Much can be known about the American psyche from even a casual glance at American politics. My focus here is to address the psyche and not the politics of the politicians. Take what happened yesterday. A spokesman for the Romney campaign said some things about hitting the “reset button” when the general election campaign begins after the primary season concludes. Apart from what that meant and people’s reactions justified or not, something of the American psyche was evident in Rick Santorum’s reaction. Mr. Santorum, in a clip I saw, talked about how his (and I’m paraphrasing) sentiments were rock solid (I do recall him using the word “rock”), thus implying his steadfastness and, given that rocks only change through glacial time, the unchanging quality of his mind.
Which led me to wonder – since when did health get equated with the lack of change? Why is a healthy mind like a rock? Not too long ago the concept of “flow” became more prominent. That a healthy mind is one that can change, has flexibility (“elasticity” I believe is the term that neuroscience uses to express the brain’s ability to change). I had similar thoughts some years ago when Presidential candidate John Kerry’s campaign was sunk by, among other charges, accusations of being a flip flopper. When did changing one’s mind become evidence of weakness? What became of “openness” and “receptivity” to new ideas. (I suppose the last Presidential election centered on the idea of change.) While it certainly is important to have convictions and the courage to stand for them, why can’t even convictions or principles change as people and the times change?
My clients and I in psychotherapy work with a different view. There is, of course, much to be said for knowing one’s mind, having an opinion and expressing it. And often the work in psychotherapy involves helping the client know what he thinks and feels, what he wants. And just as often the work is focused on helping the client develop a flexible mind. With flexibility comes options, and options open up the psychic and emotional terrain. It is a flexible mind that can empathize: that can understand another’s point of view even if quite contrary to one’s own. It is a flexible mind that grows – that can see oneself and others in a new light and not just according the reflection of the past.
There was a time when, even in politics, to change one’s mind was not a bad thing. Abraham Lincoln changed his position on slavery. Initially, while being opposed to slavery, he was not an abolitionist. In 1860 he called for slavery not to expand into any more territories. He did not call for abolishing all slavery until 1864.
In psychotherapy we are in pursuit of developing a kind of ambidextrous mind. In fact, often the problems that bring a person into psychotherapy have to do with what has become rigid, calcified in the mind (one’s idea of oneself, for example, or of others). We are after the type of mind that can flow, even over rocks and other hard places.
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