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Thursday, September 26, 2013

How To Cure Our National Depression- Part Deux*Updated

For many years, as I mulled over what was wrong with our country, I have always tended to buy into the standard themes. These are the theories that characterize Americans as stupid, lazy, and apathetic. If those themes were true, how then does the rest of the world measure up? Do they have superior intelligence and robot like work ethics? Do they participate in their government to some degree beyond that which we are inclined to? No, clearly they don't. In fact, many European countries have jobs that offer months, not weeks, of vacation time. I can't imagine European people being any smarter or more educated than our people- although I have tried to find a credible and comparative resource to prove my suspicions. Very generally speaking, I don't think that other countries take a more active role in their government nor are they less apathetic about it than Americans. All in all, I think that the standard judgements that we use to describe Americans must be inaccurate or simply wrong.

If we can't blame our national malaise on stupid, lazy, and apathetic Americans- what then is the problem? Maybe there is something else that is the root cause. Perhaps there is some practice that we all engage in daily because we have found it to be the most expedient choice as we go about our daily lives.

Brace yourself.

Maybe we simply engage in dishonest conduct. Perhaps we are emotionally dishonest with ourselves, dishonest in a lot of our dealings, at our work, and with our families. Does dishonesty create emotional distress in us? That's the case I am making here. We don't like dishonesty but we have been taught that it is some necessary evil. So I thought I'd touch on three giant areas of dishonesty. The workplace, relationships, and our world in general.

I don't care whether you work on a car lot, as a lawyer overcharging people, as a banker sitting on your ass all day charging folks ridiculous interest rates, or a doctor over prescribing tests not because they are necessary- but because you are trying to bolster your defense for a potential malpractice suit. We live in a very dishonest world where dishonest conduct is seen as good- so long as we can justify engaging in it and it provides a measurable positive result for the entity we work for and in turn, ourselves. I like to think of it as capitalism on steroids- with only outrageous and provable misconduct as a boundary.

I want you to stop and think. How many dishonest activities does your employer ask you to engage in?

I have a good friend who is an insurance adjuster. His sole purpose in life is to be the front man for the fine print. That dishonest and undisclosed fine print that comes to light only after you file a damage claim with an insurance company. The adjuster's key role is to reduce the company's liabilities by whatever means is marginally legal. Translated that means- you are going to get the worst settlement conceivable. Adjusters don't go to any length to tell you that their findings are arbitrary and appeal able- in fact they go to great lengths to make you believe that their offer is exactly the opposite- non negotiable.

Now I could go on and on about workplace dishonesty- but I'd be wasting time. Nobody knows workplace dishonesty better than than the people engaging in it. So let's move on to something else. Let's touch on emotional dishonesty.

Nowhere in my life have I personally been more dishonest about my feelings- than when it comes to relationships. Intimate relationships are extremely fertile ground for dishonest feelings or non disclosed feelings, particularly in matters revolving around sex. In fact very often, I like to think of intimate relationships as the "Miracle Gro" for dishonesty. My relationships, intimate and otherwise, are very often predicated on my willingness not to disclose how I am actually feeling. Millions upon millions of people do this. In fact, we probably all do this. People might tell the truth about how they are feeling if they thought some solution was possible. However, with no solution on the horizon, people see no reason to discuss their feelings when the only likely outcome is more grief or that the problem actually gets worse. So non disclosure becomes a very common form of dishonesty.

We are bombarded by dishonesty everywhere. From the non stop marketing by corporate America selling us cars and insurance, to diet pills and larger penis pills, or 4 hour erections. You ever wonder how many people actually experience a four hour erection? Have you? Marketing and advertising is all predicated on dishonesty.

The last bastion of dishonesty I want to touch on is our country and government. Nobody engages in more lies and deception than the government of the United States. To understand this, all you have to do is read. The more you read and educate yourself, the worse it gets. I have written nearly 1800 blogs detailing it quite nicely. Let's just say if you are shopping for role models for honest behavior- don't stop at the government store.

