I just listened to a Wisecrack-produced video titled "Is Therapy Speak... Gaslighting Us?" I like it.
This video highlights similar things to what I was trying to talk about in one of my more recent blog posts, "Trending trauma." The video describes the ways therpy-speak has entered the everyday discourse of the secular populace.
I like how the video says, "Mental Health has become the great smokescreen for the ills of neoliberalism." I often feel this when I hear about people trying to treat anxiety, when the fact remains that living in this society is very difficult and stressful.
I was thinking about the invasion of therapeutic language into our everyday discourse while I watched an episode of Ted Lasso last night. It was the Amsterdam episode, where numerous characters make steps forward in their characterization and development. For most of these characters, they had conversations that sounded like therapy, filled with self-reflection that sounded more like a counselling session than a conversation. It was a great episode, admittedly, but it hung on an understanding that talking-about-our-problems-in-a-counselling-sort-of-way is an inherently good thing to do.
Seven or eight years ago, I went through a series of self-help books. I've probably written about this before, but here I'll just say that I was going through a lot and I wanted to be able to figure out what was going on. I read three or four of these books, likely starting with Marshall Rosenburg's Nonviolent Communication, and moving on from there. These books gave me a new vocabulary for communicating my feelings; they also empowered me to allow myself to have needs and desires, things that I'd suppressed for most of my life before that point.
However, by self-help book five or six, I started so see the pattern. Each of these books seemed to be essentially saying the same things, and they were all speaking the same language: needs, desires, trauma, self, advocate, believe, etc.. In a way, they were all the same book.
In addition, when I tried to use the language I was learning in situations where I thought it might help, that language always backfired. It took me a while to realize that the language was good and clear, but it also had a place: therapeutic settings. It wasn't meant to be used in a fight, or even between two people trying to sort out their problems. It was intended to be used in within the walls of the therapy office. Over the last five years or so, I've tried to stay away from using language that, well I don't think really fits in everyday speak.
Which has made it strange to watch things like that episode of Ted Lasso, an episode that relies heavily on "Concept Creep," I guess, where all these people can talk like therapists, and, well, it kinda' gets somewhere?
But I'm not convinced that making therapeutic language our everyday language... works. At least for me, when I rely on therapeutic language, my ideas overall get confused, and my solutions feel more empty. Therapy-talk mashes my feelings into a discourse that inherently complicates concepts and ideas. It leads from trying to talk about feelings into a place of preambles and hedges.
When discussing the inner self, I think it's always best to streamline language into simple chunks. Where a preamble or redefinition might be needed, it's best to simplify and rephrase. I try to make things as comprehensible in the moment. That's it. I don't succeed in this often, but I feel like I'm happier when it works.
I've been a hockey fan since I was 9 years old. Specifically, I've been a Toronto Maple Leafs fan. My friends in elementary school, all Vancouver Canucks fans, would give me their Maple Leafs hockey cards. I tend to lean towards the underdog, so I, as a West Coaster, chose the Leafs as my team to cheer for. At the time, they were definitely the underdog in my circles.
And I've been loyal to the Leafs ever since. I've bought Leafs jerseys and paraphernalia, followed the team's scores and trades, and generally handed over a lot of my brainspace to following the team.
When my wife and I visited the Hockey Hall of Fame last week, she made sure I got a picture with my favorite jersey there, and I chose the Ted Kennedy one:
But I admit I wasn't really having a great time at the Hockey Hall of Fame. Everything I saw there, which usually brings me joy, seemed tainted.
Some events in the NHL have really turned me off of the game, and over the last week it's really strained my ability to get excited about the sport. This discomfort stems from NHL players refusing to wear novelty "Pride jerseys" at warmups. I've found the whole fiasco deeply, deeply distasteful.
It started with Russians. The Philadelphia Flyers' Ivan Provorov refused to wear a Pride jersey, citing his religious beliefs, I guess as a Russian Orthodox person. His coach, John Tortorella, supported him in this; Gary Bettman, the NHL Commissioner, also supported team's decision.
