Monday, June 11, 2012

A bit about me, and power words

I've reread my blog posts recently and realise they look pretty "negative". This doesn't sit well with the current fashion to "think positive" which (coincidentally ?) resides as a meme of the privileged or less oppressed. I believe that the less fortunate or wealthy you are, the less likely you are to naturally assume/resume the positive thinking "state". (Am I wrong here? Perhaps this is worth checking out more) Anyway, on review I am fairly happy with what I have written, and I am by no means a pessimist... I am more of an optimistic pessimist. Michael White once said to a group of us in discussion "I believe the world is pretty stuffed, so that frees me up to do what I think is helpful" ( maybe not a word for word quote, but that was his message..) I concur.

Anyhow, it is worth sharing a little more about myself before I launch into how I think we use language to exert and maintain power relationships, and how our very language of English hands us the loaded gun and we don't often realise we are firing off continuous salvos at all and sundry, especially those we love.

I am a 53 year old Caucasian male currently working as an academic in Geelong, a provincial city in Victoria, Australia. As such I believe I would be perceived as coming from a dominant gender, racial group and professional group. I am married to a female general practitioner and we have two children. As such I represent a dominant social group (the family) which has been defined as the norm, and as a self defined heterosexual I come from another dominant group which has oppressed and excluded non-heterosexuals. As an Australian of European extraction, I represent Western culture and its lifestyle, a dominant culture with a history of colonisation and displacement or extinguishment of other cultures and their practices.

A statement of my intentions. I hope that by writing i might encourage others to consider possible power practices they might unwittingly be exerting and that in some small way this will lead to a general reduction in the prevalence of abusive use of power.

Significant stimulation to write came years ago after I read "The verbally abusive relationship" by Patricia Evans and from discussions relating to the politics of power in a narrative therapy course. I also acknowledge Michael White as the source for me of numerous ideas espoused here. I have had several opportunities to discuss these ideas with women, individually or in groups, many of whom were "my" patients. I developed an interest in male experience and have had several prolonged interactions with men separating, or separated from their spouses. Thus much of the descriptions relate to gender relationships. My discussions with people who would identify as gay have profoundly educated me about many cultural prejudices we perpetuate. Some of my ideas have doubtless been influenced by working in a Western Desert aboriginal community for 6 months in 1986

Ok.. Enough about me for now.. More later when I feel a little braver about revealing my own frailties (hypocrisy is a big one)..

Back to power words... Let's start with a list. I will elaborate in forthcoming blogs.

I believe the following words are potentially oppressive, and at worst are dangerous and mental illness generating

1. Words that privilege one reality. Eg: "Actually", "really", "in fact", "in reality" and even "realise"

2. Words which define another's reality (generally following "you" Eg: "you deliberately....". "You think"

3. Words which attribute responsibility rather than share it. "You misunderstood me"

4. Words which measure others comparatively: "Too". "over-....." or "under-.. Eg: "You're over-reacting" "Enough" " inappropriate" "extreme", "inadequate".

5. Diminishing or excusing words "Only", "just" "All". As in "all you were doing was..."

6. Words which devalue non reason-related responses: "unreasonable" "emotional" "over involved" "enmeshed" "irrational" "That's nonsense", "..ridiculous", "..preposterous" "..idiotic", "..senseless" etc.

7. Words used to prevail over others. "But "

8. Threatening words. "If" "or else" .

9. Coercive words. "Should" "Ought to" "got to" or "must".

10. Words which spoil identity. They also often are preceded by "You are"

11. Words which disable. "can't"

12. Words used to assume agency. "To". The simple exclamation mark, while not a word can be abusive when used as a command without seeking consent.

13. Words which denigrate protest. For example. "nagging" "whingeing" "complaining" "squawking" "carrying on" "squealing" "whining" and so on.

14. Totalising words. "always" "absolutely"

15. Implications, insinuations. These are the words that are not said. .....More to come... Stay tuned


Saturday, June 9, 2012

Bullying, ("resilience"; and other cop-outs)

OK, I need to be honest from the start. I think the idea of "resilience" in psychology is so flawed, the quicker it is abandoned the better. Don't get me wrong.. I am all for survival skills and for anti-abuse strategies. I just think resilience training has inadvertently become a distraction from caring for and about and with people. Worse still, it has become an excuse for abandoning, blaming and even further abusing people under the banner of "helping". How many times have we heard the term "tough love"?

