Says Who??

Verstehen, through shared perspectives


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RESPONSE TO DR. JEFFREY FUDIN’S REQUEST

In Dr. Fudin’s post today, comPASSION Fatigue https://t.co/rilJGgQxFG , he defines Compassion Fatigue as “essentially a form of burnout common to those of us who actually care.” He and his co-author explain the problems of advocating for good care for chronic pain patients while navigating the endless stream of misinformation, outright lies, overreaching legislation and its advocates, and the inability to understand the differences between the illnesses of substance addiction, and the suffering of chronic pain patients. “[W]e continue as a society unable to hold two thoughts in our heads, the suffering of the addict now that rules the day and the suffering of the pain patient has been relegated to a bottom dweller,” the article states.

Since most fail to listen to anyone they do not agree with, and no one seems to care about truth in advertising, chronic pain advocates and their physicians (and pharmacists) grow disillusioned and weary of the task. I urge the reader to use the link above to read this very relevant article, where the authors make a much more articulate argument for the case than I have made here, as well as reporting important new information.

However, it is not my intention to simply report on the article or its excellence. The authors realistically ask a very relevant question: Is anyone out there still playing the game? Are we still actively advocating for chronic pain patients? My answer is difficult to write.

Having been an undertreated chronic pain patient for well over 40 years, as well as a nurse in a county jail who worked with police, substance abuse addicts, and drug dealers, I believe my claim to a broad understanding of the situation to be credible. I am also well trained in both statistical and qualitative research as a result of my graduate degrees. Yet I am repeatedly called out as ignorant, as a probable drug seeker, or as simply being wrong about everything. I do have pretty thick skin, having been an academic dean for several years, and while friends compliment me on my ability to persevere, my parents called it “stubbornness.” But so far, it has served me well.

Again, I hate to quit, or to give up on a good cause. But at my age I have learned to pick my battles. I have only so much energy, thanks to my years of pain and the many disease processes that have resulted from that pain.

At the same time, that last sentence explains exactly why I have chosen THIS battle, and I will not give up or shut up. You may not see me in writing as often, because I am tired and ill much of the time. But I will write, and I will talk, and I am definitely still in the game—just benched to rest a little more often. I am far from being alone in this situation, and I no more want to see hundreds of thousands of others suffer than I wish to suffer myself.

Meanwhile, here is a thanks to Dr. Jeff, and to all the compassionate pain management physicians (especially mineJ) who stay in the game despite all the prejudice, dishonesty and even the honest ignorance and misunderstanding that muddies the waters and stains our souls. Then too, the devastation of the lives ruined and lost unnecessarily because of undertreated or ignored pain, and the new rhetoric that is based on the notion that we are all alike and our pain should be treated the same, accordingly. And let us not forget to acknowledge those compassionate physicians who have lost so much after being targeted and charged by federal agents with no accountability for their actions when they were wrong.

I am beginning to ramble, so I end with this statement: The pain of burnout and the pain of disability cannot end this battle. It is too easy already for many to forget or deny the reality of our existence. Our voices must continue to compel the truth into being.

Talmud quote


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“ALTERNATIVE” VS. “SUPPLEMENTAL” PAIN CARE

The latest heresy propagated by the misguided War on Drugs, particularly the version that is an opiophobic war against pain patients and their physicians, is that engendered by both pop and professional psychology. In short, it is the claim that to control one’s own pain by controlling thought processes is a better alternative than pain medication for chronic pain. Thus, mental self-control is added to physical therapy, diet, and exercise, as purveyors of these so-called better methods hope to gain the income they saw going to legitimate, board certified pain management physicians who actually provide relief from pain. The heresy is that theirs is an alternative therapy, when in fact for far too many chronic pain patients it is at best a supplement to actual pain relief by medical methods.

Before addressing this heresy, allow me to outline my credentials for debunking it. For 46 years I have suffered from degenerative disc disease. At the present time, there is no part of my spine unaffected by this process, no part that fails to add to the pain. At four different places in my back and neck, there are outgrowths (stenosis, protruding disc material, arthritis and one spinal meningioma) intruding on the spinal cord itself, with resulting radicular pain, weakness in extremities, and the potential for paralysis. In addition, 14 years ago I was diagnosed with Type II Diabetes, with severe diabetic neuropathy. Walking produces paradoxical pain and numbness, often resulting in missteps and falling if I do not actually see where my feet are.

