The whirlpool of influence and information

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Monday, December 3rd, 2012
Harold A Maio, 75, is retired from teaching German and mental health editing, though he keeps a hand in both. Through art and German he has a lasting interest in expression, particularly in language. To him word is art, he likes to discern the meaning in word. Harold speaks to Newry Times this week about information and influences.

Harold A Maio

We are for much of our lives inside a whirlpool of information, influences, so long inside that we can fail to see we have become one with the whirlpool. I am reminded of that from a message I received today: “Untreated depression is the number one cause of suicide”…(NIMH). I recall the first instance of that claim, a professor from a major highly respected university in the US, he made the claim that 90% of all suicides were the result of a mental illness. As absurd as the claim is (there are myriad influences), it was immediately picked up and validated through repetition by a host of individuals and agencies. Today they number in the hundreds, and the message is consumed and believed by hundreds of thousands. I have stayed outside that whirlpool. A professor from another prestigious university, in the UK, travels the world instructing there is “stigma” to mental illnesses. I have stayed outside that whirlpool. I prefer to think for myself. I cannot say I always did, it is a learned skill, I learned it in the middle of my life. In 1955 I took my one and only class in philosophy. I remember the text and the author, “Philosophic Inquiry, Beck”. I do not remember much from the book, I was not a very good student that first year of college, but one phrase has stood with me since, “The Appeal to Authority”. Who appeals and to what authority remains of prime importance to me. I, like the writer of the above letter, appealed to that same authority, this is what I found; ‘Depression, one of the conditions most commonly associated with suicide (NIMH)’. Depression is one, there are many others. Simplifying, oversimplifying, any inquiry limits access to information. What one wants to find, one can find, an “authority” exists for almost any claim. The broader one’s search, the more information one gathers, and the more authentic one’s personal conclusions can be. I make no claim of  being an “authority”, I am a searcher. It is a position I recommend. As a child my access to influence, information, was highly limited, in the beginning only my parents and my grandmother, with whom we lived. My exposure to other influences expanded when I entered school and they continued to expand. My independence of thought did not occur until well into my college experience. Until long after “Philosophic Inquiry”. Since it occurred, I have spent much of my energy trying to persuade people to question and search, not settle. My main area of interest is mental health (I will tell you why in a future column), the perceptions that continue to whirl around us, but in a larger sense I am interested in every misconception whirling around us. My interest is in how one separates oneself from the whirlpool and makes personal authentic decisions. And, of course, my own limits in freeing myself from that whirlpool. It is a continuing struggle, not one accomplished with a single foray. Mom and Dad had little time to search, their lives were spent earning enough so that we four boys could have a better life. Mom decided when we were or that we would have advantages she did not have. Advantages her mother did not. Her persistence put four very poor boys in college. The whirlpool she was in did not engulf our future. I am not sure what I learned from it then, but since then? Since then I have recognized what an advantage she gave each of us. What a boost she gave us. It is an advantage I hope I have passed on to  my children. Though not all of us will make it outside the whirlpool, if we do not set our minds on seeing it, we cannot.
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