Freedom is Calling

 


Freedom Is Calling – Let Us Go Out To Greet It

God brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand, an outstretched arm, with great awe, signs and wonders. (Deuteronomy XXVI: 8)

For many of us the re-telling of the liberation of the Children of Israel from bondage echoes the stories of our struggle for liberation from persecution and hiding due to our sexual orientation. As with the telling of the Passover story, it is incumbent on each of us to consider ourselves as if each one of us personally was part of all of the struggles for liberation. To remember and honor those who gave their lives so that we might face a brighter future.

Like the Children of Israel before us we come out to freedom from bondage through a mighty hand, an outstretched arm, with great awe, signs and wonders.

With a mighty hand… We are discovering our voices and our political strength

With an outstretched arm… We are reaching out to embrace our families of origin and our families of choice

With great awe… We are reclaiming our religion and finding our spiritual home

With signs and wonders …  God set a rainbow in the sky as a sign of an eternal covenant that the waters would no more become a flood to destroy life.  We have adopted the rainbow as a symbol of our covenant to one another that hatred and bigotry will no longer be allowed to flood our world and destroy the lives of our people.

This year weak and vulnerable
Next year courageous and united in strength

This year afraid and alone
Next year comforted by the warmth of community

This year in darkness and hiding
Next year in freedom and light

This year in searching for meaning and direction
Next year leading our way toward a dream of acceptance, peace, hope and healing

-Carl Josehart
Passover, 1998


 

The “Magnificent! Excellent! Unsurpassed!” Procession of the Emperor

So off went the Emperor in procession under his splendid canopy. Everyone in the streets and the windows said, “Oh, how fine are the Emperor’s new clothes! Don’t they fit him to perfection? And see his long train!” Nobody would confess that he couldn’t see anything, for that would prove him either unfit for his position, or a fool. No costume the Emperor had worn before was ever such a complete success.

“But he hasn’t got anything on,” a little child said.

“Did you ever hear such innocent prattle?” said its father. And one person whispered to another what the child had said, “He hasn’t anything on. A child says he hasn’t anything on.”

“But he hasn’t got anything on!” the whole town cried out at last.

The Emperor shivered, for he suspected they were right. But he thought, “This procession has got to go on.” So he walked more proudly than ever, as his noblemen held high the train that wasn’t there at all. (Hans Christian Andersen, The Emperor’s New Clothes)


 Breaking the Fourth Wall

 In theater the imaginary fourth wall serves to separate the world of the fictional characters on stage from the world of reality where the audience lives.

In the theater, “breaking the fourth wall” means having a character become aware of his/her own fictional nature and in so doing the audience becomes aware that they had temporarily suspended disbelief and been temporarily experiencing a fictional world “as if” it were real.

Maintaining the fourth wall requires the active collaboration of the actors and the audience to maintain its fragile existence. In these circumstances there is rarely any danger of harm – the actors and audience rarely lose touch to the point of completely forgetting the difference between what is real and imagined and participate temporarily for entertainment’s sake.

When a similar process happens outside of the theater, in “real life”, the process is sometimes referred to as folie à deux – a shared delusion. It can happen when an individual so believes something to be true that those close to him/her begin to believe it as well. The “secondary victim” is more vulnerable when s/he has limited contact with the outside world or relatively few healthy outside relationships where s/he may be exposed to information that would contradict, challenge or invalidate the veracity of the delusional idea(s). The “secondary victim” is also more likely to be in a passive or subservient status with respect to the person with the primary delusion.

In “The Emperor’s New Clothes” by Hans Christen Andersen, a couple of swindlers pretending to be weavers make a special suit for the emperor. They tell the emperor and his followers that the clothes are invisible to people who are too stupid for their jobs. None of his advisors or subjects can see the clothing, but no one wanted to admit this fact because they do not want to be identified as foolish.

When you read this story, who do you aspire to be?


I Believe

What happened – really happened
What happened – really happened
What happened – really happened
I believe with perfect faith
That I will have the strength to believe that
What happened – really happened

– Carmi, Anatomy of a War, 1977


“The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.”

— George Orwell, “1984”


“In a room where people unanimously maintain a conspiracy of silence, one word of truth sounds like a pistol shot.”

