Monthly Archives: August 2021

History Wars

If your history teachers were like mine, they made it sound as if history is unchangeable.  If it’s in the history books, it is the correct and only version of what happened, right? Not so fast.

History is never that simplistic.  History is a written account of what happened. Until the 19th century, only the rich and powerful were literate.  They ensured history covered only what interested them, which was themselves.  As a result, history was primarily an account of kings, dynasties and their wars.  We learned almost nothing about the ordinary people whose work made possible the great lives told in historical accounts.

This traditional approach to history broke down in the 19th century when European and American governments decided that literate workers would make better factory workers.  Mass literacy brought fresh perspectives.  Ordinary people wanted to know about the lives of ordinary people from the past.

By the 1920’s, stories of ordinary people were in vogue, how they lived, worked and died. It’s still a popular subject given the number of Americans researching their family genealogy and getting DNA tests to learn “where we came from”.  But the closer we look, the more we realize how much was airbrushed out of American history books because the facts didn’t fit the preferred narrative of a good and righteous nation.   

Black people were brought here solely for the purpose of being slave labor. They were prohibited from learning to read and write because illiteracy was the easiest method to control them.  (Today, the Taliban has retaken Afghanistan and they will again ban literacy for females.)

Chinese men helped build the cross-continental railway, one of the greatest engineering feats in U.S. history.  Those Chinese laborers could not bring their families because the U.S. government didn’t want them settling permanently in the U.S.  They endured pogroms by anti-immigrant whites who saw the hard-working Chinese as job and wage threats.  (San Francisco’s Chinatown now offers tours of their escape tunnels.)

American Indian tribes were hunted to the point of extinction and forced onto reservations. Once on the rez, they were routinely starved and denied healthcare. Their children were kidnapped and placed in government-sanctioned schools in pursuit of forced assimilation. (Canada recently apologized for their forced assimilation programs.  The U.S. refuses to do so.)

These examples give a flavor of the countless facts of American history that were airbrushed from our history books.  History is often ugly and unpleasant, particularly in hindsight after social and political attitudes change.  Future generations will certainly take issue with things we do now as they uncover our unfortunate facts. 

Acknowledging these unfortunate facts does not diminish our country’s achievements and is not a rejection of our country’s history.  It means that we are mature enough as a nation to accept everything done by our predecessors.

As uncomfortable and unpleasant as it is to acknowledge past moral and legal wrongs, it would be so much worse to pretend they never happened.  We can never move forward until we acknowledge the good and the bad of our past.  Call it a 12-step program for the history wars and teach the kids the ugly stuff along with the glorious stuff in history class.  Ignorance is justice denied.

About Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps small businesses create human resources policies and risk mitigation programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to help small companies grow by creating the necessary back office administrative structure while avoiding the dead weight of a bureaucracy.  To read my musings on the wacky world of human resources, see the HR Compliance Jungle (www.hrcompliancejungle.com) which alternates on Wednesday mornings with my history blog, History By Norma, (available at http://www.normashirk.com). To read my musings on a variety of topics, see my posts on Her Savvy (www.hersavvy.com).

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The Other Side of the Couch – Understanding Self-Delusion

download (1) June seems so far away now – a miraculous moment now fading with the miasma of the Delta variant that is reversing the gains that were made.  We were so close to being able to be a bit safer, a bit freer. How is it possible that so many people in this country are so willing to risk their own lives and the LIVES OF THEIR CHILDREN by choosing to forego vaccination against COVID-19.

I have been more than perplexed by this conundrum.  It makes no rational sense.  However, I recently read an article written by Shankar Vedantam that shed some light on this issue.

Shankar Vedantam is the NPR host of the podcast “Hidden Brain”.  He is interested in the issue of delusional thinking, and his latest book, Useful Delusions:  The Paradox of the Self-Deceiving Brain, presents a fascinating look at events that illustrate the protective power of self-delusion.  Although the buzzwords of the last few years – alternative facts, fake news, QAnon – are not mentioned, these concerns hover in the background of the stories like malevolent fairies just waiting to become visible.

Vedantam cites the story of one Donald Lowry, the founder of the infamous Church of Love that made millions of dollars in the 80s on the backs of lonely men.  Lowry essentially impersonated women who wrote letters to men who subscribed to the program, assuming a variety of personas and including many personalized touches to the letters he sent.  He was eventually caught and prosecuted, but the strange twist to this was that men who were members of his love letter subscription service CAME TO THE COURTHOUSE TO DEFEND HIM.  The men said the letters had saved their lives, stopped addiction, even stopped suicidal behavior.

Vedantam states in an article written for Psychotherapy Networker:

 “Foregoing self-deception isn’t merely a mark of education or enlightenment – it is a sign of privilege…your material, cultural, and social worlds are providing you with other safety nets for your psychological and physical needs.  But should your circumstances change for the worse, were the pillars of your life to buckle and sway, your mind, too, would prove fertile ground for the wildest self-deceptions.” (Psychotherapy Networker, July/August 2021, p. 23)

So, what to do when we see the pillars of rationality challenged by what to many of us can only seem completely without merit.  Vedantam suggests that we are dealing with an evolutionary process in which “old” brain responses are at war with “newer” brain responses.  The two states of the brain have different value systems, and when rationality is seen as the only way of knowing, it is often ignored.

