THE BLOG

Obsession With Confined Space

05/14/2015 04:49 pm ET | Updated May 13, 2016

Why are we so fascinated with walls? Tall, thick and soundproof?

For the longest time, isolation has been a method of shunning a person who has transgressed society's norms -- the legal system. And, more serious criminals are punished with more walls. Thus, the degree of isolation is commensurate with crime.

But I think our fascination with locking people up is much more inclusive than criminals. With civilization comes sorting people neatly into bins: for example, elders into senior homes, children into classrooms and people who suffer from mental illness into counseling rooms. In other words, civilization is standardization or making a factory out of people's lives to limit randomness and maximize predictability.

Elders have paid their dues throughout their lives. In many non-Western countries they are commemorated and granted permissions that are coveted by younger ones. As trees age, they are allowed more space by nature, they stand tall and visible from all directions and almost impossible to isolate. This is how nature celebrates its elders. But, we confine them to senior homes in isolated neighborhoods. Their crime? Annoyance to the iGeneration.

Ironically, we box and lock up our young ones too! They have to be confined to classrooms for hours -- not only that but also required to sit on a chair for the majority of time. If they cannot do that, then they are readily diagnosed with attention deficit disorder, academically retained, or the parents are reprimanded for raising a child who cannot sit for six hours. Attention Deficit Disorder has a prevalence rate ranging from 4-17 percent in the U.S. With such high occurrence, it makes me wonder whether "childhood" is a general clinical condition? What is puzzling to me is how other children are able to sit down and not focus on the sound of the leaves as they wrestle air on their journey to the ground, the wind's symphony or wonder what happened to Mr. Gofer and if his new hole is just as symmetrical as Miss Gofer?

So, age is not a deterrent for sorting and "boxing" people into confined spaces. Perhaps health is where we draw the limit? I mean you cannot possibly box a person who is suffering from confined places into a confined place? In fact, that is exactly what we do! Not only do we demand that someone who is suffering from psychological problems be confined in a room, but also they have to do that with a complete stranger (a therapist, counselor or psychiatrist) and usually sitting far away from a firmly shut door. So, finally, the person suffering from depression agrees to leave their room and seek help, only to be locked up in another room with a complete stranger with whom they have to vomit all their sadness!

But, to say "no" to this neat sorting of people would mean to acquiesce to randomness, unpredictability and the unknown. It means that parents have to stop putting a helmet on their kids as they pump their egos, although, they can offer assurance that with time and the right soul medication, the wounds would heal. So, instead of one childhood size fits all, parents would have to be comfortable with a non-standardized childhood path. Perhaps, these early vaccinations of manageable life stressors would produce resilient adults and reduce the insanely high rate of mental disorders or even better bin the name-calling system (diagnosors) into the "exaggerators" bin!

Saying "no" would mean that we have to stop drawing pathways for people and call it "cohorts," with a pre-programmed "next" button. I deviated from all my academic cohorts as an undergraduate psychology major, as a master's student in the counseling program and as a doctorate student in the biological sciences program. I always challenged the "next" button, for example by having a baby in the middle of my academic career, which really left the administration so perplexed because they had to create a new "next" button. As a professional, I am totally rebellious against and skeptical of the current widely accepted Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM), which is the name-calling manual widely accepted for diagnosing mental illness. However, the health care system and insurance companies love it, because it provides extra bins for sorting people. Obviously, I am not saying that mental illness does not exist; I just find it insulting that about one in every five Americans qualifies for a mental illness bin. Maybe being American is another general clinical diagnosis?

Instead of this comfortable confidence in pre-programmed 'next' buttons, let's give the 'now' button a chance, so we can program our custom-made 'next' button. If you did not program your buttons, you cannot troubleshoot inevitable problems. Let's stop living on autopilot.