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Carol Smaldino

Carol Smaldino

Posted: December 1, 2009 08:44 AM

Reflections On The Holidays: Are We Old Enough to Share

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The holidays, for most Americans almost always means a feast shared in company and the giving of gifts. Since the holidays have been given the connotation of a national homecoming with family near and far, their often habitual celebrations also include indigestion from the acidity of overeating mixed in with that of undigested family conflicts. Sometimes they contain ample joy of happy and comforting reunions. Yet, they are not generally seen as an occasion for refection and resolution. While reflection -- apart from actual prayer or going around the table stating reasons for thankfulness -- has never been preponderant in our celebrations, this might just be the right time to consider such an indulgence.

Ecological concerns have some of us reluctant to compulsively stuff our faces in what feels like a flaunting of abundance and excess. As the season for harvesting our generosity approaches, reflection might even be a welcome addition. The obligatory part, to my mind, has to do with the contradictions within the context of celebrating freedom from want when there is so much poverty just around our corners. In addition, any celebration of a deeper kind of freedom-- whether it be the freedom to or from forced religious worship -- calls for some connectivity between what we are toasting and what we are living.

It has struck me for awhile that freedom is difficult to live without the safety of structure and the discipline of evaluating our lives and choices, both individually and communally. However, when any of us are enmeshed and entrenched in addictions to substances, to people, to hatred and revenge, we are very far from free.

So my question would be how, if ever, could we allow and even oblige ourselves not only to experience and voice reflections on our actions, but in addition to associate to fantasies, dreams and ideas of what we might need in order to experience an exodus from some of the ways in which we are enslaved.

For one, I feel strongly, that those of us who are mental health professionals need to come out of our own closets to claim our humanity and our own obligations to participate in commentary and assistance on the levels where our awareness of mental health needs are flagrant.

One aspect of how we are currently living is that young people are going to college or to war, with little support in questioning their orders, whether from sororities and fraternities, from those who bully and torment them or from college admission essays that are supposed to be sacred and private. Soldiers in our military, are not only ordered to torture suspects of terrorism in lands far away, they often feel the torture of an isolated torment of raw terror, nightmares during and after their stay, and a less than human treatment by most of us.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is yet another diagnosis that enables our resistance to evaluate the torment in which we are engaging and pushing others to engage. "Stress" is in itself a mundane word that could refer to a busy afternoon or a moment of confusion. Without engaging in the broader diagnosis of the context of what we do, we pathologize so many people for the urgencies of passions more human than otherwise. We doom them to a lack of freedom of care, dignity and clarity, and doom ourselves to ignore the mental slavery in which we are involved.

Freedom cannot exist within the sport of public displays of hate for anyone who disagrees with us while our political scene drowns out the dignity of information and debate, of collaboration or of cooperation. The recent and still fresh tragedy at Fort Hood combined with the facts that have come to light about neglect and abuses of our soldiers should, I feel, oblige us to consider what a translation of our odes to liberty might mean for them and for us.

From my perspective on the holidays, it is crucial that we be reminded that we have the resources, the knowledge, the human power to begin to play differently at life.

Yes, we would have to explore what is and share in what can be. We have the resources to resolve conflicts -- even amongst oursleves. We might spare more than a moment, at the very least on just this "free" reflection, and all that is associated:

My question is: Are we old enough to share?