Friday, November 25, 2016

Differentiation, Political Parties & Thanksgiving 2016!

A theoretical concept I have taught hundreds of times over the last decade is the concept of differentiation:

Differentiation: The ability to differentiate and integrate two fundamental drives.
1) Attachment.
2) Self-Regulation

Differentiation is about balancing connection and independence. It is about the ability to be deeply engaged with those you love without losing yourself or your own personal truth. 

Applying this theory to this year’s election; I would think that the opposite of differentiation would be deleting those you love from your Facebook or boycotting Thanksgiving. Changing your worldview or suffocating in silence to avoid the anxiety that comes from disagreements would be another example. I wrote that as a statement but felt more like a question. I feel like I have a firm intellectual grasp of the theory of differentiation. Why then, has the 2016 Election left me feeing so undifferentiated? I do not like being different from everyone in my family. It is lonely. It is keenly obvious to me that I have not found that perfect balance of differentiation because I do not feel peace. I feel confused, sad and reactive. 

When my family says, “I hate Hillary and the democrats” and in the next breath state that they would never vote for “my party”, I hear “I hate you.” That is a ridiculous reactive emotional response (in my particular family context, but perhaps not in yours) and it evokes a number of immediate defensive thoughts. The main one is that I didn’t even know I was a democrat. I could argue that I have never even voted for a democrat. The truth is that I would have voted for Obama if my ballot had arrived on time, as opposed two months late through the Mexican mail system, but officially it is still true. It does not matter though. They are onto something. At some point something has mentally shifted for me years agoand my family noticed and I was labeled a liberal. It is not a label I enjoy. In my familial and cultural context, “liberal” is code for a bad and unprincipled person. It also implies that I must also be a democrat (which is code for the same thing). And now during this election it seems I have made it official. In my immediate family of thirteen people and among my enormous extended family, I am the only one who did not vote for Trump. 

My family loyalty would not let me support Trump because he has spoken so poorly about so many people I love within our family. Our family has people with disabilities and membership in minority groups being targeted. Half my siblings are Latinos. A member of our family, who I love deeply, will inevitably be seen through the “all people from Middle-Eastern backgrounds are terrorists” lens that Trump actively promotes. As a therapist, I have worked with sexual assault survivors for fifteen years now. I know the concrete and horrific ways the rape culture harms women. How could I not be concerned for the women in my family now that “locker room” about grabbing women by their genitals has been normalized and basically given the official Presidential seal of approval? I do not understand why I am alone on this side, but it comes from a place within me of love and loyalty. 

The Platt family Faith also would not allow me to support Trump. My family is LDS (Mormon). I was raised LDS. While I have little credibility as a Mormon, the values I was raised with still shape everything I do every day. Including all the many reasons I could not vote for Trump. My LDSness significantly shaped my experience of this election. It may also contribute to why it is not easy for us to talk about our different views

For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another. 3 Nephi 11:29

That same scripture though is one of the many LDS tenets that makes me recoil from Trump and his hatemongering. I feel like there are countless other scriptures and LDS tenets that directly counter Trump. Two examples:

Immigrants/Refugees in General

 35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
 36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
 37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
 38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
 39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
 40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. 
Matthew 25:35-40

Our Neighbor Mexico and/or Nationalism

37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with ... And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.
Matthew 22:37-39

The incongruences I see between LDS values and teachings and Trump’s way of being in the world could fill a library. And others have already pointed out the conflict of LDS values with Trump's "values"

I mentioned the oddness I felt about being the only one on this side to my sister Maria. She said, “That is the thing. There is no ‘sides’ in family. We will always be on the same side. Don’t forget that.” I found her comment reassuring in the moment. My having independent thought doesn’t really mean I lose my group membership, right?

Differentiation. I am not there yet, but I am working on it. 

This is where I should begin a new blog entry. Actually, I should probably put the above in a private journal or talk to a therapist about it in a confidential space. Though I am working on what could be considered self of the therapist or self of the educator work (that entails examining your own thinking in order to avoid negatively effect your work). We are encouraged to do that, right?

“I cannot be a teacher without exposing who I am.”
-Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of Freedom

 In her book, Teaching to Transgress, (1994) Bell Hooks suggested that faculty often maintain the status quo of oppressive societal structures by remaining hidden in the role of “...all knowing silent interrogators,” whereas, “when education is the practice of freedom, students are not the only ones who are asked to share, to confess” (p.21).

I am a therapist. I believe that most problems between people and groups can be solved through thoughtful dialogue. Therapists often help people with communication issues. They help clients to listen to each other and to understand the person’s point of view. Therapists generally are peacemakers. We understand the power of being non-reactive and non-judgmental. Most of us would agree that we are best able to do our jobs when we are grounded and do not join in emotionally with the crisis. My colleagues and I often critique the use of labels and see how labels limit our ability to consider complexity and block the consideration of alternative stories. We are all pretty good at all these things, except when it comes to politics. 