Because I have always been unable to take pain medications (as well as many other medications), early on I accepted the responsibility for dealing with my pain pretty much on my own. To the extent possible, I considered it a “mind over matter” situation and learned to compartmentalize the pain while I worked full time all those years, was divorced and learned to support myself, gained first a nursing certification and then a Ph.D.  While these “alternatives” to pain medication made life possible up to a point, it remained very difficult and the control was as often geared toward forcing myself to keep going as it was to training my mind away from the pain.

I held positions that were demanding and stressful, often working 60-70 hours a week and rarely getting more than 3-4 hours sleep because of the pain. As both a nurse and a professional social scientist, I was knowledgeable about the supplemental psychological and physical methods I was using. But no matter how well I used distraction, being useful, loving my job, and being positive; no matter how I accepted my pain as simply another part of my life and tried to minimize its presence in my thoughts and mind, it continued taking its toll on my body and my life. THESE SUPPLEMENTAL METHODS OF PAIN CONTROL WERE INSUFFICIENT, NEITHER REMOVING MY PAIN NOR REDUCING ITS EFFECTS ON MY BODY.

Three years ago, all the defects in my efforts to control chronic pain came to a devastating but inevitable concluding failure. The discs on either side of a lower thoracic vertebra “imploded”—displacing the vertebra, and creating scoliosis from that point upward in my spine. The pain, added to what I already suffered, was too excruciating for me to fight. Additionally, other disease processes were becoming worse from the long-term stress: my diabetes was out of control, I had cardiac problems, allergies, and severe gastric issues. I retired from full time work at the age of 72, and moved to a city where I hoped to find good medical care and a church family where I would feel at home. I did not think it would be for long, and often my pain was so exquisite, so unrelenting, that I prayed for the relief of death.

That, in summary, is the story of my life without pain medication. It was a long nightmare of having to give over so much of my personal energy to keeping pain levels manageable that I had nothing left for the responsibilities of any kind of family or personal life. Pain was the constant companion of my days and nights for so many years that I had forgotten many of the pleasures of a life free of pain. Don’t get me wrong—I am not looking for the reader’s sympathy. I am simply stating facts, not just for myself, but also for the millions of chronic pain sufferers in the USA who also live with untreated or undertreated chronic pain because of unjust and unreasonable regulations about what kind of treatment and how much of it they are allowed. Regulations too often created by people without the credentials or experience to understand the “unintended consequences” of their need to control a situation that has nothing to do with legitimate pain care, and everything to do with a dysfunctional understanding of addiction.

There is obviously more to my story, and that is because my selection of this city proved to be an excellent choice. Here, I was referred to a pain management physician with the skill, compassion and integrity to not only medically provide periods of full relief from my pain, but also to help me find a pain medication that I am able to tolerate. I now know with certainty, for the first time in my life, that the so-called “alternatives” to pain medication do not qualify for the term “alternative.” They simply are NOT EQUAL to the task of relieving severe, chronic, disabling pain that takes its toll on both mind and body. They can be excellent supplemental methods for maintenance of the effects of tolerable levels of pain (which differs in EACH AND EVERY patient, as do the effects of all forms of pain management) but they are no match for the pain suffered by those of us whose lives of debilitating chronic pain are defined by pain management or the lack thereof.


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‘TIS THE SEASON……..

little Who

 

It is once again the Christmas season—or Advent, to be accurate at the moment—and although I have avoided posting to this blog for some time now I would really love to write something relevant. But my inner voice asks: Relevant to whom?

Those for whom the pressing problem of the season is a warm place to sleep, and some food to quiet an empty stomach? They are certainly one of the reasons for the arrival of this Baby in a Manger.

The ever-increasing number of elderly orphans, especially those who lack financial resources for life necessities and medications, and who will be alone at Christmas? Yes, of course.

Refugees all over the world who have been driven from their homes, and separated from loved ones, because of hate, discrimination and war? Definitely.

