The Deconstruction of Wisdom

by David King on March 6, 2012

crumbling-pyramid In a recent article published in the Lancet, it was reported that the upcoming 2013 edition of the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association) will make it possible for the diagnosis of depression following the death of a loved one. In the past, those experiencing grief and bereavement were excluded from such a diagnosis unless the resulting negative emotions were severe and lasted more than 2 months. It was argued that grief was a normal response to death (a view that’s still supported by many psychologists, nevertheless).

Such a shift, however, would essentially allow for the medication of grief, and therefore the avoidance of that which was previously recognized as a normal part of human existence. Yet the standard normal/abnormal debate typically dredged up by the DSM is practically obliterated in this instance. The American Psychiatric Association is proposing to not only redefine what constitutes normal human behavior following death, but to also facilitate the avoidance of normal human experience.

It is not surprising, on one hand, given the current trend towards escapism in Western culture. If the negative can be escaped, then why not escape it?

But we are a species that has been gifted the ability to contemplate and predict future outcomes. And herein lies the problem. Just as burning a tank of gasoline makes things easier now while contributing to future environmental decline, escaping grief contributes to a lack of personal development despite its short-term benefits; or, to state things more directly, it contributes to the deconstruction of wisdom on both individual and collective levels.

I’m not suggesting that this single change is going to do it, but it’s a slippery slope, and it’s reflective of a larger (i.e., global) problem.

In some respects, the deconstruction of wisdom probably began when people started spending more time in-doors than out; more time watching lives lived on TV than living them; more time listening to stories than writing their own. The removal of life, and of experience, is only to the degradation of our inner strength. The facilitation of this removal by government agencies and scientific organizations is to the decline of our humanity, of which the foundation is individual wisdom.

There is a balance to life, and death is an instrumental part of that balance, as is the experience of loss. This experience, no matter how difficult or painful or numbing, is at minimum a context for learning, and at best an infrequent (hopefully) opportunity for existential reflection and contemplation – a chance to gain new perspectives on what it means to be human, and to be alive, and to face one’s own death in the end. Death, after all, is unavoidable in the end – for all of us. In my own life, my most meaningful sources of wisdom and strength have also been my greatest sources of sadness, of heartache, and of stress. I have learned more in moments and even months of darkness than I have ever learned otherwise. And I have gained a deeper understanding of myself in these moments (which, ironically, is the ultimate goal of psychotherapy – to improve self-awareness). To erase the pain associated with loss is to deny the loss and extinguish all opportunities for wisdom and growth.

It’s a slippery slope. I’m reminded of Huxley’s Brave New World, a futuristic depiction in which people have eliminated all opportunities for unhappiness with an antidepressant drug called soma. Be warned: So too eliminated were artistic expression, creativity, and ideas. So too eliminated was individuality.

I am disheartened by the APA’s change in this regard, and by psychology’s likely continued support of APA diagnostic criteria. But more so, I am disheartened by the societal deconstruction of wisdom, the disrespect of age, and the abandonment of inner reflection in favor of easier, softer, and less stressful routes. The old adages still stick: Nothing good comes easily, and sometimes, you have to get your hands dirty.

Get your hands dirty, people. It’s the only way to know.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Erin March 10, 2012 at 8:54 pm

Read the latest article in “The Sun” magazine, it is another take on this. Scary.


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