So I've extended my premise to you that dishonesty in virtually all facets of our lives- greatly contributes to our national depression.

La Conclusion

How could any person short of a sociopath, engage in the levels of dishonest behavior that this country does without getting frustrated, cynical, and angry?

People aren't stupid, lazy, or apathetic. In fact, they are simply responding to the world as they see it. If they are not required to think- they won't. If they are not required to work- they won't. If they see no reason to vote because one vote will not make a difference- they won't. That doesn't mean that they can't do those things- but that they have simply chosen not to.

That is an opportunity cost. Given no superior choice, people have no reason to believe that anything they engage in will make any kind of positive difference. So they don't.

Our national depression has been brought about by decades of dishonest behavior. Dishonest behavior is not diminished simply because we refuse to acknowledge it. It does not fail to exist merely because we say so. Dishonest behavior is not something we can tolerate or engage in and then go home at night and feel good about ourselves. I know I can't. In fact, I won't take a job where I am exploiting others or engaging in dishonest practices. I want to sleep well and that doesn't include 4 or 5 drinks to erase whatever recurring thoughts I am having brought about by any given day's events.

Years ago, I worked for ITT Financial Services in Las Vegas. Our lowest interest rate on a small consumer loan was 39% per year. We were prohibited by policy from disclosing that truth. When potential customers called and asked what the interest rate on a loan was we were instructed to say, "It depends on the size and the length of the loan." This dishonest behavior was so rigidly enforced that it was a termination offense to violate that policy. So one day, a caller called and asked about our interest rates and I told him the truth. I guess I had a case of the "f**k its."  The branch manager heard me tell the guy 39% and he very nearly had a stroke. The tongue lashing I received in front of my co-workers was embarrassing. Secretly, I wanted to kick his ass.

We as a country, are simply saturated with dishonest, misleading, and disingenuous behavior at all levels and we know it. We also know it's wrong. We also know that we can't possibly hope to control or change the world as it bombards us with all that dishonesty. The good news is- we don't have to.

Remember in the beginning of this piece when I quoted Gandhi? That part about truth and love always winning out over tyrants and despair?

I have seen people do all kinds of selfless acts. I have seen people drown trying to save a family pet or even strangers from drowning. That is love. People want to be good, they just don't know where to begin. I believe that and I also believe that people are not always fully conscious of what ails them.

Our soldiers don't feel good about themselves either. They question the morality or the honesty of killing people and watching their own get maimed and killed. Most of us have been taught from day one that it is ok to defend ourselves and that it's not ok to attack others. There is an internal conflict in all of us when we begin to question the integrity of trying to distinguish whether or not we are attackers or defenders. And where there is no bright line, there is confusion and depression.

I am not surprised by rising suicide rates among our returning soldiers. I am pissed off that our government so cavalierly and dishonestly uses our soldiers like cattle and then wonders why they can't cope with life when they get back home. I think I get angry because these are kids. Kids who were taught the difference between right and wrong. Kids who find out in some nasty way that their potential sacrifices were for naught. There are no victories, no ticker tape parades, no public accolades. Instead they are asked to come home and act like nothing happened. That dishonest behavior once again.

I can't change any of that. But...

I can accept the world at it is. I accept all of the dishonesty that the world rains down on me but I refuse to engage in it. I am also aware that all of that dishonesty contributes to my frustration and depression. I am fully aware of the negative effects of all of that and I am going to make a conscious decision not to participate, contribute, or support it. I am going to minimize the negative effects of dishonesty.

If we engage in esteemable acts then perhaps by extension, we will all gain higher levels of self esteem. When we feel good about our conduct and ourselves- then there is no need for us to change the way we feel when we arrive home at night. We have not deluded, cheated, mis represented, or lied to anyone including ourselves. We may actually feel good about ourselves. When we feel good, there's no reason to change the way we feel. No reason to drink or drug ourselves to sleep, no reason to commit suicide.