― Czesław Miłosz


 

I Count One

If you are like me, there are times when the news of the day – wars, conflict, hunger, disease and suffering – is so overwhelming that I feel paralyzed. It is easy to feel too small to make a difference. During those times I try to remember the words of Theodore Roosevelt, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” In that spirit, I try to start where I am and pick one thing because each “one” counts and leads to the next…

I Count One

by Carl Josehart

I count one
against the numberless
nameless
throng
graves unmarked
by unwilling eyes
trying not to be witness
to magnitudes of suffering

And I count one
and one more
and one more too
if but one at a time
then let it go on
til one and one and one again
yield to many and many more
forced to see and hear and
touch the souls
of the numberless
nameless
throng

I count one
and raise my voice
to count one more
and raise my hand
to touch one more
and raise my eyes
to see one more
and raise my head
to listen to one more
and raise my mouth
to taste the dread
and my nose
to smell the fear
and my lips
to kiss the frightened
feverish head

And I count one
plucked from the reeds
who will lead us home
through parted waters
and parched sands
til we finally arrive
at the the gates of
the promised land


You might also appreciate I Wait For A World

Scream

Scream

by Carl Josehart

We live in a time that it seems that free speech is under attack. The freedoms we enjoy today are the gift of previous generations that have spoken up against tyranny and oppression. In the coming weeks and months I am going to try to highlight and celebrate these brave individuals. One of these heroic voices is Nadezhda Madelstam. She famously said:

“I often wondered whether it is right to scream when you are being beaten and trampled underfoot. Isn’t it better to face one’s tormentors in a stance of satanic pride, answering them with contemptuous silence? I decided that it is better to scream. This pitiful sound, which sometimes, goodness knows how, reaches into the remotest prison cell, is a concentrated expression of the last vestige of human dignity. It is a human’s way of leaving a trace, of telling people how he lived and died. By this scream he asserts his right to live, sends a message to the outside world demanding help and calling for resistance. If nothing else is left, one must scream. Silence is the real crime against humanity.”

Nadezhda Yakovlevna Mandelstam (1899 – 29 1980) was a Russian writer and a wife of poet Osip Mandelstam. Born in Saratov into a middle-class Jewish family, she spent her early years in Kiev. After their marriage in 1921, Nadezhda and Osip Mandelstam lived in Ukraine, Petrograd, Moscow, and Georgia. Osip was arrested in 1934 for his Stalin Epigram and exiled with Nadezhda to Cherdyn, in the Perm region and later to Voronezh.

After Osip Mandelstam’s second arrest and his subsequent death at a transit camp “Vtoraya Rechka” near Vladivostok in 1938, Nadezhda Mandelstam led an almost nomadic way of life, dodging her expected arrest and frequently changing places of residence and temporary jobs. On at least one occasion, in Kalinin, the NKVD (The People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs a law enforcement agency of the Soviet Union that was closely associated with the Soviet secret police) came for her the next day after she fled.

As her mission in life, she set to preserve and publish her husband’s poetic heritage. She managed to keep most of it memorized because she did not trust paper. After the death of Stalin, Nadezhda Mandelstam completed her dissertation (1956) and some years after was allowed to return to Moscow (1964).

In her memoirs, Hope Against Hope and Hope Abandoned, first published in the West, she gives an epic analysis of her life and criticizes the moral and cultural degradation of the Soviet Union of the 1920s and later. The titles of her memoirs are puns, Nadezhda in Russian meaning “hope”.

 

Expectations Matter

Expectations Matter

By Carl Josehart

Disability Rights is More Than Ramps
Expect. Empower. Employ.

In talking to someone living with a disability recently I was made aware of a type of discrimination that I had not fully understood. She described to me the poisonous impact of the absence of expectation as being almost as harmful as active discrimination.

She talked about the emotional pain and the barriers created by hearing people say, “I would rather die than live like that” when talking about her physical condition. Too often, when looking at a person with a visible disability our eyes trick us to focus on what is missing or absent rather than seeing the possibility.

I have been blessed to be have no significant disability that impacts my physical abilities but I will never be a professional runner, I won’t ever be a professional dancer, I am not capable of being a championship skier or rock climber. The difference is that no one has ever seen that as a reason to expect that I wouldn’t go to colllege or get a job or live independently.

My colleague, as someone with a visible disability says that she is rarely asked what she does for a living. In case you are wondering, yes she is employed full-time in a very high ranking position with a lot of influence, power and authority.

