After a disgraceful show of Washington blaming and shaming the US debt ceiling was raised at the 11th hour, deferring a default that no one could brook. This spectacle, coupled with a legion of global financial woes, has triggered a massive descent in stock values and a rush to find solid sources of capital -- witness the unending purchase of gold. What lies ahead? Prediction, as has been said, is particularly difficult, especially about the future -- though the clamor of commentators has grown deafeningly greater (in inverse relationship to the Dow).
I am no economist, just a psychiatrist. So I think about raising the hope ceiling, not just the debt ceiling. Hope is no ephemera, no wispy notion that lacks substance. It is the solid source of emotional capital necessary for we humans to bear misfortune and pain and find a way to recover from whatever hole we are in. As a doctor, I see my job to help my patients find sources of hope as they pursue whatever treatments and actions are most likely to bring relief and wellness.
In a stunningly clear and frank manner Dr. Drew Westen asked in the New York Times, "What Happened to Obama?" Put another way, what happened to the apparent man of conviction who stirred our hopes and rode into the White House upon them? I wonder who we have to raise our personal and nation's hope ceiling?
Why do I think days of prayer organized by politicians will not raise the hope ceiling?
Why do I think tycoons and talk show hosts proffering whatever (unregulated or regulated) fixes they admire will not raise the hope ceiling? It was Woody Allen who remarked that if you want to make god laugh, tell him you have plans.
Why do I think that sequestering gold or Swiss Francs will not raise the hope ceiling?
The course of history has been more defined by its leaders, good and evil, than by the circumstances that may have vaulted them into power. It was Adolph Hitler, despite his generals, who opened another front against his ally Russia and suffered defeat while Winston Churchill rallied his fellow citizens to stay the course in the darkest of days, keep hope alive, and triumph.
When will we see our leaders attend to the hope ceiling? Leadership, and with it hope, is about the unwavering pursuit of what is yet popular. This moment of national and global crisis calls for leaders who will speak to us as much about the nature (and value) of hope as about the dangers of debt. We are all waiting, some more hopeful than others.
The opinions expressed here are solely my own as a psychiatrist and public health advocate. I receive no support from any pharmaceutical or device company.
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