Heresy – dissent or deviation from a dominant theory, opinion, or practice
“One day everything will be well, that is our hope. Everything’s fine today, that is our illusion.’
This country desperately needs heretics – people that are willing to challenge the status quo. There are several areas in Connecticut alone where the status quo acts as a barrier to human rights. There are 17,000 people incarcerated in CT. Percentage-wise it ranks as one of the highest rates in the country; considerably higher than the other New England states. A recent study shows CT ranks in the top five in the country in terms of drugging senior citizens residing in nursing homes with anti-psychotics. The “time out rooms” being utilized in some of our schools have garnered national attention.
The discrimination against people labeled by psychiatry has gone from bad to deplorable since Sandy Hook. One of the responses to this tragedy was to require that everyone who voluntarily spends a night in a hospital for “psychiatric reasons” have their names placed in a database for suspension of Second Amendment rights.
Heresy is the answer. We need people that have the courage and willingness to stand up to oppressive forces. Make no mistake – standing up publicly against the status quo is extremely difficult. When you stand up you will have rocks thrown at you. And those rocks will come from all sides. You will be ridiculed. You will have your character and personality attacked. You may be fired. You may be black listed from future employment. You will be called anti – (fill in the blank). You will be told that your stance will hurt people. You also might positively change the course of history.
One thing that history has demonstrated is that the status quo does not change on its own. Education alone is not enough to change the status quo. Winston Churchill said, “Man will occasionally stumble over the truth, but most times he will pick himself up and carry on.” We must not only challenge and expose current practices and beliefs but introduce new modes of thought and practice by organized nonviolent direct action.
I facilitate a class that is open to anyone interested in social change. I have tried to develop a curriculum that is conducive to affecting tangible change – and have sought input from many activists. I feel the resulting material covers the necessary tools for effective advocacy. The problem is that I do not know how to teach people the intangibles that make activists display unwavering courage – how do you teach the part of one’s soul that makes them stand up without concern for personal cost. My grandfather was a successful basketball coach and I remember him joking that you cannot teach height. I feel the innate part of an activist that provides the courage to stand up is comparable to height. There is a calling in some people that simply makes standing up for what is right a personal obligation rather than a learned trait.
I was fortunate to grow up with parents that had this trait and were willing to fight for social change. They met in the sixties during the civil rights movement while teaching in an inner city school. They taught me to value human rights and diversity above all else. My dad often defended individual rights. My mother has spent her life fighting for people with mental health labels. I was present to see the many rocks that were thrown at my parents. What I remember from those times is not the fear I or they must have felt but simply my enormous pride that I was their son.
I remember trying to channel their courage one day in school. Some girl was being picked on and I felt compelled to intervene. I took a pretty bad beating that day. The bully that hit me had on a class ring – “class of” could be read on my forehead for a week. The captain of the baseball team came up to me upon my return to school following my suspension. He commented on my fight being the talk of the school. I said to him in a shaky voice, “I showed the entire school that I do not know how to fight.” He said, “no – you showed the entire school that you are willing to fight.” I liked that comment – It has been 26 years since he said those words and I still think about them.
It is important to remember that it is taking action that is important. A desire to “win” advocacy encounters or to deliver the perfect witty remark in response to a discriminatory comment will often lead to inaction. Action can be an end in itself. We need to be willing to engage the process of making things right versus requiring ourselves to know what the right thing to do is. We need to be willing to make mistakes.
I knew early in my life what I wanted to do for a living. I wanted to be an activist. I went to school in the south – mainly to study civil rights. I protested KKK marches while in school. I wrote my senior thesis on John Lewis – the amazing former head of the SNCC and now a congressman. I went to law school because I thought I could be most effective as a human rights attorney. Sadly, my demons took over and led me down a dark path. I spent some years living a life that was completely counter to my core values. It all ended in destruction.
After a personal transformation process, I am now doing what I have always wanted to do. I am not doing it as a lawyer. I am not the person that comes from a place of strength and parental inspiration that I was 20 years ago. I now have a background that makes me an easy target for those unwilling to argue the principles and only wanting to talk about personalities. I spent a part of last week in the hospital for what was described as a “reawakening” of symptoms from a past stroke. Health issues are a reality for me – undoubtedly brought on by my old lifestyle. I am not the prototype activist I dreamed of being as a child. What I am, though, is what I apparently was 26 years ago – willing to fight. I hope my willingness to engage bullies combined with my commitment to personal growth will enable me to contribute in the fight against the predatory practices of Big Pharma, corrections and the gambling industry.
One of the amazing things about my new life and new career is the people I have met. I have become part of a movement that is filled with heretics. I am constantly inspired by the people that have the courage to write in this and other forums. I am inspired by the people that protest and refuse to accept a broken paradigm. It is exciting to know that I have friends that are not only willing to stand up and have rocks thrown at them – but also have the skills to beat the bullies. And by them having these skills it means that all of us in this movement have these skills. As my fellow revolutionary Dr. Michael Cornwall said, “The collective horsepower to take back our culture from its blind masters resides right here on Mad in America and on every psych ward and in every prison yard.”
Helen Keller said, “the heresy of one age becomes the orthodoxy of the next.” If people feel that risking their job or being subject to ridicule is too much – they ought to take some time to study historical movements. Now is the time for heresy in CT and beyond. Now is the time to establish the orthodoxy for the next age. The extent to which we are willing to sacrifice will determine the extent we are able to change the status quo.
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.