Radical Hopelessness, Immigration and Personal Reactions

On a mild spring Sunday a large group of local residents of Fort Collins, Colorado, was treated to an informative and provocative talk about immigration. The visiting speaker was Rev. Dr. Miguel A. De La Torre, Professor of Social Ethics and Latinx Studies at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver.  His books and passions and achievements are many and he has most recently written about white privilege and immigration.

The program, at the Plymouth Church, was sponsored by ISAAC, an interfaith Northern Colorado organization dedicated to giving sanctuary, and solidarity to immigrants crossing the border to the US from Mexico.

De La Torre told us about his idea of radical hopelessness, whereby people perform acts of justice, without the expectation of winning a fight or a cause. He shared his pessimism about deep and lasting social change—precisely because of the long-term history of domination and greed. (As one example, he suggested that should we see crime erased or nearly so, we would then have to demolish the private prison system, a big chunk of our economy.) He made it clear that it is by embracing the hopelessness that we can be free of the ego and high expectations of achievement and insistence on particular results.

De la Torre traced the beginnings of immigration crisis for us, a propos of Mexico and Latin America. He recounted the exploitation of some Latin American countries by the US, which instigated regime changes, often promoting one dictatorship after another. The normalization of “free trade”(NAFTA) unfortunately meant that big corporations took charge and ownership of local crops and other resources, negating the role of indigenous farming. This in turn made living safely and well for local people impossible, pretty much forcing them to come to the States, so often not out of hope but out of desperation.

He advocated that our role doesn’t end in being supportive or even kind, but that we as a country need to provide restitution for nations—for people– put into dire conditions by our foreign policies. For me this was a rather harsh wake up call, a bit like that I’ve experienced when I was pushed to confront my own role in racism and white privilege. Before that point, I more or less had felt the liberal glow of benign intention and image—one that turned out to be very shallow in the end.


To return to the matter of radical hopelessness, I do realize that often, in my work as a therapist, I feel I’m working in the dark and without evidence or certainty, as I’m pursuing a thread or behavior that has no completely predictable relevance or result. In addition there is the sober—and ultimately disappointing– awareness that however much any of us feel we are doing the right thing we don’t know what the ultimate impact is going to be. We may be barking up the wrong tree, following the advice or conventional wisdom of a given time. We take the wrong medicine; we get the wrong diagnosis; we treat our patients or our children with the smartest psychology and insights of the day and yet it can prove too little too late, or simply misguided.

When it comes to reflecting on a world so often based on domination, greed and on showmanship, there are many who want to close the door on these inconvenient truths. They say: It’s too much for me to take, so I don’t think about it and hide in my small world. Or, I do my good deeds and leave it at that, because I cannot stand thinking about the larger picture. We all compartmentalize some of the time so as not to fall to pieces from the strain of seeing too much that is out of our control, yet some people seem to do this without batting an eyelash.

I have trouble not caring for too long; call it sensitivity or vulnerability or pain. And I can’t quite embrace the hopelessness of feeling that people won’t become more successful in tackling the stubbornness of those in power.

I can’t embrace it perhaps because a cloud cover of pessimism is something that suffocates me and makes me too sad. Even so, I don’t feel—and don’t want to feel as of now–compelled to stop acting in the right direction when I know what that is, or when I can muster my motivation and stamina.



There is one factor that for me is huge here—that of loneliness. When I feel too lonely, that people around me won’t look at the greed and the anguish that we are directly or indirectly wrestling with, this is a particular kind of hopelessness wrapped up in desolation. It is a hopelessness beside and beyond that described by de la Torre. It can become disabling.

I clearly need company in this. Even if it has to start with my feeling entitled to my feelings and observations when I am alone. That would at least be a beginning of not hiding in shame or fear, the first steps to begin to own these things and share them out loud.

Oh, and by the way I’d like to mention that I’m also looking for a Presidential candidate who is familiar with emotional literacy, and who has that as a central part of his/her platform.

Not to be hopeless, but: Just what are my chances on this one?