To me, this appeared short-sighted on the NHL's part. It's already bad enough that we have Russians being paid who would be sending money back to their terrorist-state homeland in the middle of a cruel war of aggression; it already felt icky to watch Alex Ovechkin approach the all-time NHL goals record, knowing his connections to Valdimir Putin. Now, in addition to this compromise with allowing Russian players at all, they were letting Russian religious sentiments get in the way of the expression of basic human rights. The NHL fell directly into the wrong side of history.
Naturally, after Provorov got away with it, a few other Russians followed suit; some teams scrapped their "Pride jersey" nights altogether.
Then, last Saturday, I saw the news that James Reimer, a Canadian, a Christian of some sort, also refused to wear the Pride jersey.
This really pissed me off. If I have to, I can kinda' justify the Russian refusal, since these players' families might receive retaliation in their homeland if the players are seen supporting western values. I can sorta' justify it for them if I really have to.
But for a Canadian? Come on. I can't justify that. Because I shouldn't have to justify anything in the first place.
What all of this shows is such a shocking lack of leadership on the NHL's part that I don't want to follow the sport right now. The league comes off as weak and backwards, bending to the whims of people's religious beliefs, trying to be "all things to all people," which never works.
The NHL had a chance to take the moral high ground when the war with Ukraine started. They could have banned the Russian players, or at least refused to pay them. If they didn't want to do that, they, or the Flyers organization, could have taken a stand and suspended Provorov for his refusal to be a team player. Instead they took a middle road. They catered to his bigotry. And that middle road caused a slippery slope that has now lead to NHL being a platform for domestic bigotry. What a joke.
The NHL and the NHLPA (the NHL Players Union) should be ashamed; to me, they've lost all of their credibility.
Hockey has been considered a backwards community for a long time. A lot of the machoistic garbage, however, took place behind the scenes: sexism, racism, and all that. Hockey culture has been under a microscope for a while now, and this is good. But at least it was all sorta' behind-the-scenes.
But right now, the NHL is a platform for bigotry. The NHL platforms bigotry.
So I'm done with the NHL for a bit until they get their act together. As a fan, I can't support and enjoy it.
I just wish I'd already downloaded NHL23 to my PS4 before I'd settled on this.
I was recently touched by an article posted to Slate, titled "Good-Enough Friends," written by Dan Kois. This article came to me at a time when I've been thinking about friendship and relationships a lot. Here's some context:
The internet is where I think a lot of my teenagers’ friends live too, whether they’re school friends who don’t get together in person or Discord friends who live in Italy or Minnesota or God knows where. And some of them really seem to be the friends of their hearts—people they’ve professed deep secrets to, people who share a worldview.
As it stands, as a 42-year-old man, it's hard to be "up for whatever." But I like to remember those times, when a phone call could set off a serious of social adventures, when meeting someone downtown could lead to numerous connections with numerous other people.
These serendipitous experiences depended on having a good cache of "good enough friends," of being willing to hang out with people and take time for people I didn't know exceptionally well. I have numerous fond memories of hanging out with people I barely knew, or felt were a little awkward. It was important to give these people a chance, and I had time to do it. As Steve Dangle says in relation to hockey, you need to "make your own luck;" it was easier to be lucky socially in my early 20s.
But pretty-good friends now? They all have families. We're all constrained by time and bills and jobs and whatnot. It's harder to get together. It's harder to keep up with one another. It's harder to make those deep conversations that build years of experience.
I was thinking about Chickens, the musical I was in a few years ago. It was hard and it was grueling, and those friendships were overall really positive. I think we had a lot of great conversations with both cast and crew. But once the play was over, once I moved down the Mainland, the relationships, for me, didn't quite continue. I saw how many of the cast and crew had forged their friendships through years of performances and projects. I was glad to get to know those people for that time, but knew I would never really break in to the friend group, because they had already forged those relationships. And that's OK, because I'd already forged good relationships in other places.