Those who have been marginalized and discriminated against by institutionalized bigotry, white privilege, and the insidious lie of “color-blindness” until their frustration is at the breaking point? These, as well.

Unfortunately, I could go on and on. The list of ways in which humans deny or ignore the image of their Creator in each other is endless, sometimes almost evilly ingenious.

Perhaps, then, I could attempt to put a Christmas face on the debacle of our political system and the present electoral campaign? Frankly, this is much more difficult for me. I find it much easier to feel the Christmas spirit for those neglected and in need than for those who contribute on a daily basis to that sad situation.

Of course, as a social scientist I could write pages enumerating the evils of the system, with empirical evidence and professional objectivity. But this is not a professional research paper, and in truth I am far from objective about this subject. In fact, I am disillusioned, angry, humiliated, and absolutely broken-hearted that my country has become this spectacle of greed, ignorance, sociopathology, hatred, bigotry and downright evil.

That, of course, is primarily those who wish to be elected to public office, and whose desperate antics I have the misfortune to see every time I turn on my TV or my computer. But in the Real World, the vast majority of Americans are still the good, honest, hardworking and caring people that the average American has always been. Including—perhaps even more so—the average immigrants, present and past. Our ancestors. Those good people upon whose backs this country was built. (Ahh-did I hear the National Anthem playing somewhere?)

There, I have it. My Christmas spirit can be renewed in the lives and faces of my friends and neighbors, my colleagues and my students, my family near and far…..these, who continue to embody real Christian values and possess the humanity to live by them. These who still have empathy for the sick and unfortunate, and will do their part to help them even when they can least afford it. Who recognize the poor and helpless as brother and sister human beings, for whom this season brings to mind the fact that we worship a God who sent us a King in a manger, to remind us of what true leadership is all about, and to provide us with an example of what every Christian should aspire to in this world. Whose Son refused to sell his soul to the devil for power and wealth.

Yep. That is definitely the sound of angels that I hear.

Merry Christmas, everyone. Christ still lives and reigns within us. Alleluia!

nativity

 


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I VOTED ALREADY

I live in a state where early voting is allowed, and easily accessible. People at the Polling station were friendly and relatively relaxed. No one was listening to, or reporting, early return results. There were no long lines, no waiting period at all. I was in and out in less than ten minutes, despite taking my time and mentally reviewing everything I could remember about the candidates. There were some names I did not recognize; fortunately they were either unopposed, or were running against people I did know about and intended to vote for.

Being an independent, I did not vote along party lines. I voted for the candidate that I truly believed would do the best job and in at least two cases, despite being very disappointed in them for letting me down by not doing what they had said they would do. Fortunately, it is not necessary for me to like a candidate in order to believe that they are at least a better choice, if not ideally suited in terms of my preferences.

When possible, I voted for candidates who did not indulge in mudslinging and blatant lies. I voted for candidates whose concerns have at least seemed to put the needs of their constituents and those of the country ahead of personal gain; at least, I did so when I could see some evidence that this might be true.

But we are a democracy, and we are also a polarized country. No matter who wins, almost half of the voters will feel defeated. If the past twenty or so years are any predictor for the future, this will result in more bitterness, more lies, and more attempts to discredit the winning candidate and his or her party regardless of what (or who) is destroyed in the process.

Two years down the road, when we have our next big election, will we have overcome this tendency? Or will self-service and greed have resulted in two more years of stalemate and wasted taxpayer funds on yet another do-nothing Congress?

Election day was once a day of renewed hope—a day when we could anticipate new ideas, new commitment to the nation, and the retirement of ideas that no longer work, along with their supporters.

Maybe I have just grown old and disillusioned. This time, I left the polling place being glad on the one hand that there was only one week to have to listen to the incessant whine of political ads telling me why I shouldn’t vote for an opponent, instead of why I should vote for the speaker. My phone calls may once again be from real people instead of computerized voices telling me who I should vote for.  On the other hand, I am not hoping for much from the new configuration of elected officials, so there was no reason to anticipate any long-term climate change in politics after the election.  Talk about mixed feelings!

But I voted. I voted responsibly and fairly. At least I can still do that.