****Meanwhile, this Easter/Passover any other holidays or no holiday at all, if you need combinations of humor, serious caring and having your perspective bounced on its head, please try:

“A Day Without a Mexican” (2004), and in theaters near you,

“The Best of Enemies”








Count the Titles as You May: 1. Watch Sam Rockwell Change his Mind. 2. Please do not dare again to tell me that if I liked the movie I’m pandering to white condescension. 3. Who is anyone to tell anyone how to feel about a movie? 4. I recommend “The Best of Enemies” with all my heart. 5. Is it legal to feel moved by a movie? 6. Are we ready for a charrette, anyone?



Okay, so you get the gist. I loved “The Best of Enemies, which I saw today in a local theater outside of my usual purview.

Not only did I love it and everything about it, including acting, directing and music, but also I experienced it as profoundly moving.

I am white; let’s get that straight at the outset. So I suppose with the flutter that has existed about the allegedly self-congratulatory theme of “Green Book” (a point of view with which I totally disagree), this film is going to hit the charts as something thin on substance and fat on self-flattery.

I want to say right away that I’m sick of the film and political correctness police telling me or anyone else how to feel about a film. Not only do they say how to feel or how to think but they block your emotional arteries so you can’t simmer with the ideas and emotions triggered in the experience.


A charrette, I found out tonight, is defined as follows: a meeting in which all stakeholders in a project attempt to resolve conflicts and map solutions. It’s pretty radical, in that it was radical for then and it would be radical—if necessary—for now.


The film takes place in the early 70’s in North Carolina where communication between black people and white people is all but impossible. Sam Rockwell is the Ku Klux Clan leader in the town where some issues of race come to a head. I don’t want to spoil this for you so I’ll leave the rest to your movie going outing.



The unlikely meeting of minds and hearts that we see in the film, could even happen today, if we don’t stay manipulated by people in power who want to see us fighting all the time. See the movie: you will see this is possible. Corny and sappy and sentimental or not, it is true. We need to start to see that not only is our taste manipulated but also we are encouraged by media and politicians to stay on the media high that an addiction to fighting maintains. For the first time in many moons I felt (I really felt it) tonight that listening to the other sides—having to sit at dining tables with them, having to see them as human—might be transforming.

I admit it: I was immersed in the performance of Sam Rockwell. But I was equally enthralled by the performance of Teraji P Henson. If it makes me a racist to mention him first, what else is new? Of course I’m racist: man, I’m white in America, how else could it be?

I have my own affiliations with that about which I’m writing.. One involves having been intimidated and traumatized (yes, even moi) by a level brutality of verbal and emotional assault centering on insult and invalidation.

I am not in a freedom movement or claiming status as a victim. But I can afford, I’m coming to think, feeling assertive about my right to feel my own feelings and think my own thoughts.

One of the crucial lessons we need on bullying in general is: Even if the person intimidating you or insulting the s—t out of you, yells louder or even sounds smarter, it doesn’t mean he/she/they are right.

We live in a land that is so divided. And beyond that there is really more pressure than we may realize to agree with the liberal or the conservative or the black or the white caucus. Sometimes we lose ourselves; we lose our voices and we lose our right to vote, not only for an elected official, but also for our taste in a film and the thoughts that can come from that. There is healing to be had here.

See the movie, and let me know what you think and how you feel about it. And try, as hard as you can, not to let the voices all around you dictate to you what the experience should be.








LOVE IS NEVER HAVING TO KNOW HE IS WRONG: The Limits of Loyalty in the Case of Michael Jackson





For those of us who remember or who have heard the famous lines of mush from “Love Story”, they seem now—I’d dare say at least to most of us—a bit ridiculous. They go, “Love is never having to say you’re sorry.” Of course that isn’t right; it can’t be.

Now that we have heard so much about the courage, the truth and the necessity of owning up to imperfection, we are conceivably more prepared to face imperfections in those we love as well. In fact we tend to face disappointment more frequently with and by those we love because in general we are more vulnerable to the letdown.

When we mythologize another person that is quite different.

We put them or see them on a pedestal and there is no place for them to fall but very far down. Celebrities are sometimes provoked to plummet by jealous bystanders. Sometimes they are dissected mercilessly by media vultures who come out to play after the celebrity has collapsed or died.