And that's the value of those folks you've known forever. Those friendships were forged when there was time to forge them. And some of those friends are people I haven't seen for decades, but the conversation could pick up smoothly, as soon as I see them again.
In 2005, when I moved from the Island to the Mainland, I left most of those forged relationships behind me. I kind of feel like I still never recovered from that move, particularly after I got married. But I'd like to believe that I can catch up with some of those folks, one of these days.
Scattered thoughts from a scattered mind, but hopefully coherent enough.
For the last seven years or so, I've had an interest in "trauma." It started at a teacher Professional Day workshop at the school where I worked in Agassiz, British Columbia, perhaps in January of 2015. Although I don't remember what the presenter himself said, his comments moved me to do some thinking and reading. At the time, I tried to talk through my feelings in a video that I posted to Twitter and YouTube (now deleted). The presenter suggested some reading, so over the few months that followed I read two Peter A. Levine books, In an Unspoken Voice and Taming the Tiger. These books comforted me during a tumultuous time in my life: the year preceding the my separation from my wife. Since then, I've tried to pay attention further professional and personal work mentioned trauma as a concept.
Levine's books argued that trauma was a natural response that lived in the body. At this time, the idea that "trauma lives in the body" was an appealing one to me because it felt comfortable: it comforted me to think that these mental roadblocks I felt in myself rested in places that I couldn't really think through. The Levine books described it as a thing you sort of shake off, like you might after an attack from a predator. As somebody who always felt rather disconnected from his body, it was nice to imagine that there was stuff going on that I couldn't quite access, that is was natural and ok, and that there were clinical ways to work through these roadblocks.
Since then, like I expect many people who've gone through the divorce process have done, I've been in and out of therapy with both counsellors and psychologists. Within the two years after the separation, I had two separate psychologists voluntarily tell me that I had numerous "symptoms of PTSD." I understood that this was not a diagnosis, that they were just adding things up in an observation they made based on their experiences with me in the therapy room. It wasn't a diagnosis, but it showed that there was important, consistant stuff for me to work through. These psychologists' comments scared me at first, but as time went on, I identified less and less with those comments.
In the years that followed, in articles in mainstream publications, I read more and more that "Trauma lives in the body." It seemed like therapists appealed to trauma as a concept and experience that many people endured. I started to hear teachers and counsellors in schools make references to trauma. I started to hear the word used more and more in the news, in relation to the presidency of Donald Trump, for example, or perhaps after the death of George Floyd, and of course through the Covid-19 pandemic.
I don't have references for these observations/reflections, but the phrase that most comes to mind is "collective trauma." It seemed like our whole society was experiencing trauma all at the same time, and people wanted to write about it. To me, the fact that The Body Keeps the Score stayed near the top of the Amazon best sellers list through most of the pandemic shows that a good portion of the population wanted trauma to be an answer to the questions they were asking through the pandemic experience. Trauma seemed to be everywhere. Trauma was trendingâtrendy, even.
Each time I heard or read the word "trauma" outside of clinical settings, it irked me a little. It made me think things like,
It just didn't seem to work. I started to feel like contemporary trauma was a concept that wouldn't exist without rhetoric, analogous to the "apologetics" that sent me reeling for my teenage years and early 20s as I tried to justify a faith I didn't really believe in, or analogous to education fads that cross the pseudoscience boundary, like Brain Gym or "learning styles." To me, "trauma" got to be too messy. So over the last year, I kinda' let my thoughts about it slide.
But over the last month, the word reappeared in ways that alarmed me. I can't professionally describe those events here, but I can say that these events brought set my skepticism-feelers on high alert. I couldn't quite figure out what was wrong about it, but I knew something was wrong about how people around me were treating trauma as a concept in my professional sphere.
And then I serendipitously heard this episode of Oh No Ross And Carrie, titled "Carrie Talks Trauma, Pseudoscience, and Social Media: Trauma Trap Edition." (embedded below)
I've listened to "Oh No Ross and Carrie" on and off for over a decade. I love their work. This episode is a talk Carrie Poppy made for the Merseyside Skeptics, and it got my mind rolling with new ideas and perhaps some clarity.
