Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The One and the Many

As along as I can remember, I have had very different attitudes to individuals and to groups. This is true form me even about the non-human world. I dislike yappy little dog breeds. But I am quite fond of my brother's Pug and liked my mom's Brussels Griffon. Put a singular organism in front of me and a different set of radar and antennae shift into play.

In the last year --and it is not unusual in this respect-- my practice at work has included men of quite varied types: from their 20's to their 70's, Amurrican and European and Australian, gay and straight, married and single, childless and fathering, immigrants and natives, White, Black, Asian, Hispanic, Muslim, atheist, Catholic and Christian Scientist.

Some of these fellas belong to groups that, as groups, ExC has a distinctly dim view of. (If one were of a critical frame of  mind, and slightly unkind, one might be moved to ask about which groups ExC does not have a distinctly dim view. Point taken.)  But that factor, while undenied by me and, when therapeutically helpful, directly addressed by me, does not at all overshadow for me their individual contours, their one-guy among many here-and-now-ness.

It's extremely rare, btw, for any of them to make an offhand or even pointed comment about politics, race, gender, etc. which strays from the SF Liberal playbook. My general attitude toward these comments, of whatever type, is to ignore them unless they connect directly to the issue at hand that we are dealing therapeutically with.

Given my general character, it is wonderfully astonishing how very few of my clients I have not been able to like and how extremely infrequently I find them boring.

I suspect that if they knew of some of my opinions about the groups of which they are a part, it would be a problem for them. Understood. But that's the nature of therapy, not to know that much about the therapist so that you can create an image of your soul's healer to your needs.

I have noted before that when people make the lazy morally superior nyah-nyah point about, "But, some of my best friends are _______," they are utterly wrong. Nothing is more ordinary than for human beings to make warm bonds with people from groups that, as groups, they disdain. The classic example? Marriage. How many spouses love their partners but really and truly could do without the family from which they come? In-law jokes are as basic as air.

I never noticed my Black ex suddenly getting all warm and fuzzy about EuroCaucasians in general because he liked me. And no one would expect him to. So why should I be obliged to think well of or get all weepy about Africans in America because I like him?

A huge part of therapy is being willing and able to inhabit the other person's world and point of view and keep your own, in the service of the soul. If we only worked with people who mirrored our preferences and experiences, how useful would that echo chamber be?

But today I am very aware of the shift that happens  in me when I talk and think about groups and about strangers I may encounter who belong to those groups, and when I am face-to-face with another man in whose face or name or voice or story I recognize the presence of other worlds, even worlds apart.


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