I honestly had not paid significant attention to accusations of child molestation against Jackson more than a decade ago. Perhaps this was because I was in ways thrilled by his music, his dancing, his electricity even as I was quite removed from his very huge and very involved fan base. Part of my detachment from the accusations at the time, may be due to the possibility that I didn’t want to disturb my own internal and unconscious need to protect his status, no doubt sensing the extraordinary vulnerability he seemed to have. Certainly he was fragile as I see it now, and given my being a psychotherapist, I no doubt would have been otherwise inclined to notice a guy who seemed comfortable only with children.

The HBO documentary “Leaving Neverland” is to me a carefully piece carried out with integrity. I have heard Michael Jackson say that anyone who would insinuate he would harm a child, must be evil and out for no good. I have seen myself, starting to be mesmerized by the seduction of Jackson’s words that conveyed a couple of things: One seemed to be the sense of “You have to believe me, I am hypnotizing you in this process”. The other seemed to be “You have to believe me; I couldn’t bear it if you didn’t”.

I understand the felt need to protect a fragile celebrity who is fundamentally weak and brittle. In my own family of origin my much older brothers were in the arts and I admired them at the same time that I could in spurts see their own moodiness and unhappiness. I lent myself to not letting myself see how self-involved my parents were. They were the boat that was carrying me somewhere and I couldn’t quite afford to acknowledge the instability of the ship amidst rocky waters. Michael Jackson’s current accusers worshipped and really loved him. They could also not quite afford to see the increasingly explicit sexual acts he performed with them as abuse. And they both felt responsible for doing harm also to him (as he had warned them would happen) should they reveal the truth of what was going on.

There is absolute loyalty to another person no matter what or there is enough loyalty to the truth in the relationship. My own kids, who were much less needy of supporting authority or celebrity, taught me to question the very notion of loyalty being an absolute value. Everything should be open to question and for sure should be open to the truth. One of the ways we love our children is to be loyal to their truth or a truth pertaining them even when it is inconvenient.

Michael Jackson may have “loved” children but he was too narcissistically self-absorbed to be able to really be considerate of their mental and physical health. Michael Jackson didn’t love these two boys, now men, with enough loyalty to being honest or allowing for their honesty. He made it clear, in fact, that the truth would ensnare all of them, punish them all forever, and certainly ruin Michael.

We are now the audience, the viewers, in some way the jury. If we sense that our own obligation is to let the truth in even when it punctures our own experienced need to protect narcissistically wounded people in our own life, we will try to process the complexities. As we work at being loyal to the truth, we will not insist on declaring the innocence of someone who clearly was a pedophile.

The men who have come forward deserve our loyalty. Whatever damages they are awarded, they will never compensate for the damage done to their beings, and to those who love them.

Michael Jackson’s musical brilliance doesn’t end and isn’t cancelled. What may have to be cancelled, though, is any contract any of us ever felt to hold up his integrity—an integrity he happened not to be capable of sustaining.





Will the Truth Matter in the Testimony of Michael Cohen?



A good friend asked me today if I believed the immensity of the testimony of Michael Cohen would have a similar effect on the American public as Watergate did. As a millennial, she asked with hope and suspense, something of me who had lived during the Watergate period. Why this is important is obvious to me, in that during the Watergate hearings much of the country was horrified, mesmerized, and galvanized in the watching of testimony that shocked and appalled many people. People wanted the details of the truth in fact, and seemed to settle for nothing less.

I told my friend I didn’t think so and talked about why that was.

Nobody (as I recall) said John Dean shouldn’t be listened to because he was going to get a plea deal. There was not yet the relativism about truth that we see today. If someone had evidence and it was seconded and affirmed again and again, well there was reason to believe the testimony.

I was not a Republican during Watergate, but I realized that people from any side of the aisle were frozen in disbelief and worry. The press was still sturdy in that you could get a fair share of fair mindedness wherever you looked. Of course there were conspiracy theorists but not to the extent we have this phenomenon today.

