Friday, February 27, 2009

How to Save a Life- Part Two

Terrorists from Pakistan attacked institutions, innocent people, in Mumbai last November; a group of about sixty armed Muslims (please read comments, no disrespect here to the entire family of Muslims), ready to die to make a statement, responsible for at least eighty deaths, more than 250 injured.

Not that I want to dwell on suicide and death, it is not the winter upper you're looking for. But we need to build a little on that last post, How to Save a Life.

I don't know if you noticed, but that one bled values. Not that that's bad, having values, in fact, the National Association of Social Workers has a code of ethics that uses the word repeatedly, values, and the American Psychological Association's code implies them, standards, beneficience, fidelity and responsibility. The American Psychiatric Association piggy backs on the American Medical Association, and you know doctors tend to be death-avoidant.

We're talking about saving lives, here, on this blog, in a society in which suicide is endemic, becoming more and more prevalent. And that salve, hope, although presidential rhetoric aspires to make it so, (thanks Star Trek, Next Generation), is sorely lacking. It's missing from among the poor, and the rich, as well.

Lost millions, to many something new, is lost identity. Lost jobs, lost identity. At least a piece of identity, self, is lost. Hard to stay hopeful, so confused, rudderless. For many hard-working people, the tagline might be, I am my money. If I'm doing well, I'm well. If I'm not, I'm not.

Tear money away, for the first time, from the identity of an income-earning adult, and you have an uncharted psyche. It's like being sixteen again. Who am I?

And that's fine, in fact we can all appreciate a make-over, it could do us all a world of good to redefine ourselves, reassess who we are and what we should be. Can be. But if other plates aren't twirling well, if the marriage has gone south, and the kids are using drugs, if your mother's been diagnosed with something you can't pronounce, and your dog just bit the neighbor, then not having money can be the stress that tips you over. Bring out the Puffs* about now, for sure.

I made a bad joke yesterday, forgive me, please, but I meant it, sort of, really wondered. Upon hearing that Japan is officially in a recession, I asked FD, "Does this mean that hari kari will go up in that country?"

Bad taste, he said with his eyes. And he's right. But I'm really worried about this trend, in general, the value on life disappearing in society. Life is less meaningful for so many when times are tough, and we are in an international recession. And our safety, our physical security is not even an assumption anymore, hasn't been, some say, since September 11, 2001, the day that terrorists declared war on the West, The Enemy, and smashed flying machines into buildings in New York City and Washington D.C.

The West is the enemy for terrorist suicidists (my new word of the year, people who encourage others or believe in the benefit of suicide, the right to take one's life, although maybe euthanasia applies). Those who see Western values as evil focus on our lack of modesty and promiscuity, as if these are only Western phenomena. We don't redistribute wealth as perhaps a communist society might. Or a king. A king? Or perhaps a benevolent dictator. (Someone stop this rant)

I don't know about you, but the other day a young man came to my door asking for money for Save the Children, an international cause. I get solicited quite regularly and give what I can. From the look of the pages of names on his clipboard, am apparently not alone.

Until recently, it is true, The West represented affluence, good health, the good life. And America, especially, is a country that defines itself with wonderful things, but these things include individual rights, freedoms, and a system of government that has functioned relatively well for over two centuries. The system shows signs of wear, but it is running better than ever.

The greatest country in the world, we used to say when I was a child, and if you listened to President Obama's speech on Wednesday night, still believe.

We will all cut back. We'll get by.
Someone said to me this week, "I can stay in denial for just so long, and then. . . reality sets in."

And I had to respond, "You can grieve what you've lost, that's fine. But it's what you have that matters."

If we define ourselves by our affluence, what are we? And if a nation defines itself this way, as some, apparently believe is true of America, and affluence disappears, then happiness does, as well.

But any mental health professional will tell you that mental health depends upon much more than money. We can't obsess on this. And America's future, in particular should be bright, has to be, because this country is not about affluence, it is about opportunity.

And we have enviable, unbelievably enviable rights.

These rights make us happy, too. Suicide isn't included as one of them, but freedoms of speech and religion, the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, we take these for granted. They're in the "have" list.

The terrorist approach to Western ideals seems to be: Destroy people who express themselves (the entertainment industry, especially); destroy yourself if necessary to destroy others; nuke America, if at all possible, and by all means, while you're at it, destroy that Zionist state, too. I think the idea is that if some people have to be poor, others have to suffer. A good society suffers together.

Not so different from holding a friend's hand, as we discussed in the How to Save a Life post, or is it? Oh yes, it's much different.

Those of you who saw Slum Dog Millionaire saw hundreds of poor people in the streets of India, barefoot, hungry, wet from the rain, homeless. And yet India is not a hotbed of terrorism, indeed the country suffered a hit in Mumbai. Osama bin Laudin has not got a grip on India or its people, probably because there is meaning in life in that country. Meaning and a search for harmony that is not about having money or being angry if you don't have it. India is about survival and peace, although we surely see the underbelly in the movie. But there's not a readiness, a willingness, a value for blowing oneself up, murdering others to make a point.

Or have I missed something?

It is hard to understand how a culture could glorify suicide, how any child's life, anyone's life, could be distilled down to something that a society is willing to sacrifice to make a political statement. Last week the human sacrifices that delivered suicide bombs in Iraq were all women, not women who were depressed, who couldn't take it anymore so they killed themselves, but women who wanted to be remembered for their deeds, for the glorious deed of killing themselves. They wanted the glory of dying for their values, and valued dying.

All I can think is, desperate or brain-washed or both. Mentally ill? I haven't given the status exam. My guess is that the night before, before a person commits this atrocity, murdering innocent people, murdering oneself, there is a going away party.