The meme here is "if I train them to be tough then they will be better prepared for the tough world out there". Furthermore "better for them to learn it from me.. At least I have their best interests at heart" This meme isn't far off the justification used by sexual abusers. We recognize it as inappropriate in this context... But why not elsewhere?

Is not the difference in degrees of abuse and in the nihilistic belief that we can't change the way we treat others in our society?

Why would we put our efforts into toughening people up rather than behaving in a more gentle way with each other? Why would we put a victim of bullying through resilience training (even if we did counsel the so called "bully")?

Is the answer perhaps embedded in our history? Could we have fought, killed and invaded our way to dominance over other cultures if we didn't believe that strength was good and gentleness is associated with weakness? Could we continue to send our youth to war? Could we continue to label our traumatized returned soldiers as "sick" rather than deceived and abused?

A recent study of doctors revealed that three quarters believe that bullying is common in medicine, including nearly one fifth who believe it is part of being a doctor. This doesn't surprise me. Bullying, to me, seems to love an environment of privilege, exclusive knowledge, entitlement and self attributed benevolence. Medicine therefore provides the ideal culture medium.. A petri dish that I found petrifying.

What surprises me is that a number of doctors responded that they thought bullying was rare in medicine. How could that be? Medicine is pervaded by ideas that long hours must be endured, hard decisions must be made, people are responsible for their own plight, rationality must prevail over emotionality (do I hear the word "professional"?). "Some people are beyond help". The idea that a superior must be obeyed is as strong in medicine as it is in the military. The other idea is that medical training has prepared you to "carry the can" and this justifies giving young (and not so young) doctors an impossible workload in under resourced systems then blaming them for the mistakes that inevitably occur. If that's not bullying, I don't know what is. I certainly couldn't cope well with the demands and spent a lot of my doctoring life feeling anxious.. Don\'t get me wrong though..the privilege of collaborating with wonderful "patients" and feeling like my involvement was valuable and valued far outweighed the negatives.

Nevertheless, I would rather see our efforts and funds directed towards supporting our patients and health care providers so that they felt more supported,valued and less victimized by their health care system. We don\'t need more "resilience" or "time management" training. We just need more resources directed to human care and to let it trickle down to where it is needed.. Maybe some vulnerability training would help. My experience has always been better when I have said "I am struggling" compared with when I say "I can cope".

Maybe that's why I have so much hope and faith invested in the Australian Institute of Patient and Family Centred Care. ( one of my dear friends is heavily involved) Now there's a group of people who "get it"

Thursday, June 7, 2012


Ok.. here's some more stuff I wrote years ago. I apologise for my style, and also I confess to not disguising the anger I have felt (and continue to feel) about the way the so-called helping professions (and I know I am one of them) unwittingly fail to attend to some issues that cause great mental suffering. Disclaimer. While I am not a great fan of psychiatric diagnosis, I do believe that it has some merit when it leads to mutual faith in a way forward (which at this point of time in our medical culture unfortunately I believe is heavily biased towards prescription rather than positive co-operative exploration of suffering through enquiry, discussion and most importantly checking with the client that the proposed possible stories fit with their experience,values, beliefs, goals and hopes).

OK, so here it is... it will possibly be challenging to you as it questions some societal memes.

I believe that a prevalent practice in our culture is speaking thinking and acting in a way that creates the experience for ourselves that we understand other peoples motives, and creates the experience for those others of being misunderstood. They (quite rightly I believe) say..”Hey, you’ve got it wrong. That is not what I was intending at all”.  Rather than accept their own story of what was happening, we look for evidence or justification of our own (unquestioned, or only partly questioned) belief that we have access to their intentions. Here the concepts of subconscious and personality (Thanks, Freud and others!) come in very handy. We can self-righteously say  “You think you’re motivated by this, but I know (“in reality”) that the real, subconscious reason is... blah, blah, blah”, because that was MY EXPERIENCE of you in that context (hence it is the truth of you, your thoughts, your action and your “true self” (personality). The result here is that we retreat from self questioning and learn little about different ways of thinking, speaking or behaving. I believe that we are well practised in this, and need more practise in questioning ourselves and finding new ways. So I wish to challenge the idea that we can analyse others.

