If you want to know how a person will behave figure out what they value. If you want to figure out what a person values, watch how they behave. When people behave in ways that they say the don't value they are either crazy or coerced.
How do we as a nation behave? We are living in an age that privleges private interests over the public good, extravagant military spending over health care for its citizens, tax cuts over funding for schools for its children.
While the divorce rate for heterosexuals is 50%, those same heterosexuals would deny marriage to gay couples. While almost 80% of Americans say they would support higher taxes for universal health care, our government gives tax cuts to the wealthiest citizens, and fewer lower class people, working people at that, have health care. We say we are for freedom and democracy, and then invade another sovereign nation in a pre-emptive war based on false accusations. We occupy it attempting to force our espoused beliefs on them and call it freedom.
There appears to be a disconnect between what we as a nation say that we value and our behavior. How can this incongruency be explained?
One possible explanation is the false self concept which we have as a nation. Perhaps we are not the people that we like to think we are. Perhaps we are motivated more by greed and fear than generosity and love. If we were to say that the upper leaders of the governmental-corporate complex were symtomatic of what we value as a people, it is sobering to consider the likes of Ken Lay, Martha Stewart, and our President, Vice-President, and congress who with a grandiose sense of entitlement pursue imperial policies which are disastrous around the world and bankrupting us here at home.
What has this to do with mental health? These policies create an environment for all of us to live in together which is screwed up. It doesn't work well for us as human beings on this planet.
When Robert Kennedy announced his run for the Presidency in March of 1968, he said something then that seems just as applicable today, "These are not ordinary times and this is not an ordinary election."
While not wanting to be melodramatic, it seems to me that what is at stake currently is not just politics, but a struggle over different visions of what America means. Who do we want to be as a nation? What do we value? Based on our values how should we behave?
We need to set aside our greed. We need to set aside our fear. We need to take care of one another and the other people, living things, and environment of this planet, not just for ourselves, but for ourselves and our posterity.
To think only of our short term gain, only our own bank account, only what's best for our nation, only what's best for our generation, only what's best for people of my class, is nuts. How could President Bush have gotten it so wrong about Iraq? How could Martha Stewart, who is already a millionaire many times over, practice insider trading for relatively insignificant amounts of money? How could Ken Lay bankrupt a company like Enron, screw his employees out of their retirement, and say that he's not aware that he did anything wrong. How could Jeb Bush, Governor of Florida, disenfranchise thousands of black voters in Florida by just eliminating them from the voter registration roles? Are these folks just "ignorant" as they profess, are they devious and malicious, or are they crazy?
I vote for crazy because they certainly knew what they were doing. They seem like nice people. They don't strike us as "criminal types". But there is a disconnect between espoused and professed values, and behavior, and therein lies the rub. That these people are often looked up to, emulated, catered to as rich and powerful by ordinary citizens is of concern.
Perhaps we the people know better all along, and will clean all this up in due time. We deserve better, and we will get it if we demand it and work for it. Mental health is like physical health, it takes exercise and good nutrition. We need to feed out minds with positive thoughts and our hearts with healthy sentiments, and when we have erred we need to promptly admit it and correct the deficit.
We are a nation that can provide health care to its citizens, a good education to its children, safety to its citizenry, equality of opportunity, and hope for the future. We have to find leaders who will articulate our hopes and dreams and aspirations and help us create an environment in which their pursuit is possible.