Below is a resource from the Public Conversation project. I have been using this resource for teaching since the Gulf War. It is simple, but I think it captures some important points that I believe helps facilitate understanding between opposing groups. 
I believe in the basic skills therapists use to facilitate communication and bridge differences. Yet, since it was announced that Trump had won, I have only been following the example of “the Anatomy of a Conversation Gone Wrong.” As therapists, most of us would intervene if we were witnessed a client stating that another was stupid, horrible or insane, yet daily I have been communicating some version of that message regarding those who supported Trump (and I am witnessing many other therapist doing the same). Of course, those on the right are doing the same. Isn’t that unproductive though if our hope is to create useful dialogues? On the other hand, don’t we have a moral duty to notice and act in some way when we perceive dangerous red flags in current events that seem similar to those that precipitated atrocities throughout history? It also can feel like a betrayal to my family, friends, clients and the world to not speak up. Another Facebook rant is probably not the answer though. 

When is response a rant and when is it advocacy?

A few years ago my colleague Tracey Laszloffy and I wrote an article about patriotism. Our call was for all U.S. citizens to consider more fully how nationality shapes their way of being in the world as well as the need to consider more international perspectives. We also suggested that therapist should develop what we termed as Critical Patriotism:

“Critical Patriotism means: The ability to honestly and fairly reflect and assess the values, history, culture, and traditions of one’s country. Inherent in this process is the ability to consider the nation’s virtues and vices in a balanced way. “ (Platt & Laszloffy 2013)

We also really wanted to clear up the difference between a Critical Patriotism and Nationalism:

Nationalism is the shadow side of patriotism. It is the belief that ones’ own nation is superior to all others and its interests are more important than those of any other nation. 
(Platt & Laszloffy 2013)

While we briefly discussed the differences in how conservatives and liberals define patriotism, our focus was not specifically on U.S. political parties. We only talked about how the profound differences in the worldview of those in the different parties can lead to reactivity and a therefore a lack of dialogue about nationality. We did not talk about how allegiance to a party might be relevant to the training of mental health workers.  This incredible ad from Jeep does a fairly accurate job of capturing what research suggests are the core value differences between Liberal and Conservative versions of Patriotism:

As I am witnessing how profoundly divided and tribal our nation is along political lines, I have wondered if we should have said more about critically considering how our membership in a specific political party influences what we see and do not see. Perhaps I would have added that I think therapists need to be able to honestly and fairly reflect and assess the values, history, culture, and traditions of one’s political party and be able to consider their party’s virtues and vices in a balanced way.

 This past week a group of my students sitting around the International Center for Therapy and Dialogue, a clinic I have opened in Mexico City. We serve both the local Mexican community and Expats from around the world. Almost every client who has come into our clinic has talked about the US election results. The major theme is about stress and concern about how family members in the states, sons and daughters, etc, will be treated now. I was asked by one father if it is still safe to take his daughter on a planned trip to Disneyland. The messages we have sent throughout the world this past year have had a profound impact. Nationalism may seem like some vague inconsequential concept to some people, but I am already seeing the clinical ramifications. 

I also see a concern as a supervisor and a mental health trainer. In the past three weeks I have been with mental health educators and trainees in El Salvador, Mexico and Connecticut. By and large, most adhere to the liberal version of patriotic values. Most share my shame, shock and reactivity to Trump being selected. While this makes sense to me given that our role is to serve diverse populations and to be social justice advocates, it probably should be looked at given that we also serve many people who hold more conservative patriotic values. No? I also still think about the clinical program director who I heard at AAMFT proudly say she wouldn't accept students into her program who would not sign a document stating they adhere to her liberal views (illegal). 

How can therapists best help those whose lives are negatively impacted by the election results?

What are the clinical implications of a therapist from one political party working with a client from a different political party?

What are the implications of the reality that most therapists and supervisors are liberal leaning?

Is seeking to understand the other side in some way the opposite of being a social justice advocate?

What would you do as a supervisor if you had a supervisee who would refuse to work with a Trump supporter?


So yes, I absolutely think the person you voted for is vile and has the potential to destroy the world. I think he is represents the ugliest version of our nation and is an embarrassment. I want to weep for humanity because he has been given so much power to do harm. And I love you all. There is no one I respect more than the members of my family. The values I hold I learned from you. I also know that we are all more complicated and layered than any political label captures. 

Is there any more stuffing? 