As to the future, for once in my life I would be absolutely ecstatic to be proven wrong. Because if I am wrong, then there are good days ahead for the USA. I want so very much to be wrong.


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CONFESSIONS OF A BIGOT, UPDATED

July 21, 2016

Two years ago I posted the article below. At the time, I was just beginning treatment for the chronic pain and other illnesses that had required my retirement the year before. But I was also sick from, and sick of, my ongoing anger at how inhumanely we so-called humans treat one another, and just beginning to fully realize that I was in peril of joining the ranks of the haters. I hated intolerance, poverty, unjust legal systems—you name it. I hated those who were intolerant.

I would be reminded by those wanting to help me, of all the people who gave money and time to charities, and how we as a nation spent so much money on welfare, Medicaid, and help for people in other countries. Knowing that I was both activist and teacher, people would say they were agreeing with me by quoting the old saying: Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach him to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. To which black South Africans replied in the years prior to 1994: Yes, but what if the pond is closed to him?

When I returned home from South Africa at the end of 1995, I was devastated to find that the country of my birth was not the one to which I had returned. It seemed that I had somehow found myself back in apartheid South Africa. I have listed the reasons in another post at about the same time as this one:  https://maryleejames.com/2014/08/01/the-election-is-hanging-in-the-balance/ .  Now I must stress that we are steadily closing the pond for more and more members of our nation’s citizens. Worse, large numbers of our countrymen simply do not care. Life is cheap in America today, just as it was in South Africa in the days of apartheid.

In a post pondering the first year of my new life written one year ago, I have also elaborated on my struggles with anger and the increasing movement of this country toward the actual conditions of apartheid, but now in new clothing. https://maryleejames.com/2015/06/20/ponderings-on-the-first-year-of-my-second-chance-at-life/.

Now it has been two years, and I am not sure just how successful I have been at conquering my anger—or my inability to cope with other’s intolerance. But I do still believe all that I have said in the post below, and the others mentioned. I know I am not the only person in America struggling with this anger. About half of us, however, are on the opposite side of the ones we believe are creating our anger.

But the truth is that we are all the same. We have different ideas and different beliefs in our heads, but since we hate the mere sight of those who differ in any way, we can’t talk about and either resolve or respect those differences. As a result, our nation is in chaos. Our legislators wonder why this is the case, when they have stubbornly failed to do their jobs, and to show leadership with integrity by putting the needs of our country before their own. I could cite specifics, but it is not necessary. We all know what they are, we just can’t agree on which acts were right and which were detrimental to the nation.

Civic Responsibility. Civil Rights. Civil discourse. All based on the same root word, all meaning being accountable to, and for, other members of our country. They are requirements for a democratic process to succeed. And they all rule out acting on our hatreds and require putting ourselves in the other person’s shoes, even if only for the time it takes to work out a common problem.

Otherwise, we become responsible for wiping out hundreds of years of human progress, and become the savages that Hobbes once claimed we were.

 God, bless America,

by returning to us the love we once had for You,

and for your Image in all human beings.

 

June 20, 2015

bare tree

I am of an age where I sometimes remember things that happened years ago better than I remember what I had for breakfast, or even what I intended to do when I walked into this room.   Today, I am recalling a conversation with a fellow college student, when I exclaimed impatiently that I “just cannot stand intolerant people!” I was, in a word, furious.

As I recall the day in question, the other students and I were discussing a “typically racist” response to a situation in our city. In memory, I clearly see the bemused expression on the face of the co-ed, and the hesitation in her voice, when following my outburst she inquired: “is that not just another form of bigotry?” She was pretty brave to venture such a profound observation, considering both the twenty-plus years of difference in our ages, and the potentially negative reaction that bigots may exhibit when being called out. For the record, she remained unharmed and we remained friends. Nevertheless, it was an enlightening and humbling moment for me.