Humans have spent eons using the processes of narrative and storytelling and use of symbols – when we don’t use these processes and rely totally on rationality for truth, we lose sight of much that makes us human.  Joseph Campbell’s monumental work in defining the power of myth in human history is an example, as is Carl Jung’s exploration of the archetypes that live in the collective unconscious of humanity.

So, what does self-deception do for us?  In its best form it protects us when things are just too fragile, too out of control, too frightening.  Self-delusion gives us something to hold onto in a scary world.  It can create a sense of meaning and a sense of community.  We need to think carefully about what self-delusion does, and we need to figure out how to work with it.  How does this self-deception help the believer? What are the consequences of the belief?  Without this insight, it will be hard to create any kind of traction for change.

So, you don’t believe in vaccinations?  Tell me more about that – what are your hesitations?  Oh, your church community is against it? Oh, you feel a strong bond with your fellow church members and wouldn’t want to be different?  Oh, your grandfather was involved in the infamous Tuskegee syphilis research experiment?  That helps me understand.  I still disagree with your choice, but it makes better sense now.  Let me explain to you my experience – would you be willing to listen?

Vedantam closes his article with quite a statement:

“The psychological forces that make it difficult for the members of the Church of Love to see reality accurately fill all our lives.  If we seem less credulous, it’s only because circumstances have not tested us to the same extent. Put another way, those poor, pathetic rubes –but for a few strokes of luck –are us.” Psychotherapy Networker, July/August 2021, p. 25

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP
Communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, proud native Nashvillian – in private practice for 30+ years. I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts. Contact me at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com.
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The Nest is Empty Again

The Full Team

Two years ago, our youngest son came home to live with us while he attended graduate school at nearby Vanderbilt University. Around the same time, our daughter returned to town to take a job and while she didn’t live with us, she lived near us, and we were able to see her regularly. It was my dream: to have one of my kids live in the same city, but not in the same house.

Flash forward one pandemic later, and both have now moved on, leaving our nest empty once more. My daughter has moved back to our hometown of Los Angeles to pursue her dream job and our son is heading off to New York City to find his next adventure. Our middle son has lived in San Francisco for several years now and shows no sign of returning for more than a visit. But you never really know…

It’s hard to explain the rollercoaster of emotions as our young adult children swing back and forth between our home base and the world beyond. Each move brings adjustments to our relationships and just when I think I’m used to the status quo, things change again. I admit freely that I have a hard time turning off the “Mom Button.” In fact, it’s probably never really off, just on idle, always ready to rev back up as needed for a phone call, text, email or a visit.

The goodbyes are the hardest. The ride to the airport feels like a last-minute rush to say all the things I’m afraid I didn’t say and yet, we make small talk to make it seem like just another normal drive. When we hug, I want to hold on to the baby that still lives in my heart and my memory, but I know I must let go of the adult who stands in front of me. During the ride home I feel empty and full at the same time. My arms are empty, but my heart is full of love and pride for the people they are.

I’ve heard it said that if we do our job as parents, they will leave. They will have the tools they need to live independent, productive, meaningful lives. I know it’s true, but it’s still hard. I have always loved having a front row seat to the best show in the world, watching my children grow up. Well, that show is over and now I get to watch from the wings as they take center stage in their own lives. And let me tell you, it’s a really great show.

So, here I am again, putting parts of the house back together after our son created his own little upstairs bachelor pad. It’s a good time to re-evaluate how we will continue to live in our home, to reclaim it for ourselves and decide what will be relegated to storage or trash and what will remain. I admit I’m looking forward to a little more calm; young men expend a surprising amount of energy just entering a room! I look forward to less laundry, smaller food bills, a neater kitchen. I will miss having our own in-house DJ on Sunday mornings, and personal tech support when I need it. I have loved chatting with my son over lunch, watching reruns of our favorite TV shows and movies. Like many people, we have a mountain of completed puzzles from our months stuck in the house and each one will remind me of this difficult, yet special time.

I guess the thing I think about the most is how lucky we are to have children who still like to come home and reconnect with us. Although we don’t live in their childhood house anymore, they have taught me that wherever we are together as a family is home and I look forward to gathering someday in one of their houses. In the meantime, I can’t wait to see what comes next for all of us.

About Barbara Dab

Barbara Dab is a journalist, broadcast radio personality, producer and award-winning public relations consultant.  She is the Editor of The Jewish Observer of Nashville, and a former small business owner.  Barbara loves writing, telling stories of real people and real events and most of all, talking to people all over the world.  The Jewish Observer newspaper can be read online at www.jewishobservernashville.org . and follow her on Instagram @barbdab58

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