Monday, May 9, 2016

Your Mexico Activity and Conversation Checklist

I have been asking local people here In Mexico City for over a decade for their recommendations for what experiences or conversations a foreigner should have in order to better understand Mexico. Below are 135 answers that I have received so far. If you have suggestions for additional ones, just let me know:

  1. Visit Garibaldi and the Museo del Tequila
  2. Who is on the woman on the 200 peso bill and what is her story?
  3. Ride the Metro on your own
  4. Ask someone in Mexico about their thoughts about people in Oaxaca and ask someone in Oaxaca about their thoughts about people in Mexico City.
  5. Find and try a new fruit (e.g.. Zapote negro, Guanábana, Granada, Pomarosa, Changunga, etc)
  6. Try Café de Olla
  7. Who is ‘el tri’ and why is it important to Mexicans?
  8. What does it mean to call someone an “Indio” (an Indian).
  9. Champurrado
  10. Read José Emilio Pacheco 68 page novel “Las batallas en el desierto” that takes place in La Roma.
  11. Eat a Tlayuda Zapoteca
  12. Oaxaca , la virgin de juquila.
  13. Discriminacion en las distintoas culturas
  14. Tatuajes y sus diferencias y significados.
  15. Turibus
  16. Learn a few piropos
  17. Mercado del oro.
  18. Sample Flor de Calabaza
  19. Who is Toledo Francisco?
  20. Eat Chile en Nogada (the colors of the Mexican Flag, common on Independence Day)
  21. Eat Chapulines
  22. Ask someone about how Carlos Slim has influenced Mexico. 
  23. Eat Chicatanas (currently in season in Oaxaca!)
  24. Eat a "paleta de aguacate" (avocado popsickle) or helado de aguacate.
  25. Have a Polanco experience (eg. Who is at the Starbucks? Check the price of clothes in the shops on Mazaryk, etc)
  26. Serve someone (in a non-monetary way)
  27. Eat a blue tortilla
  28. Ask someone who is El Chapulín Colorado.
  29. Have a conversation about what it means to be a gentleman in Mexico and how different generations think about it.
  30. What is a "smoking?"
  31. Learn to sing the words to one of these songs and demonstrate it a karaoke or other public way:
                  Paloma Negra
                  Cieleto Lindo
                  Cucurrucucu Paloma
                  El Rey
                  A narco-corrido
                  Chilanga Banda
  1. What happened on Oct 2nd 1968 and what are the stories for why?
  2. Learn a song by Chava Flores and find a theme about Mexico City
  3. Visit a park on a Sunday and observe families
  4. What are the goals of the Zapatistas? What are the different views about them in Mexico? Explain the debate regarding autonomy for Mexican Indian Nations. How does the Zapatista Movement differ from Benito Juarez regarding indigenous people? What do local people think abut Subcomandante Marcos?
  5. Who built Colonial Mexico City?
  6. Ask someone what differences they notice between how Mexicans and people from other nations think about being romantic.
  7. Have a dialogue with people about their thoughts about the missing 43 students
  8. What are some of the differences in the accent of a person from Buenos Aires, Venezuela, Zacatecas and Mexico City?
  9. How could a few thousand Spanish soldiers conquer the Aztec empire?
  10. Was Malinche a heroine or a traitor?
  11. Try pozole "surtida"
  12. Who is Canelo and what is he famous for?
  13. Ask people about the word gringo and the origins of the word
  14. Have a breakfast at a market or tianguis
  15. Talk to a woman selling something on the street.
  16. Talk to someone from the GLBTIII community about their experience of coming out.
  17. Talk with a local Mexican student about what differences they see between US students and Mexican students.  
  18. Buy something on the Metro
  19. Attend lucha libre
  20. Try pozole
  21. Learn how to make tortillas
  22. Chapultepc , museo de historia nacional.
  23. Tour del campanario en la catedral
  24. Ask someone about the Day of the Dead and Mexican perceptions of death.
  25. Visit the Museo de Antropologia on a Sunday and watch who the people are who are there that day.
  26. Ask someone who has lived in the U.S. about their experience.  
  27. Try atole de grano
  28. Try uchepos
  29. Watch and maybe participate in a clown show in the Alemeda or other public space.
  30. Go to the Museio de la Revolucion
  31. Visit the Museo de Intervenciones
  32. Visit the Museo Trotsky
  33. Visit the Museo de Artes e Industrias Populares
  34. Visit Xochimilco
  35. Visit the Museo Chopo
  36. Visit the Saturday "tianguis cultural el Chopo"
  37. See a movie in a casa de arte
  38. Try pulque and ask about its origins
  39. Visit the museo del chocolate (calle Milan)
  40. Attend a Catholic Mass
  41. Attend a Quincieñera
  42. Interview people about a change they have experienced
  43. Create your own 5 point experience
  44. Create your own 25 point experience
  45. Eat at one of the many Colombian restaurants on Calle Medellin (near your home stays)
