I have been turning the exchange between James Hillman and Jim Ralston [Correspondence, Issue 188] over and over in my mind. As Ralston stated, there is a lot to be gained from introspection and growth, and therapy may help you to become a more useful person in your community. But as I pondered Hillman’s statements about how therapy discourages community involvement, I realized with horror that he is right. Therapy has done the same to me.
I used to feel torn up inside about community and world problems. My grief motivated me to get involved — work with anti-nuclear activists, campaign against Reagan, write to elected officials, volunteer in community agencies. But therapists showed me that I was not responsible for these problems. They encouraged a separateness from the world. They insisted that my concerns, my torment, and my grief were merely ways of avoiding my own problems. They made my grief appear selfish and grandiose. I learned not to bring such feelings and concerns up. Then I learned not to experience them very often. My grief was embarrassing to others. Two therapists wanted to put me on mood-altering drugs because they could not cope with my grief. I refused their drugs and quit therapy.
When I’d watch the news or read the paper I would sometimes feel a degree of pain as if the situation were happening to me. And well-intentioned therapists attempted to sever the connection in the name of mental health. But such feelings are what drive me to resist injustice and persistently work for change, wherever I’ve lived or worked. I persist because I care, but therapy has discouraged me from caring.
I agree with Hillman: if communities were cared for instead of commuted to, we might find the mental health and balance we now desperately search for in the therapist’s office.
There is a part of James Hillman I really like — his iconoclastic probing yields startling and valuable insights. But there is another part of Hillman that I gag on — the annoying masculine rigidity he revealed in his reply to Jim Ralston.
I can understand why he attacks therapy from within, though he should cultivate more balance and compassion. What he says about therapized people — that they are turned away from society — could apply equally to marriage, raising children, getting a job, or going into the army. Why single out therapized people and accuse them of a private retreat from the political duties of citizenry? Take a look at stockbrokers, garbage collectors, homemakers, or artists; too few of any group of Americans are sensitive to our failing buildings and rivers. Selfishness and isolation from the community are not the special province of therapy clients.
After reading Ralston’s letter, I expected Hillman to open up a little. Instead Hillman did nothing but attack like a mad dog. He undermines his own argument by remaining rigid and narrow.
Mr. Hillman, please soften up a little, but don’t lose your razor-sharp intellect in the process! Abandon your either/or approach and consider that a both/and perspective is not necessarily a cop-out.
It is true that therapy does encourage people to do important self-awareness work on personal neurosis which may turn them inward for a while. And it is true that there are a lot of ingrown, faulty therapies out there that can be sickening, self-centered, and irresponsible. But Hillman attacks with such single-minded vehemence that I wonder if he couldn’t benefit from effective therapy himself, or even from a strong dose of Buddhist meditation — a practice he also attacks.
I found “The White Man’s Vision-Quest Journal” [Issue 189] very disturbing. Some Native Americans would “count coup” in battle. They believed that the worst thing you could do to an enemy was to humiliate him. Rather than killing him, the ultimate victory was to sneak up and touch him and ride away before he could strike back. But what disturbed me most about Gloria Dyc’s character Plenty Coup was not that he scored so many humiliating points against the shallow, stereotypical, white tenderfoot, but that the whole story is fundamentally racist. Racism is often characterized by ridicule and shallow generalization. To people of conscience, it is intolerable in all forms, even when directed at the majority. It has no place in a publication with the sensitivity of The Sun (or anywhere else).
I like brown rice, Gloria, and I get very thirsty after sixteen hours in the blazing sun, but I assure you I did not take all your land. I am interested in your ceremonies, but I always thought that they were gifts from the Great Spirit who I am sure loves — even sometimes misguided — white people as much as displaced Native Americans.
It may be true that our land has been appropriated. But the enemy is not red, black, brown, or white. The enemy is, as always, greed, stupidity, and special interest that sits in high air-conditioned buildings the world over, and laughs all the way to the bank at stories like “The White Man’s Vision-Quest Journal.” For it is an axiom of oppression that as long as you keep people fighting among themselves, they will never discover the one weapon oppression fears the most — their essential oneness and unity.
Here are two earlier versions of my piece which I fished out of my wastebasket. You may find them more palatable.
(1) After Plenty Coup and I sorted out the various standing and subcommittees for the next year’s Sun Dance, he became quiet and thoughtful. Finally he spoke. “John, I was wrong about you and your funny brown rice,” he said, emotion creeping into his voice. “I see now that all streams and rivers flow into One Source, white brother. Next year I’ll open my Sun Dance to all men, even white men.”
(2) Plenty Coup shook his fist at me, turned away, and then lunged at me, almost pushing me to the ground. Then I saw his shoulders heave with emotion; his voice cracked. “I need help,” he admitted. “I carry around the anger of a hundred years.”
“Yes,” I said softly.
“It’s not you. You didn’t steal my land, John,” he continued.
I nodded, stunned by this transformation, this bond of brotherhood, a true gift.
(Note: Plenty Coup becomes a leader in the men’s movement, bridging the gap between men of color and white radicals/liberals.)
P.S. Lighten up, Rick.
Backlash, I fear, is an affliction that will dog you all of your publishing days. I implore you — endure.
I can recall a childlike anticipation in waiting each month for my neighborhood bookseller to receive his two or three copies of The Sun, so I could be certain to arrive in time to purchase one. After three months of worrying about missing the next issue, I subscribed.
That childlike anticipation, however, passed after the first couple of issues arrived at my home, for I sensed a change: a gloom descending. (Gee, this couldn’t have had something to do with global events and our collective consciousness, could it?) I remember feeling betrayed. Now I can see that this speaks more to the illusion I was carrying around — that wishful hoping for constant light. What folly to believe that Spirit, God, the Great resides only in the light. Is faith so feeble that it can only bear “the light of day”?
I, too, wrote one of “those” letters, outraged at the Camille Paglia piece [“The Myth of Sexual Liberation,” Issue 177]. Such verbal abuse I heaped upon you and her! (It didn’t get mailed.) Some of her opinions continue to disturb me. However, having resisted the impulse to discard her piece and the magazine, I reread it (and others) periodically. Investigation of my revulsion to what is written reveals ideas and truths hidden within me that, left unexamined, might surreptitiously inform my judgments and choices.
I value your magazine. I may not agree with, like, or enjoy all of what you offer in each issue. Some of it leaves me cold. (And I’m completely baffled by some of the criticism.) I trust that there’ll be another burst of brilliance that will appeal especially to me — a photograph, a poem, Sunbeams. And then, occasionally, I’ll get lucky and it will be an entire issue — like the August issue I just received. (Eli Bowen’s photographs are awesome.)