I call this process “INTENTRIBUTION”- attributing and defining someone else’s intentions to them without allowing them to have the final say.  I believe this is another example of power abuse, sanctioned by a belief system which has been systematically absorbed into our culture. The high priests of this belief system are the psychiatrists, doctors, psychologists and counsellors who have been trained to believe that they have higher access to people’s subconscious, or “personality” than even the subjects have themselves. This knowledge can be gained by indulging in a 3 to 6 year course which includes a fair bit of generating stories about people without their consent, often behind closed doors without even their presence. These stories are then made accountable to current personality theory or theories, rather than accountable to the individual. Any deviation from either current theory, or current beliefs of the teacher (holder of the cultural beliefs “knowledge”). Is discouraged. Conformity or original re-interpretation of the dominant beliefs are encouraged and rewarded. Attempts by the subject to edit, oppose, correct or redefine the “knower’s” beliefs are labelled with terms like “manipulative”, “insightless”, “personality disorder”, “naieve”, “unrealistic”, “crazy” and other objectifying terms without giving air to the possibility that  the knower might be experiencing fear about having their own reality questioned.

Unfortunately though, virtually all of us practise this Intentribution in our day to day life, and I believe it is another poisoner of intimate, understanding, compassionate relationships, or even practical working non-intimate relationships. 

Put simply, I believe that we often think we know what is behind what another person is doing or saying, when in fact we have little or no idea. If the person disagrees with us, rather than confessing our ignorance we fool ourselves into thinking that we know more than they know about themselves, and we look for backup in the way our culture thinks about human behaviour.

Examples are...

“June thought she was doing me a favour, but I realised that she just wanted my approval. If only she could be more honest with herself and with me.”

“He was just trying to get back at me”

“Why do you always try to hurt me?”

“These type of fish prefer deep still water, especially under rock ledges, because they are safer from predators”

There are some great problems with this way of thinking. The most problematic is that if the person in question trys to explain themselves, and their explanation doesn’t fit with our understanding, we often re-indulge in the process of intentribution, relying on “deeper” and “deeper” theories (often our own, if we can’t find them in the popular or psychological literature) to explain their deficiency in self knowledge, rather than taking the opportunity to question our own assumptions.

The second is that in a patriarchal society, any attempt by others to define our own reality, by default (ie: by very early conditioning with possibly a bit of genetic programming to keep ourselves alive and feeling OK) is more often than not met with vigorous resistance, or covert undermining. This leads us away from co-operation, trust, faith and intimacy, and encourages the subject to isolate themselves from us, and encourages us to feel misunderstood and bewildered when we notice this happening. Once again, by our thoughts and beliefs we have encouraged INDIVIDUALISM. Self vs. Self. Western society reproduces itself. Lots of well meaning people, desperate for company and belonging, accidentally and systematically driving people, especially our loved ones, away.

So what do we do about this? Once again I believe that we need to reexamine our thoughts, our words and most importantly our actions when we catch ourselves doing this. In order to catch ourselves I believe there are some helpful and humble thoughts we could have.

Rather than thinking “What is actually happening here? He or she has got it wrong here. How can I make them aware of this?” I believe we have to first of all tune into our own discomfort when what we experience does not match our own version of reality. A helpful series of questions and thoughts here for me are...”