She described how harmful it is to those living with a disability to not have the normal things expected of them. She described her delight when she flies to a city to give a talk or a lecture and the taxi driver asks her casually what she does for a living. She explained that it is all too common for people to be surprised to learn that she has a job or at a social event to be the only person “not asked” what she does for a living.

In her experience it has become less common for those with a disability to be told that they are inferior but it is still all too common for children with disabilities “not be told” that s/he can do anything or be anything they want to be when they grow up.
Life, aging and the limits of medical science, will always lead to there being individuals with physical disability that live with extra challenges that some of us are fortunate enough not to have to overcome. Let’s not add unnecessary barriers and challenges by failing to see the capabilities and potentials of each individual. There are no extra people or unneeded contributions in society. By dismissing the capacities of a significant part of our popultation we are wasting valuable resources.

The Declaration of Independence contains the aspirational vision that, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” We have it in our power to declare our independence from the hobbling impact of low expectation because as Norman Vincent Peale would say, “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you will land among the stars.” Don’t we owe it to all of our children to encourage them to dream of reaching the moon and living among the stars.

I Choose Words

I Choose Words

by Carl Josehart

A few days ago while checking the news online I saw CNN run the headline “Alt-right leader questions if Jews are people.” Later I watched a clip of Richard Spencer shouting, “Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory!” while saluting more than 200 attendees gathered at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, D.C., for the annual conference of the National Policy Institute; a group that describes itself as “an independent organization dedicated to the heritage, identity, and future of people of European descent in the United States, and around the world.”

As I started to take in what was happening I found myself gripped with nausea while my chest constricted to the point where I felt like I couldn’t breathe. These images touched a dark place deep within me – a place created by growing up hearing the stories of Holocaust survivors, watching movies taken by the Nazis to document with pride what they had done and being taught to, “Never Forget” and to keep my passport close at hand at all times.

Since the election I have found myself often feeling vulnerable and afraid. Every day it seems there are more and more examples of violence and intimidation against Muslims, Jews, lgbtq and people of color being perpetrated in the name of patriotism and national pride. But these recent events brought the anxiety and fear to a new level. It triggered a primal fear so intense that I began considering buying a gun for protection.

Living in Texas having access to a gun purchase would be relatively easy and I have many friends who are responsible gun owners so in my new state of mind it seemed within the realm of possibility. As I started to think about it seriously, I began to think about what type of gun I would want. I soon realized that I didn’t know anything about guns and that I would have to start researching what would be the best type for me. Not knowing how to fire a gun, I realized I would need to take lessons to learn how to safely handle a gun. I would need to invest time in cleaning it and going to the range for practice. Then I started to think about where I would keep it so that it would be near enough to be of use in an emergency but stowed safely away so that no one could be inured accidentally. An internet search for, “safest gun” led to an interesting mix of articles from the NRA about the virtues of owning a gun for personal protection and a series of articles about stun guns and tasers – what the difference was – and the relative values and downsides of each. My internet search continued with inquiries about gun safes for the home and secure compartments for my car.

Then I started to begin to imagine various violent and threatening scenarios I could find myself in and how I would react – would I fire my gun, would I shoot to kill and how would cope with the emotional aftermath. Under what circumstances would I consider shooing in self-defense to be a reasonable and ethical choice?

From there I started to think about how much time and energy this potential purchase was beginning to take up in my life and realized that the thoughts of owning this powerful weapon weren’t making me feel safer – in fact, quite the opposite, I was feeling more anxious.

Taking a few deep breaths to calm myself down I settled into a comfortable seated position for a few minutes of calming meditation. Gently shrugging my shoulders to release some of the tension my gaze landed on my college diplomas – a Bachelors degree in psychology and a Masters Degree in Social Work and suddenly I realized that I had made my choice long ago – words would be my weapons.

So, I choose to arm myself with the skill to communicate, I choose to invest in finding a writing coach, I choose to start a blog to foster dialogue, I choose to seek out and amplify the voices of those who are not being heard and for those that are vulnerable, I choose to invest my money in organizations that advance the causes I care about – I choose words.


If you appreciated this post, you may also want to read, I Held Death

Unsafe

America – We are in an Abusive Relationship: Time to Make a Safety Plan

– Carl Josehart

I’ve never been afraid to be an American – until now.