When this nation once again begins to act responsibly and honestly, like we once did, then I think that our national depression will lift. Opportunity and hope will return. I am not going to try to forecast which way it will turn or whether I will live to see it or not, but that's just the optimist in me.

Until then, we all get to pick what kind of people we are going to be. Choose wisely.

*This evening while reading about Seymour Hersh, I stumbled into this gem. Hersh believes everything is a lie right now. Pretty interesting observation. However, I disagree that Bin Laden wasn't killed when and where our government stated. Too much at stake- too many witnesses on both sides. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

How To Cure Our National Depression- Part One

I am having a profound kind of week. One of those weeks when problems- and then solutions- to vast mysteries appear with crystal clarity. I think I stumbled onto something worthy of passing along.

But first, I want to use a quote someone left on my "American Enlightenment" blog. It seems quite fitting here.

"When I despair, I remember that all through history the ways of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants, and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall. Think of it--always."

Mohandas K. Gandhi

Many years ago, as I was about to begin my law enforcement career, nobody told me the range or the depth of mental illness that I was about to run into. I think that happened for a number of reasons. I think mental illness was seen as something that was not really law enforcement related- it was just something we tried to contain. Bi-polar disorder or depression was rarely diagnosed accurately- and although schizophrenia tended to be the mental illness that gave us most of our violent outbursts, problems, and calls to 911- depression was an entirely different animal. It didn't manifest itself in some outrageous or violent conduct and so it was never really placed on the front burner. We dealt with it in small doses or on suicide calls.

We didn't understand dual diagnosis back then either. That mentally ill people, without a proper diagnosis or prescriptions that worked, would simply self medicate with any booze or illicit drugs that they could find. 

Depressed people will always try to find a way to change how they feel. That is absolutely key to what I am about to say. People suffering from depression are either going to seek a chemical solution, a spiritual solution, or a radical solution like suicide. There are 100 different shades of depression.

Very often the first responders to any mental illness, crisis, or emergency call were either family members, police, or paramedic firefighter types. All of us were largely and sadly, unprepared to deal with mental illness. I received 2 hours of law enforcement training in mental illness, zero hours in Advanced EMT A-D training. Most family members, if they are lucky enough to diagnose mental illness in their family members, still tended to hide or downplay the effects of because it is so highly and negatively stigmatized. Yet...

Most of us have suffered transient bouts of depression. We all apply solutions. If that is true then....

The problem is enormous and because of a lack of honesty and disclosure among the patients, I am not sure that anybody realizes the epidemic proportions of mental illness, primarily depression, in this country. It manifests itself in literally hundreds of ways. Alcohol, drugs, fits of anger and rage. Do you know anybody that enjoys driving in heavy traffic? Of course not. We all hate it.

If we all hate driving in heavy traffic, but we are forced to do it, how do we cope with that? Do we really forget about it every night? Do any of us enjoy doing things we hate every day?

If we all hate the fact that our government is broke, our paychecks and our buying power are getting smaller- yet taxes are getting larger- we are beginning to get frustrated and pissed off, aren't we? What if our government lies to us about all of those things? Does that make us happy?

What if we hate our jobs? Our marriages? Our spouses who change for the worse? What if we have kids only to find out that children are a giant responsibility that we weren't really prepared for? 

What if we never live up to our expectations? What if we, heaven forbid, disappoint loved ones with a less than average career?

What if we have to lie about all of this or at the very least- keep it bottled up for years because we are too afraid to tell anyone? What if we have dying parents or children, serious illnesses, or we are continually in financial distress month after month or taking bankruptcy because the cost of living is insane? If we live in a world where we are exposed to all of this, perhaps several of these things daily or weekly, how do we cope with that?

If we are doing emotionally unhealthy things, forced to or not, how are we supposed to stay away from depression and anger? In fact, how can we pretend that it doesn't effect us?