I do have to admit that did not mean that I was cured of my ability to intensely dislike and resent certain people or groups of people whose behavior results in harm to others. I was just no longer able to demonstrate my dislike free of the knowledge that my own behavior could place me on the playing field alongside my adversaries. I am getting better at saying “I hate your behavior, but I do not hate you,” and really meaning it. But usually that can only happen if I am able to swallow the anger that rises up whenever I see people being hurt or deprived of their rights; of their humanity. Sometimes, still, it does not happen until the sentiment is no longer relevant to the target of my ire, but at least I can resolve the bitterness that otherwise would cripple me.

I have never been able to understand hating others because of skin color, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or religion. That is probably why my first academic choice was anthropology, until circumstances placed me in a trajectory towards a degree in sociology. Today, it occurs to me that as a sociologist by profession and a social activist by nature, I am forever dealing with the ambiguity that exists at the point of intersection where I need to speak out in an attempt to rectify the harmful actions that take place in our society, while at the same time—as one who deeply wishes to acknowledge that we are all made in the image of the God we profess to be our own creator—at the same time honoring that Image in the very ones with whom I am at odds. All too often, the realization that I am less than human in the eyes of those same people makes it even more difficult to deal with my own prejudices.

Worse, I begin to stereotype entire groups of people based on their membership in the same category as the people who are creating my problem….it may be

politicians.

lobbyists.

 media.

insurance companies and by implication, insurance agents, or

CEOs of all corporations, for example.

The list goes on, and long after the situation is ended the prejudice tends to remain. So I must deal with myself before, during and after each campaign to right a wrong if I am to honestly claim the title of Christian as well as living as a social activist. In fact, by now I would venture to say that I must do this if I am to have any integrity as a human being. But in practice, this tends only to add to the ambiguities of the situation.

For example, if I work to expose the wrongdoing of a person or group, what credibility will I have if I fail to express my anger at the results of the wrongdoing? At what point do I cross the line between hating the behavior, and hating the person? In a situation within a group where the contenders know each other and acknowledge some important values in common, it is much easier to respect the humanity of the opposing faction. In the broader context, however, it becomes nearly impossible to see that threatening party—almost always a stranger–as a member of one’s own species, let alone as another who is also made in God’s image.

In such cases, the battle can only escalate until one side or the other is thoroughly defeated. They may be relatively harmlessly defeated by being ousted from power, but failing that, they may be only defeated by death. In the case of our country, if we carried this scenario to its extreme, democracy would have been defeated as well.  Anarchy will have won, for it is not possible to live in harmony without trust in a system and in the people who empower that process, when we have failed to protect the vital essence of the humanity of each and every person who inhabits the system.

The good news is that despite the ongoing need for corrections within our society, we are a people who daily live with their neighbors and friends in a peaceful and productive manner. We are people who love our families, our vocations, our churches and our cities. We are proud Americans, and we still enjoy some of the freedoms of a democracy. Our nation is NOT broken! But even the most tolerant of us is still capable of bigotry, and most of us don’t recognize our own role in it. I know, from long experience, that I am most susceptible to this kind of bigotry when I am suffering from the most justifiable (in my eyes, at least), most righteous, anger.

I will never be free of the need to take a deep breath, and with deliberation and truthfulness remind myself that He who made me also created my enemy. He created my enemy, who in some instances may also be praying to that same God for victory in this particular situation.

I sometimes imagine that God could be wondering when His creatures will stop hating each other in His name, and honor that Name by working out our problems with each other instead of asking Him to take sides.

Admittedly, that is a utopian wish. Such ongoing peace is rarely achieved in families, much less in nations.  I am enough of an historian to know that ours is not a story of prolonged periods of living in peace with one another as a nation, yet we share the common value of our unity and in the past have achieved significant results by putting aside our differences in order to protect our common values.

We know how to do this. Our differences are not insurmountable as long as we stop reinforcing the walls that separate us to the point that we can no longer see what we have in common. Perhaps also, as I have constantly to do, we will have to tame the bigot within ourselves before we can work together again as fellow humans.

“One nation……” Like all relationships, it takes work and commitment.  Right now, I have that commitment still.

But I am very angry.

butterfly - Maya Angelou


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OBSERVING HOPE

There is a price to be paid for developing the skill of critical thinking. Its practice may cause us to focus on seeing the negative. In order to appear wise, we strive to unveil what is hidden, or lacking, in the ideas presented to us.  (In so doing, our perception becomes more narrowly focused on negative reactions to what we perceive.)