I have been angry, disappointed and disgusted but never afraid. But now, every day there are dangerous signals and as much as I want to be comforted and reassured I have learned that it is important not to deny reality.

Earlier in my career I worked as a psychotherapist and counseled individuals who were victims of domestic violence. Not everyone I counseled in an abusive relationship was ready to leave; many felt that their partner would change and were reluctant to give up on the relationship. It was not my role to make a judgment about whether this choice was right or wrong but it was my role to help each person be safe. I would help the victim develop a safety plan – we would talk about what defined unsafe behavior, we planned ahead where s/he would go and how they would get there. We would make sure that they packed essentials – medications, money – anything that would cause them to delay or be reluctant to leave because of fear of leaving it behind and get those items to a safe location. If there were children, minors or others under their care we would talk about how they would be taken to safety and who could be trusted to help accomplish this in an emergency. The clinical approach to working with clients who were still hoping for the best i.e., change – was to also prepare for the worst.

As I look at the current situation in my country I have come to believe that the behaviors being exhibited by the incoming Administration can be understood in the context of an abusive relationship and this model can serve a useful way to objectively measure the amount of threat/danger that exists.

So what are the dangerous behaviors to look out for?

Isolation – abusers isolate their victims from friends, family and social support. This keeps the victim in a vulnerable state and increases dependence on the abuser. President Elect Trump’s “America First” philosophy is a political form of isolationism. Examples of this abound from the wall that he wants to build along the Mexico border to his declarations that he may not honor NATO treaties and intends to renegotiate established trade agreements.

Control of Information – abusers limit contact with the outside world and unbiased information. Threatening to sue the media or lock-up protestors is an attempt to limit any information that may run counter to the views of those in power is an example of controlling the information we receive.

Hyper criticality – Talking about the media as corrupt and incompetent and overstating the value of instinct and intuition over intelligence and education is a way of undermining the arguments of scientists, scholars and experts and encouraging people instead to act based on instinctual fears and urges as well as to discount rational arguments from traditionally respected sources of information. When you hear President Elect Trump say that he knows more than the generals or that judges are biased because of the national origin or their families or that the elections are rigged this is a tactic to undermine the impact of rational opposition from respected sources.

Hyper vigilance – Keeps track of what you are doing all the time and criticizes you for little things. Ask yourself, why would the President Elect of the free world care if an actor spoke his mind following a play – squelching even the smallest criticism eliminates environmental cues that the behavior of the abuser is not normal. This is why the founders of our country believed so strongly in the freedom of speech. Regularly being exposed to differing opinions makes us stronger, not weaker and forces us to regularly reexamine our belief system which is fundamental to healthy relationships and to a healthy democracies.

Insincere repentance/false apologies and promises of change – immediately after an abusive outburst the abuser will often promise to change, by gifts or show remorse and promise that it won’t happen again. Every time the media defines an action of Donald Trump as an offering to reach out or to change it is important to evaluate whether there is evidence that the underlying abusive behaviors are changing or is it part of a cycle of abuse.

Using violence as intimidation – victims of abuse often describe feeling like they are “walking on eggshells” afraid of the next outburst. Fear interferes with our ability to concentrate and weigh our options rationally and realistically and makes us more cautious and risk avoidant. This is part of the reason that victims are often stuck and unable to leave even during periods of relative calm.

Creating an enemy/ viewing others as a threat/Blaming others as the source of problems – abusers blame the abuse of the behavior of the victim to deflect responsibility for their abuse. “If you would only… then I wouldn’t have to…” Victims then become preoccupied with the faulty notion that their behavior causes the abuse rather than focusing on the abuser’s responsibility. Blaming Muslims or threatening to build a wall is simply a way of justifying abusive behavior. It is a false claim that the abuser wouldn’t have to behave this way if others weren’t at fault.

Belittling and demeaning the victim – Telling the victim that he or she is ugly or unintelligent undermines the victim’s sense of self-worth and impedes his/her ability to believe that others will be willing to help. We have seen President Elect Trump mock a disabled reporter and call women that accused him of sexual assault fat and ugly.

Use libel and sedition laws to squelch protest – President Elect Trump and his supporters have threatened to sue the media for criticizing him and to charge protestors with treason. His campaign rallies often included chants of ‘lock her up” referring to his rival in the election, Secretary Clinton.