“Am I uncomfortable with what is happening here?”
“If I am uncomfortable, I must assume that this feeling is an indicator that my assumptions about what is happening are not the only possible assumptions in this context”
“Given that this is the case, what can I learn here, especially about this person’s own story of who they are and what values are important?”
“How can I question them in a way that I find out more about them, and they get a chance to put their own beliefs into words, in a way that they also might find helpful, either by having a voice, or by having the opportunity to re-evaluate their own story with my input?”
“How can I question them in a way that is compassionate and doesn’t disallow them the chance to voice their own story?”
“How can I encourage them to tell me as much as possible about their own intentions, purposes and goals here?”
“How can I do this in a way where I get to hear more than just one intention, assuming that we are multiply intentioned (See-”be an octopus”)?
“If my beliefs about this context, or about the consequences of their beliefs give rise to fear, anger, desire to control or to influence them, how can I do this in a way that clearly points out to them that I differ from them and that explains my beliefs while letting their beliefs stand there for them to re-evaluate?” 
“How can I make it as clear as possible that I am not questioning their reality here, but that I want to open up extra possibilities for us both to learn from each other?”
“How can I check that I haven’t inadvertently squashed them if I what I am saying is experienced as challenging?”
“When I look back on this conversation, what have I done well, and what have I done badly?”
“How can I let them be the judge of what I have done well or badly without inviting them to feel guilty or defensive, or the need to prop me up?”
“What have I learnt from them in this process, and how can I acknowledge this to them in a genuine way, so that they don’t feel patronised?”
“How can I make sure that they don’t feel patronised, and more importantly, can I ask them how they would let me know if they did?”
“When all is said and done, have I been clear from the outset about my own multiple intentions for this conversation or process? Have I stated these intentions in a way that doesn’t allow them too much scope to do intentribution on me?”
“How can I be accountable to the other person, but also to significant others, making sure that I give privilege to the most culturally disempowered? (being aware of my own bias and generalisations that ageism and sexism are very disempowering, so children get my first attention, women next, then men)
By privileging the heterosexual nuclear family in my bias system, am I unaware of other biases that I need to evaluate here and put up for examination? (eg, heterosexism, ablenessism, racism, religism, lookism).
“How can I learn from the other person how I could allow them to feel confident to report their experience of marginalisation (if any) because of my unwitting prejudices, so that they are not put off by my possible reaction to this process, be it anxiety, guilt, shame, anger, fear or distancing?
Most importantly. Are my actions aligned with my purposes, goals, values, intentions?

If I am practising this well (and please understand, this is rare), then this empowers me to-

1. Be clear about my own intentions and purposes.
2. Express my fears in a way that is least “infectious”
3. Be clear enough about my own beliefs to put them “out there” for examination
3. Be open to learning
4. To be constantly reminded of both my own suffering and their suffering
5. Keep myself open to my belief that each and every situation of our existence is “multiply storied”. That is that there are many different interpretations, all of them equally real and valid.
6. Allow myself to find, with the other person, a shared story, or preferrably several shared stories that result in both of us increasing our understanding of the other, but more importantly reduces that person's feelings of fear, isolation and vulnerability.
7. And this is my prime goal.... ACT in a way that sends the message to the other person that I am humbly moving in a direction that they would want me to and that they are or can be secure and safe even while suffering.

Intentribution might be a helpful process if it fits with the person's goals, but if it doesn't, I believe it has potential to superimpose our story over theirs. That is rarely helpful.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Some beliefs, and a bit about doing empathy

I've just been talking to my daughter.. she's in her early 20s and is quite a thinker. She's helped me to realise that I have cultivated a feeling of comfortableness with myself. It might be self deception, but it works for me most of the time. At other times I feel overwhelmed with self doubt, but I think that learning narrative therapy has helped me to talk myself around to a slightly more agreeable self view. (Thanks so much to Michael White, David Epston, Johnella Bird, Belinda, Linette, Robyn, Jacqui, Ron, Ron, Helen, Maggie Carey, Alison Morgan, Jill Freedman and Gene Coombs amongst others)

A narrative approach has also helped me define some core beliefs which keep me sane. I share them here because they may be really unpalatable. This will give you a chance to see them and perhaps never read this blog again!

Here are some of my beliefs, starting with a bit about education.

In school we are taught, that we know. But what are we taught? Many people would answer that we are taught the basics: the 3 Rs, and on them we build our knowledge so that we are equipped for life’s challenges. This, I believe is to miss the main point. We are taught so much more than that, and so much less than what we need, because, put simply, school is not so much about learning knowledge as it is about learning not to question our culture.

Try some of these beliefs (these are a bit "random" and I am happy to explain my thinking about them in later blogs)

Assertion 1.  It is good to be weak.

Assertion 2. Many evils have been committed as an application of good intentions

Assertion 3. It is important to be inconsistent with children

Assertion 4. Praise can be as destructive as criticism. (this has received some recent press

Assertion 5. Depression is an essential human emotion

Assertion 6. Telling someone a secret can often be an abusive act

Assertion 7. Emotional people are more trustworthy than rational people.

Assertion 8. An impartial approach to people in conflict is destructive to human relationships.

How are you going? How many of these are you prepared to support? Could you take any of these stances in a debate, or would you feel that you were betraying yourself to do so?