I feel that Carrie's conclusion about "suffering" creates a far more coherent concept than any of the descriptions of trauma I've heard or read over the last many years. When I realized this, it was as if a weight slid off my back that I'd carried since those psychologists mentioned the word to me years ago. I can handle suffering, and I can see suffering all around me, and I as a non-professional can work with suffering in my relationships. But trauma, I just don't think we're using the term in a falsifiable way. I think the word "trauma" complicates things where "suffering" would simplify the conversation.
At the end of the podcast, Carrie suggests a book: The End of Trauma, by George A. Bonanno. I've started listening to it on Audible. My ideas about trauma continue to evolve. I'll write more about my new thoughts another time.
I've recently seen a couple good articles over at The Atlantic.
The first is about social media: "The Age of Social Media is Ending." In the article, Ian Bogost argues that the most recent turmoils at Twitter and Facebook's money-losing tendencies are signs of the end of "social media." Bogost distinguishes "social network" from "social media," comparing a "social network" to a Rolodex and "social media" to a broadcaster. In this argument, the media-creation aspect of "social media" is showing signs of wear.
In the article, Bogost writes, "As I’ve written before on this subject, people just aren’t meant to talk to one another this much. They shouldn’t have that much to say, they shouldn’t expect to receive such a large audience for that expression, and they shouldn’t suppose a right to comment or rejoinder for every thought or notion either." I like this because I know I often feel as if I have very little to say, and I feel bad about it. I feel bad that I abandon this blog so often; I feel bad that songwriting is such a chore. But I feel good that I've generally abandoned the content-creation model of social media, except perhaps with sporadic Instagram posts. I don't expect many, if any, "likes" on my posts anymore, and certainly don't expect comments.
The article reminds me of how, when I taught high school English in Agassiz, British Columbia, in order to garner attention and connection with my students, I'd try to make references to social media. However, the students generally didn't care about my references. Those kids had already moved on from the social media model, I felt. Social media, it seemed, was for old people.
I've never understood TikTok, and I likely never will. But I'm glad to not feel beholden to creating media in the search for attention. At this point I think I make all my media just for me.
The second article is titled, "Electric Vehicles are Bringing out the Worst in Us," by David Zipper. In this article, Zipper argues that American auto companies' obsession with SUVs and trucks may cause problems with safety and the environment in the growing electric vehicle market.
Zipper writes, "Even modest- size electric cars are not a climate panacea. A 2020 study by University of Toronto scholars found that electrification of automobiles cannot prevent a global temperature rise of 2degrees Celsius by 2100 without a concurrent shift toward cleaner travel modes such as public transportation and bicycles." This backs up a few of my suspicions: 1. that electric vehicles need very specific non-renewable resources that may not be available to all of us, 2. that the problems in our cities and roads are caused by cars, not by what powers them, and that 3. electric vehicles are a flashy way to maintain the status quo.
I drive an old gasoline-powered vehicle. I don't like the car, but it's my car. It's not powerful or sexy. I'd love to change that, to have a cooler, more fuel efficient vehicle. But I'm not jumping on the EV bandwagon yet; I think the technology is still in its infancy. I want to see where it goes, and I want it to be cheaper.
I feel like all the insecurities I feel about my garbage-excuse-for-a-car would not be replaced by a new, electric vehicle, but would be better replaced by living somewhere walkable, where I have better access to transit, where I don't need a car at all. That would create a far better quality of life, I believe, than jumping on the EV bandwagon before I've driven this car, and a few more, into the ground.
I also don't feel confident that worldwide mining operations will be able to keep up with the requisite EV demand for lithium and cobalt. These materials... there's only so much of them. I'm not sure that the world can produce them enough to make EVs sustainable.
Those are the two articles that drew my attention over the last couple of days.
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