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Education For Our Troubled Times

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The events of September 11th and the aftermath of anthrax scares and security warnings shattered our illusions and morphed our once familiar world into a new and unfamiliar one. As a result, all of us are learning to live with a newly developing normalcy. Metaphorically speaking, we are only at the first stage of this education—taking our preliminary prerequisite classes: Living with Terrorism 101. Living with Anxiety 102. Getting out of Bed and Handling Depression 103. Sleeplessness and Nightmares 104. Intimacy and Caring under Stress 105. Staying sane in an insane world is an extremely difficult task.

Not all our professors and teachers know what they are doing. Not all are easy to understand. And many are neither very likable nor very good educators. The homework is hard and takes time. Making sense out of the often-contradictory news bombardment can seem an overwhelming task. Those of us who pay attention to daily news events are on overload. Every time we think we have the hang of what is going on, something new and unexpected develops and with increased confusion, we return to ground zero and have to start our education process all over again.

The government isn’t helping us with our feelings very much. On one hand, they tell us to go on with life as usual—to be cowboys and cowgirls, pull ourselves up by our boot straps and ride on—overcoming any obstacles in our path until, at the end of the day, at our proverbial campfires, we lay our weary heads to rest.

On the other hand, using terse abstract terms, officials are issuing dire warnings while providing minimal information that can quell our concerns. In general, these information givers are not yet very good at the psychological aspects of their job and most can barely teach the introductory courses they have taken on. Psychologist know that in order to ease fear, when you give a warning you also give instructions about how to handle the warning. Psychologists also know that a very good way to increase anxiety and erratic behavior, even with rats, is to use intermittent reinforcement schedules. The ambiguity helps to drive the poor animals crazy.

What our government “professors” haven’t yet learned is to introduce warnings and to then introduce the second part, which is to give people something to do, to explain terms such as terrorism, give out information, facts and numbers, create “containers” for people to contain irrational feelings and to suggest activities for people to do. Sometimes people confuse activity with productivity. But, action can also be used as a mechanism to stop thinking only about one’s self. Our government officials and newscasters need to be educated to do their jobs even better and teach advanced courses.

It’s just common sense, or as one of my client’s always reminds me, common sense is not really common at all. Mothers know that if they tell their young child to “watch out” the child will expect the boogie man, become terrified, not let go of her leg, nor go to school. The child will not want to leave the house and in the most non-jargoned term, will become a mess. Whereas, if a mom says to her young one, “Watch out when crossing the street. Cross at the green light, look both ways before crossing, and hold your partner’s hand, the child will, understand what is expected of him or her, feel empowered and continue living using appropriate caution and care. The young boy or girl does not need a lexicon and diatribe of the differences between cars, trucks and buses. All the child needs to know is how to cross at the green light.

If we use the analogy that elected officials are akin to parents or professors and we, the general public, though not children, look to them for guidance, then it is incumbent for them to become better teachers. Officials and media disseminators need to take a common sense lesson from mothers with common sense. National security secrets do not need to be revealed. But, if those in charge of disseminating information learn how to not drop verbal bombs we will all be able to move up one grade and to start taking the next level of courses we need for a saner future.

Life is too hard to do alone,

Dr. D.

Dorree Lynn, PH.D.

About the Author

Dr. Dorree Lynn is co-founder of the Institute for the Advanced Study of Psychotherapy and a practicing clinician in New York and Washington, DC. Dr. Lynn served on the executive board of the American Academy of Psychotherapists and she is on the editorial board of their publication, Voices. She is also a regular columnist for the Washington, DC newspaper, The Georgetowner. Dr. Lynn is a noted speaker and well known on the lecture circuit.

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