  46. Make a list of the stereotypes you have heard about Mexico and Mexicans and observe their degree of validity 
  47. Learn the name of 10 of the 47+ indigenous groups in Mexico.
  48. Help someone trying to learn English
  49. Find where you can buy “agues negras del imperialismo”
  50. Where can you find kosher foods?
  51. What is the origin of the word “Chamba?”
  52. What is a “raspado?”
  53. Visit Chapultetec
  54. Try "agua de Horchata"
  55. What does it mean when someone says “aguas!”
  56. Visit Palacio de Bellas Artes
  57. Go to the top of the Torre Latino
  58. When is Independence Day and why is it celebrated a day early?
  59. Is Santa Ana a hero or a traitor
  60. Watch a telenovela and list the race of different characters
  61. Talk to someone who has returned from living in the U.S. about their experience.
  62. Call LocaTel at 5658-1111 and ask them a question (directions, activities, etc).
  63. Visit Garibaldi with someone.
  64. Learn the difference between the U.S. symbol of the eagle and the Mexican symbol of the eagle.
  65. What influence has Jewish culture had in Mexico?
  66. Go to Bizarre Sabado in San Angel
  67. Visit the museum of Frida.  When did she begin to be famous?
  68. Eat at a Cuban Restaurant (near Mama Rubas)
  69. Play Loteria
  70. Who are the current political parties in power? Ask people about which party (partido politico) they favor.
  71. Check out current entertainment opportunities in an issue of Tiempo Libre from a news stand.
  72. Who is “Lady Profeco” and what did she do near your home stay?
  73. Eat at a Hare Krishna restaurant
  74. Read something by Juan Rulfo, Elena Poniatowska, Carlos Monsiváis, Carlos Fuentes or Octavio Paz.
  75. Have a conversation with someone from Mexico about what comes between those from the U.S. and people from Mexico. Where do we miss each other sometimes?
  76. Talk with a cultural minority in Mexico (i.e. A Korean family)
  77. Visit the Mercado Sonora and buy some medicinal herbs
  78. Eat a tamal
  79. Ask 20 people what they think is the most important thing to understand about Mexico.
  80. Find out why there is sometimes a line of people under the flag in the Zocalo
  81. Who is Memin Penguin
  82. Talk to someone about the difference between chilangos and Jarochos.
  83. Discover how homes get rid of their trash
  84. What are the different sounds used for announcing gas, garbage, camotes, knife sharpening, water. And what do the people with triangles sell?
  85. Visit the Museo de las tres Culturas
  86. Find a burrito
  87. Identify an active or inactive volcano
  88. Ask people about which states have the most serious security problems.
  89.  Climb both the Pyramid of the Sun and of the Moon
  90. Talk to a vender about what his or her normal day.
  91. What happened on Sept 19th, 1985 and ask someone over 30 about their memories of this day.
  92. Learn what the customary ways are to answer phones
  93. Talk to a non-Mexican Latin American about the challenges of living in Mexico.
  94. Discover what ordinary foods, that you likely eat every day, originated in Mexico.
  95. Ask what people here think about Hugo Chavez
  96. If you are having a drink with friends and someone says “Hidalgo!” what would one normally do?
  97. Witness someone rolling on glass or blowing fire for money.
  98. Participate in Danzon lessons.
  99. Learn what it means to dress “Pachuca”
  100. What were the Zoot Suit Riots?
  101. Go Salsa Dancing (i.e. Mama Rumba, El Gran Leon)
  102. Ask someone from Mexico City about their views about 911.
  103. What is important to know about Russian and Mexican history?
  104. Come up with additional items that could be added to this list that would contribute “points” for someone in the future (and please tell Jason about them!).  
When I have study abroad participants come, I ask them not to Google any of these and that my hope is that they will have conversations with locals about them. The goal is to gather as many points as possible. These points though, are not like those in basketball. It is more like the small distinct points (dots) of paint from “pointillism” style of painting used by artists like Seurat. In this type of painting you can only see the picture when you have enough points. Instead of paint, the aim is to collect experiences and stories. Also I tell them that this activity is not a contest with a winner and a loser. In fact, the more you help others gain more points the more likely you are to gain.

“Stories are habitations. We live in and through stories. They conjure worlds. We do not know the world other than as a story world. Stories inform life. They hold us together and keep us apart. We inhabit the great stories of our culture. We live through stories. We are lived by the stories of our race and place. It is this enveloping and constituting function of stories that is especially important to sense more fully. We are, each of us, locations were the stories of our place and time become partially tellable.” Mair, M. (1988). The Psychology of Story telling.