand that as well.