The answer is simple. We can't. You can't lie to yourself. Yet I see people who lie about their depression and their problems every day. They lie about it because they know that's what society expects of them. 

If we are doing things that we hate or that depress us, how can we possibly feel good about ourselves? By lying to ourselves? Is that going to work?

World War II, Korean, and Vietnam veterans all have suicide rates far below that of Gulf War veterans. Why? Isn't our health care, drugs, and therapy better now days? Aren't we more aware, better at diagnosing depression? Isn't our education better? Stop and think about that for a moment. I will supply this bit of information while you do. I am going to use this to jump into the real problem in the United States. I kind of consider the armed services as our canary in the coal mine and a very good indicator about how we feel about ourselves. 

A 2009 U.S. Army report indicates military veterans have double the suicide rate of non-veterans, and more active-dutysoldiers are dying from suicide than in combat in the Iraq War (2003-2011) and War in Afghanistan (2001–present).[10]Colonel Carl Castro, director of military operational medical research for the Army noted "there needs to be a cultural shift in the military to get people to focus more on mental health and fitness."[11]
Suicide rates for lesbiangaybisexualtransgender and questioning (LGBTQ) youth and adults in the U.S. are three times higher than national averages.

This is a fantastic article and I encourage you to read it because it really strikes to the heart of what I'm about to say. This article is well written, well researched, and though there are pinpoints of truth in it- I believe that it completely misdiagnoses the underlying problem.  

We have a moral problem in this country. We have an integrity problem. We've been lying to ourselves and to others for so incredibly long, that we have mis-diagnosed our own problem. The kids today aren't any less capable of dealing with stress than WWII, Korean, or Vietnam vets. If anything, they should have better access to education, therapy, groups, and doctors than any of their predecessors. Their suicide rates should be lower. So no, I don't believe much of this article as it applies to today's higher suicide rates nor do I believe some of the very logical points it touches on.

Because if I believed that- I'd have to ignore what I have seen. I'd have to ignore the skyrocketing suicide rates for people in the youth, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities which this article doesn't touch on. I'd have to ignore millions of unemployed, angry people. I'd have to ignore mass murderers that seem to go on rampages once every week or two. I'd have to ignore the 150 million people using anti-depressants, alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling, and suicide to change the way that they feel about themselves.

Our nation is stressed out, angry, and depressed. We are tired of living paycheck to paycheck, living our miserable little lives, simultaneously being lied to and taxed to death by a government that we all know couldn't give a shit less about any of us. We sit mired in traffic, going to some miserable job or interview which will supply us with chump change, no benefits, and a crappy boss. Coming home at night and hearing more depressing shit on the nightly news or reading online stories about Warren Buffett and Kim Kardashian. 

It's no wonder the nation checks out on booze, drugs, or Dancing With the Stars. It's the only relief they can find. Except that- they have to do it day after day after day.

“I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they've always worked for me.” 
 Hunter S. Thompson

So yes, we have a collective national malaise which begins in the heart and souls of individuals- of people that know the truth but deny it for any number of reasons. I think this lack of integrity is biting us in the ass. In fact, it is causing a national depression. So that is the statement of the problem. We simply don't feel good about ourselves because we don't do good things anymore and we don't tell the truth about it. Gandhi was right. The ways of love and truth will win.

This lack of honesty or in some cases- our willingness to punish people for speaking the truth because it is inconvenient or embarrassing- is a huge part of our problem. Problems and issues don't get resolved until the correct diagnosis is applied. Lying about things is no way to live your life.

There's a reason that our national depression is getting worse and not better. I don't think it has any thing to do with "this generation was tougher than the current one." Statements like that are designed to make some people feel good, while others feel worse about themselves. That's not very honest either, is it?

If we want to start feeling good about ourselves- to gather self esteem- well then I think it's time we started doing some esteem able acts.

That's what I want to talk about in part two which I will have up by Friday.