These are some of my beliefs, but I didn’t learn them in school. I learnt the opposite in school, because the above beliefs don’t help greatly in the current cultural pursuit of economic rationalism in which we are all workers and consumers. If these beliefs were not systematically discouraged in school then the fabric of Western society would tear beyond repair.

How would our society be different if these assertions were accepted as "true"?

It is my strong belief that what we don’t learn in school is how to discard our cherished beliefs when we need to empathise with someone else who thinks differently to ourselves. This has never been more painfully demonstrated than in the current “deprecation of understanding” which is leading to an ever increasing rate of failed partnerships or relationships. What I mean here is that I believe we make better workers if we become systemically deskilled in intimate relationships: we spend our educative years centred on other pursuits than the things we really need (knowledge of our bodies and the skills of intimacy). The outcome of this deskilling is lack of capacity to resolve conflict. Work becomes an attractive distraction from the impossibilities of home life.

I believe we need to learn to “think different”. A professor of English has written about this and calls it the “believing game”. He describes a process whereby when faced with a challenging belief or set of beliefs, the person actively decides to suspend their own beliefs and to assume, as an exercise, that the opposing or difficult beliefs were actually true, and to “step into” this belief for the purposes of exploration. His assertion is that by doing so, a person becomes more aware of different approaches to a situation that may be helpful.

This overlaps greatly with Michael White's 3D exercise for couples (1988), an exercise in listening for the express purpose of empathising with the speaker.. not solving, rationalising, reassuring, arguing, agreeing or anything else, just trying to step into their shoes. I believe that this way of engaging is either incredibly rare, or if it happens, incredibly brief.

... if only I/we could do it in a more sustained way....

Sunday, June 3, 2012


In 1998 I wrote about something I called "doppression". I never published it, and every now and then I searched google for the word.. no hits. Yesterday I tried again and found this page entitled doppression by a comedian called Drew Michael, about oppression of people who identify with being "gay". It's time I added to the meme publically, so here's what I wrote all those years ago


There are several models for viewing the experience that is popularly known as "depression". The current dominant model consists of a collection of popular memes combined in a narrative something like this...

  1. Our natural state is not to be distressed
  2. Deviation from the natural state is a disease (pathology)
  3. Disease is predominantly caused by internal factors (genes, predisposition, biochemical disturbance)
  4. Although depression can be precipitated, the development of the disease reflects some internal deficiency or lack of coping skills.
  5. The deficiency can, to some extent, be treated with medication' and the coping skills can, to some extent be leamt
  6. The best way of learning coping skills is through intellectual processes (cognitive behavioural therapy)

Some benefits of this model are that there is a widespread faith in the view that "a suitable medication, when found, can bring relief of suffering". Many medications have been found that are helpful. The process of prescribing is viewed by doctor and patient alike as a significant step toward "recovery".

This model survives, despite recent evidence resulting from technological advances which will cause it to be reviewed (people with depression don't have lowered serotonin levels in their brains, they are actually raised) (Now in 2012 I have to review this.. but I am sure that we really don't understand the role of serotonin in depression)

Some drawbacks of this model are that the person for whom medications are prescribed, or cognitive therapy instructed, are left with the idea that the illness was consequent to them being deficient or abnormal or misinformed or crazy. Context is acknowledged, but kept at a distance.

There are many alternative models
Depression is a spiritual crisis and an opportunity for spiritual growth or awareness
Depression is the result of some karmic misdemeanour
Depression is a test of one's mettle
Depression has no meaning and is a consequence of the random occurrence of pain and
Depression is consequent to loss and represents to some extent a personal loss of self
Depression is consequent to oppression (physical, verbal) , by either people or by
people's critical ideas which have been internalised as self-truths.

Being highly interested in language and its effects, and being disillusioned by the application for 10 years of the dominant model and my belief that it disempowers the "sufferer", I have devoted much of my time in recent years to exploration of the latter model which has been articulated by several people. Most cogent for me is the modem articulation of these ideas in the context of so-called "narrative therapy".

The strengths of this narrative model are that they give rise to options for any individuals who have contact with someone with depression to look at their own possible contribution to the perpetuation of the "disease", by inadvertent oppression through the use of advice, judgement, inability to understand or accept what the "sufferer" is reporting, and give us also a chance to consider the possibility that in a dominant culture we are all trained so well to dominate that we often oppress others. Hence "doppression".