Once it was possible for this negativity to be pretty much confined to academic discussions, news op-eds, and a few people whose sole interest in life was complaining about everyone and everything else.  Today, it is more likely for everyone to attempt to outdo the latest—and possibly extremely well-constructed—rant against their chosen evil, or injustice, and the challenges from those who disagree.  It only takes moments to put our latest and best critical assessments of anything on line, for the world to see and challenge, immediately.  In order to keep the cause at the forefront, we almost have to live and breathe not only the reality of what is happening, but also keep up with what is being said about it.  Sometimes, we reach the point where we just can’t listen or read any more:

sane or well informed

             When this happens to me, I find that it is because I have neglected my own most important antidote to “negativity overload.”  I have forgotten to actively seek and observe HOPE.

There is an old story about the man who entered a stable and saw a young boy energetically (and messily) shoveling manure out of a stall literally covered in that substance.  Intrigued by the huge smile on the boy’s face, the man inquired as to what the boy was doing.  The boy never stopped shoveling as he replied “With all this manure, I know there is a pony in here somewhere.”

To state the obvious, it is sometimes necessary for us to recognize the signs of hope instead of dwelling on the signs of disaster, and to keep working with those signs until what is hoped for may be seen.  We must remind ourselves to seek, and then to see, where hope lies in a given situation.  We need to observe hope in the same ways that we observe holidays, respect, and just laws, for example.

Where have I most recently observed hope in an unjust, troubling world?

  • Just when I had become so disillusioned with all politicians that I didn’t want to see, hear or know them, I met a State Senator whose integrity is beyond question.  Who works ceaselessly to improve conditions in our state, and has led the way to legislation that is helpful and makes sense, despite the inability of other states to do so.  Whose smile and warm handshake extends to his eyes, and who actually listens when you talk to him.  There is hope.
  • Just when I gave up hope of receiving medical care that would take my own unique medical conditions into consideration; when I had given up and accepted that a computer would now and forever come between me and any meaningful conversation with my physician, I met a whole town full of physicians who do not allow a computer in the examining room while working with patients.  They make eye contact with their patients, and actually listen to them.  And even though hampered by the “15-minute per patient“ rule now in effect in most medical organizations, for that brief 15 minutes your doctor knows you as a person, cares about you, and does his or her very best to help you.  There is hope.
  • Just when I gave up hope that there would be any way out of the present hysteria over narcotic prescribing and the resultant rise of over 100 million chronic pain patients to the category of “discriminated against” and therefore oppressed, I read the following articles:

Education allows you to prescribe with confidence and optimize patient care. https://www.glms.org/Default.aspx?PageID=551 

And an even more exciting concept:

Basic Pain Care Certification

http://jamespmurphymd.com/2014/08/06/basic-pain-care-certification/

The first article provides for physician access to the latest information about pain management certification; the second is the strongest hope that I have observed that we can substantially address the problems of drug abuse and addiction, and still safely care for the needs of millions of patients with chronic pain. The reasons are outlined in the article.

Right now, this is a hope observed.  Like the little fellow in the stable, we have to work for it to make it real.  But all the signs are there:  as the boy said, “there is a pony in here, somewhere.”

What is the HOPE you need to observe around you?

 


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THE ELECTION IS HANGING IN THE BALANCE

I am what one could call “an elder.” My station in life affords me the ability, or perhaps burden, to look back and assess the arc of history’s swinging pendulum. I’ve seen this play before. I didn’t like it then and I don’t like it now.

It’s only August, and only midterm elections, but already the advertisements have been repeated so often for so long that I can lip sync with them. At least the primaries held some interest, with more candidates to listen to and select from. Now we are down to a predictable routine: “He doesn’t do” this or that job, to which the answer is always “HE LIES!” It was a lot more interesting when I was teaching, and we had debates based on research of actual records, and mock elections. Grades were given based on points won while sticking to the facts, and class discussions were even more heated than the TV versions. No wonder I’m bored with it now.