Hypersensitivity: An abusive person is easily insulted and claims that his/her feelings are “hurt” when really s/he are very mad. The abusive person will “rant and rave” about the injustice of things that have happened – things that are really just part of living such as being asked to work overtime, getting a traffic ticket, being told some behavior is annoying or being asked to help with chores.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: Many people are confused by their abuser’s “sudden” changes in mood – they may think the abuser has some special mental problem because one minute the abuser is nice but the next minute s/he is exploding. Explosiveness and moodiness are typical of people who abuse their partners and these behaviors are related to other characteristics such as hypersensitivity.

Just as we all have relationships with friends, family, and intimate partners we are also in relationship with our government and the society in which we live. Just as we develop norms of behavior in our personal relationships that help maintain a sense of order, security and comfort – society creates these norms to maintain order, security and comfort. Laws govern many of these societal norms; others are established by mutual assent. For example, we have laws against stealing and murder but things like how close we sit to a stranger, who enters a door first when we arrive at the same time, who gets the remaining seat on a crowded bus – are not controlled by law but by common assent to a generally accepted standard of behavior. Civil society depends on following both sets of laws and norms.

Another relevant piece of information I learned from my work as a psychotherapist is that denying or ignoring malignant behavior breeds psychopathology. If a family member is an abuser and others collude to normalize the behavior and pretend everything is OK then other dangerous symptoms often emerge – substance abuse or other self-injurious behaviors.

A common question that comes up as we look back in history at instances where segments of populations have been targeted for discrimination is why didn’t people see the signs, why didn’t they leave? Part of the answer lies in the psychological state caused by the abuse.

Severe abuse can often foster a sense of helplessness in the victim. The victim is at risk of eventually becoming psychologically paralyzed; failing to seek help and becoming more passive as they begin to believe they are powerless to change the circumstances in which they find themselves. When the victim does contact a help source, they often are very tentative about receiving help and are likely to return to the batterer despite advice or opportunity to leave. The vulnerability and indecisiveness prolongs the violence and may contribute to its intensification. At its most severe, a victim may come to believe that s/he deserves the abuse.

There is also the reality of the fact that moving to a new place, even under the best of circumstances, is just plain hard – economically and emotionally. Ten years ago, my husband and I decided to relocate from Chicago to Houston to accept a career opportunity. We moved of our own free will, with an exceptional career opportunity waiting for us, we had financial resources, spoke the language, understood the currency and were welcomed by the community on arrival. We were also able to bring all of our belongings with us – not only the essentials of daily living but also all of the items that held sentimental and emotional value. It was still the hardest thing I have ever done. When I think about refugees fleeing persecution, I cannot even begin to understand the emotional toll they face. Leaving behind family, friends, careers and communities. Moving to places where the language and customs may be unfamiliar and facing economic uncertainty – literally having to start all over.

The other piece of the puzzle has to do with a common predisposition to underestimate danger and overestimate our ability to control the outcome of events. Americans, as a society at large, generally place a higher value on individualism, and the belief that hard work leads to success. Stated another way, we tend as a group to have a higher sense of our own personal agency (or sense of ability to control the world and the events around us) compared to some cultures that have a more fatalistic or external sense of control. In addition, all groups see the world through an ethnocentric point of view. Ethnocentrism is the evaluation of other cultures according to preconceptions originating in the standards and customs of are own culture. Simply put it means that we believe that what seems normal to us we assume to be right and we over-estimate the extent to which others see the world our way. This leads to a sense of over-confidence that we will be welcome in other countries and can lead to a miscalculation about the how much time we have to get away safely. But history and current behavior teaches us that when refugees flee – countries around the world put caps on immigration and even turn refugees around and send them back into harm’s way.

I have come to the conclusion after watching and assessing the signs and symptoms of behavior that have been present and escalating throughout the Presidential campaign and election that it is rational and reasonable to develop a safety plan for myself and my family. While I plan to stay and fight for the country I love, I also feel it is reasonable to determine under what circumstances it would be better to leave and to know how and where I would go, how I would get there, and how I would help the ones I love and care for get to safety as well.

Likely, many of you are thinking that I am over-reacting and that I am behaving irrationally. I will leave you with the words R.D. Laing, a famous Scottish psychiatrist who wrote extensively about mental illness. Dr. Laing famously said “Insanity — a perfectly rational adjustment to an insane world.”