As Michael White points out, our culture has moved towards this acknowledgement by putting the "post traumatic" in "post traumatic stress disorder" which was previously known by several labels which pathologised the individual including "war neurosis".

If you accept that the narrative model may have some merit, then I would invite you to consider the possibility that the ways that we usually relate to someone who is "doppressed", actually generate and keep alive the condition. These ways include.. Pitying, advice giving, rescuing, refraining, ' criticising, confronting, neutral listening, reflecting back (without checking), indulging, ignoring, labelling (officially with "diagnosis" or unofficially with pathologising lay judgements (laybels [sic]) including "immature", "weak", "fragile", "overemotional", "angry" amongst a multitude of other labels.

I have become less interested in criticisms of the narrative model, as they often rely on dominant paradigms such as "evidence leads to truth" and "of all explanations, one must be more true than others" which is extended to "unless model A can be demonstrated to be more watertight than Model B, it is not valid". I am not disinterested in such criticism because I think the underlying assumptions are flawed, but because they are unhelpful. inasmuch as they may lead to the dismissal of possible options for change. My assumption is that any approach which broadens options for action is worth privileging.

Much about the possibility that the way we treat others, especially by the language we use, is found in the accompanying essay*. I invite you to suspend disbelief and read this paper as if it had merit and ask yourself "What if this contains some truth? How could I change my language when I talk with others?" I then invite you to try it and see. If, after you are well practised at avoiding power words, your loved ones don't notice an improvement, then I invite your criticism. Criticism in the absence of a "field trial" does not particularly interest me. If you find, as I did, that serious consideration of our language opens new doors for you and the people you relate to, please feel free to let me know.

On a personal note, I had this really negative reaction to finding someone else had publicised "doppression" as it was "my word". How crazy is that?. but it made me think about how effective is the conditioning that our self worth depends on our ownership, authorship, and entitlement to use, dispense or permit usage of memes. I'll get over it... like I did with "Obecalp"... more about that another time too. Thanks Drew for bringing it to the www.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Not MAD..but WAD - Widespread Acknowledgement Deficiency

The heavens seem to be aligning at the moment to remind me how important it seems to be to us human beans (sic) to receive something really simple... Acknowledgement.

It's been the theme of my week. I wasn't going to blog about it because I think I now take it for granted that acknowledgement is part of our lifeblood, and if it is denied it can be so painful. I believe if withheld for long enough it can be crazy-making (a term I learnt from Patricia Evans... Or was it from an old article called "Charm Syndrome Man" by Sandra Horley?)

Anyhow, what prompted me to write about it was the last of three "acknowledgement events" in six days.

This last event was listening to a program on Radio National Australia about the Pinjarra Massacre of the Nyoongar people in Western Australia in which mounted troops slaughtered 21 indigenes in a raid. The offensive fact is that this massacre was written into history as a "battle", implying equally matched opposing parties. If anyone doubts the abusive power of words, this is a moving example. The program ends with a Nyoongar descendant talking about a forthcoming joint ceremony with the WA police  "its a real big deal that they are going to acknowledge it....first acknowledgement really"

 The other "events"?

 1. A young person I know who has been bullied in the workplace who said "I don't want the other person to suffer. I just want acknowledgement and an apology"

 2. Reluctance by a friend to acknowledge an inconvenience unwittingly imposed on others because there was no intention to inconvenience ( more about intentions and excuses in a future blog). Furthermore, the unforeseen hassles imposed didn't qualify as an 'error' therefore no apology was warranted. Further justification was that these sort of things happen all the time.. We shouldn't lead people to expect an apology because the real world out there is harsh so we do no favors to people by not preparing them for this.

 This just doesn't cut it for me and surely one could argue that this is the very reason we should model something different. Definitions of the word acknowledge predominantly describe "verbal recognition".

To acknowledge someone or something is far less demanding on the "empathy scale of difficulty" than appreciation, or even agreement.

How many times a week (or a day) are we invited (made?) to feel unacknowledged? What's up with that? What might be the effect of this?

Do you think that "low self esteem" or doppression might feed off the self questioning memes
"why wasn't that acknowledged?"   "did I just imagine that?"
How much of a leap is it from there to "am I mad?" and even "do I exist?"

 Maybe we need to start dispensing more acknowledgement and less Prozac?