Every two years since my return from South Africa, I am reminded of a conversation with one of my dear friends as we sat up through the night awaiting the results of the presidential election of 1992. I am always impressed with how very politically informed about the world people in other countries are, compared to Americans, and this day was no exception. “You know,” she began wistfully, “I wish so very much that when our national elections are held democratically we could be as civilized about the results as Americans are.”

“How so?” I was intrigued. Aileen, more intelligent than most people I knew, was bound to have a profound insight on this subject. “Because, even though this election is a fierce battle between your political parties, once the election is over you all will settle down, accept the winner, and once again pull together for the good of the country. Because you love your democracy so much, and you really believe in it. And that is why it works.”

And I believed her. Because her words corroborated my experience, up to that time. Sure, I had lived through the whole Watergate saga, as well as Contra-Gate. But we survived all that, didn’t we? I was never more proud to be an American than I was that night, seeing my country, and democracy, through the eyes of this remarkable Afrikaans woman.

Then, early 1996, I was home again. Or at least I thought that was where I had come. Eyes wide with astonishment, mouth agape, day after day I watched my elected representatives behaving like maladjusted toddlers not just in public, but on national TV.   I had never seen such infantile behavior by political leadership, including the entire seven years I spent in Africa. In Africa, political disagreements were life threatening more often than not; in America they sounded life threatening even though they were far from such extreme issues. In 1996, I witnessed for the first time the failure of my fellow Americans to graciously accept the working of the democratic process. Rather than accept, they hated it so much, in fact, that the losing party seemed to wish the leadership of the winning party dead. From the noise, it sounded like nothing else would satisfy them.

By 2000, I was already comparing the good ol’ USA to apartheid South Africa. It was getting more like the old RSA every day, to my understanding. People no longer identified themselves by ethnicity, vocation or religion. They “became” a Republican, or a Democrat, so that in much the same way as we used to say “I’m a plumber,” or “I’m Baptist,” what had begun as a personal option had become an entire identity.

What I found so alarming about this was that in South Africa I lived in the middle of a revolution, where people died, sometimes as innocent bystanders, but always because of a political identity. The anger I felt and witnessed here was just as deep, just as mindless, as what I saw in South Africa – despite the absence of war and terrorism. Then, in September of 2001, we had terrorism. For all too brief a time, we were Americans, together, again. Then we had the Patriot Act, and the War, and Homeland Security. It was the latter, despite all the protected rights that we lost permanently with the Patriot Act, that spelled out “South Africa” for me in huge letters.

Of all the names they could have given that agency, they picked Homeland Security. The name of the most abusive agency in South Africa, the agency that could do whatever it wished to any person, and justify it under the name of Homeland Security. Forget your rights, if Homeland Security considered you any kind of threat to South Africa. Now I live, again, in a country where I say the same thing about an agency with the same name and mission.

In apartheid South Africa, the poor were disenfranchised and abused by the wealthy. And so, it seems, they will be in America. Politics in South Africa were corrupt. People hated other people for being different, and it was enough to kill them for. The wealthy, to protect themselves, lived in walled compounds with security guards – actually prisoners in their own homes.   I often longed for the freedom of a small town neighborhood in America, where I could take a walk by myself late in the evening, or sleep with my windows open. Now, locking my door here in America is such a habit that I keep locking myself out when I go to get the mail.

Finally, in South Africa the architects of apartheid (pronounced, appropriately, “apart – hate”) based their political stand on their religious belief that the Bible clearly stated that the races should not intermarry. Like many such interpretations, even if true, it is hardly enough to merit committing murder. Especially if you are able to ignore virtually dozens of other “thou shalt nots” without turning a hair. They also subscribed to the belief that they were the chosen people of God, who had given them South Africa for their own, and their political wealth and power to prove His point. Take the race issues out of the question and look at the scene in socioeconomic colors, and the parallels with America today become really depressing.

In the end, South Africa also learned that you can’t legislate morality.   America has forgotten that truth.

I am certain that in every generation there are the elders, looking back with saddened eyes and faces, mourning the country that they once knew. Today, I am one of those. The pendulum of history has swung too far since the craziness of the 60s, and a swing back to the opposite point again is inevitable. I just hope to live to see it hesitate, for a little while, in the balance of moderation.