A different suicide altogether. How did that song go?
Where did I go wrong, I lost a friend. Somewhere in the bitterness. If I had stayed up with you all night. . .Maybe I'd know. . How to save a life.
Something like that. Every life is invaluable; our worth, incalculable. Where there is life there is hope. Even now, when denial is hard to hold onto.


*Puffs is a Proctor and Gamble product. As soon as they pay me (this is America) I'll put a link to the P & G website right there!


JJ said...

I've never thought of suicide as not being an individual right. Very thought-provoking.

blognut said...

YES, yes to all of this. You are right again. But what do we do about it? Where do we begin to get people to understand that differences in culture should be respected, not hated; and no matter what the difference, losing your own life, or taking the life of someone else, is not going to make it better. The issue is too big, the people, (all of us), often too hard headed but we can't give up on it either. Sigh. It makes me crazy.

therapydoc said...

I don't know. For me this is about finding meaning. Maybe there is a way to get to people who are ready to throw their lives away. I didn't even discuss the concept that there's something very sociopathic going on, the persuasive element of terrorism, persuading people to suicide.

JJ said...

I agree that this is about finding meaning, but I bet if you asked a suicide bomber they would say that is the reason they are doing what they are doing, for their understanding of the ultimate meaning of that act.

The problem of respecting differences really breaks down when one set of beliefs (or at least an extremist version of them) predicate themselves on destroying all others.

I think of Greg Mortenson's book Three Cups of Tea... as he explains the rash of extremist schools in Pakistan. It seems like his conclusion is that how you persuade those would-be suicide bombers is you provide another school for them to go to, one that is non-extremist, so those beliefs don't take hold in the first place.

therapydoc said...

That makes sense. Teach people different ways of seeing.

Glimmer said...

Wow. I needed to see this. I am going to stop joking that my new retirement plan is suicide since the other one... well you know.

I realize now that is now funny at all. Thank you.

... said...

We all know you coulda just said... "Bring out the tissue.." or even go retro and say "Bring out the hanky... " so thanks for the chuckle with your(apparently unintended) irony in the references in the first paragraphs to having/making money and self/identity, followed by a shameless plug for ad revenue from P&G ;-)

As Michael Phelps (and Michael Jordan, and Michael Jackson, and...) will tell you, you are only as good as your next paid endorsement...

Pam said...

I've been wondering if lots of people who would have sacrificed and worked hard to study through years of school to be a doctor or lawyer or nuclear physicist may hesitate now that the pharse
"and we don't redistribute wealth to take care of the poor all over the world." has been changed to "we need to redistribute the wealth in our own country."
I already feel resentful at times for working so hard all my life so that others don't have to.

Isle Dance said...

Yes, brainwashing is in there for sure. I'm guessing the list goes on.

Anonymous said...

Having studied terrorism a little bit, I think your exaggerating the issue.

Wahabism, the sect where osama bin laden comes from, is a fanatical interpretation of the koran. Not many muslum's follow his teachings. There isn't a large society that believes in suicide, for obvious reasons. Not even the taliban does.

And india doesn't follow osama bin laden for the simple reason that most of them are hindu.

therapydoc said...

Thanks TheMad. I'm going to edit that comment out of the post right now. I never meant it to suggest that.

therapydoc said...

Maybe I should just take down the whole thing?

Retriever said...

It's a good post. Few of us can even imagine what goes on in the minds of the people who commit these atrocities. It's worth imagining and brainstorming even at the risk of making sweeping generalizations, painting in broad brush strokes, etc.

We had these kinds of discussions growing up in England about what was in the minds of the IRA bombers who set off bombs in the subway we took to go to school, etc. To dismiss them as crazy murdering fanatics would be as foolish as to romanticize them as noble freedom fighters.

I remember my kid having to juggle hugely conflicting images and realities of Muslim individuals and terrorist groups. At the time of 9/11, when he was only 9, he was in shock (as we all were) at the sight of those buildings collapsing. He said "Mom, it's like in Star Wars where ObiWan says "I felt thousands of people cry out in terror".

And yet, at the same time, he was extremely fond of his social worker (incredibly dedicated) who was an American Muslim, very devout, subsequently made a pilgrimage to Mecca.

Personally, I think it is risky to label the terrorists mentally ill, What they are doing is vile and seems senseless to us, but it makes perfect sense to them, and not in the manner of the ravings of someone with a thought disorder. Rather, a very coherent world view, in which they are brainwashed/instructed/rehearsed.

Occasionally Hollywood portrays a bit of it,the conflicting loyalties, at least a skeletal story line that might explain it. "Patriot Games" was good, I thought.

Syd said...

I heard on an NPR interview the other day that there are many young people under 15 who wish to be martyrs for the Taliban. They want to die for their cause. Yet, there is an age limit imposed and the Taliban won't take anyone under 15 years old. It's a different mind set and culture. I don't pretend to understand it.

Anonymous said...

I think that if we dissect the North American media we'd see that suicide is also glorified here. The romanticism associated with suicide is restricted to only the young. I can think of several films where this type of death is romanticized: Heathers, The Virgin Suicides to name a few.

Imagine that you live in a refugee camp, a society where all around you children, women and men are constantly killed, maimed, raped. Where warfare is commonplace. Where your life is NOT valued because of your belief system or nationality. Where some people of another nation want your nation and people obliterated. And the whole world just sits and watches from the comfort of their couch in ther McMasions and does nothing, but take another bite of their pizza.

I absolutely DO NOT condone these actions, but it doesn't seem that surprising people are willing to do anything to get the world's attention.

Laura said...

I really think your blog is great. Very worthwhile. I came here by way of google search for things unrelated. From one social worker to another-nicely done (or should that be doing). Thanks.

Anonymous said...

It happened this Monday to a friend. WHY ??? Why did he do that ?? That was so stupid... How can you be die when you're just 16.....?

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