I have heard the Republican Party line in public be something like: Well, of course Michael Cohen is lying; after all he is a liar and has even confessed to lying before. He wants the three-year sentence to stand rather than the potential 70-year sentence he could have gotten if he didn’t testify. Nobody, as I recall, said lead witnesses in Watergate who had previously sworn loyalty to Nixon and lied about their own activities should be dismissed out of hand because they too were trying to limit their own prison sentences. In essence nobody said you couldn’t trust the testimony of someone who lied and who rescinded the lie in favor of the truth.

In a concise book called On Bullshit by Harry G. Frankfurt (Princeton University Press, 2005) he called to mind Viggo Mortensen’s rendition of Tony Vallelonga, the Italian American who was security guard at the Copa before he became chauffeur to the African American musician Don Shirley, as portrayed in the recent film “Green Book”. In the movie Tony brags about being a superb “bullshitter”. When Dr. Shirley questions his apparent lack of shame in view of his being a liar, Tony clears this up, insisting he is not a liar. He is rather a “bullshitter”, someone who “just” convinces people to do what they don’t want to do. Frankfurt would agree with Tony’s self-assessment, I am pretty sure, because he distinguishes the bullshitter from the truth teller and from the liar.

According to Frankfurt, a liar knows he is lying or at the very least considers false that which he is saying. The honest person is telling the truth or at least perceives that to be so. The bullshitter, however, cares neither about truth or for that matter lies, at all, only about getting his or her way. Wow, this seems very relevant to today. In fact it feels like we have entered an era in which the actor voted the best not only wins an Oscar, but also the vote of the people. All one has to do is cast aspersions about the witness, and that is enough to call the person a liar and dismiss his/her offerings. That’s enough to discredit both the witness and possible facts, facts we need to have if we aim to move towards real democracy. Facts, if not taken to be important, are like a fragile disappearing species inhabiting less and less of human discourse.

A committee of some, on either side of any of the arguments today, can get together and at the very least probe for the discovery of what is true, if it can be known. Even if the truth is unpleasant to many, there are things we can do to work with it without trying to break each other down.

My hope, and perhaps it is a hope against hope, is that a majority of Americans will want the truth, wherever it lands. And that most people will want an honest President—at the very least someone with respect for his/her constituents, his/her job, and for reckoning with the truth as well.




Finally Old Enough to Share

Of course I’m old enough to share. I have the age, still for some months of 72, and my hair is white.

But it’s not sharing as in children being told to share that I’m talking about. I am referring to the wish to share, the enjoyment of sharing, and the pleasure of sharing particularly because the experience is authentic.

I have been talking lately about identifying with cranky kids, who often pick up on something in the environment being off. They can’t articulate what is wrong, and even knowing clearly would be controversial because the child is so dependent on his/her parents, caretakers and authorities. It can be scary to know too early that the people you are supposed to trust are too shaky, too angry, and too fragile to be reliable.

We cling to adaptations that can hide, even from ourselves, how unwise it can be to share our deepest selves. At the same time we can lose touch with what that even means. When we feel constrained to measure up to standards that seem foreign but may be accepted in the wider culture, we wind up playing make believe. When I write a paper in economics that I don’t understand, but the teacher really likes the author of the book he assigned, I also make believe. When my English professor in Brooklyn College decides to flirt with me by saying the C+ he gave me was obviously a mistake since my next grade was an A-, we keep the game going.

I can share in my marriage and with my kids. I can’t share all my neediness with my kids, and marriage—well marriage is a hard one. This is because in some cases, in my case, it takes us so long to know enough of ourselves to not blame each other for our incompleteness. It takes so long that we—in my marriage– are still learning.

At the same time, in my work there is greater freedom, greater ease, greater relaxation. I feel, without always realizing it that I can be myself, because there is a community of us—people who feel like outsiders, people who have been cranky or are now. I don’t put a sign out looking for these people but they come to me; they seek me out. They hear I’m honest, or that I’m unconventional or out of the box.

I worked for 30 years on Long Island and now that I’m in Colorado I miss those years. But in truth I miss the people; I miss the community. I miss the fact that many people who came to see me craved my honesty, and my sharing with them what I saw and how I saw. It wasn’t idyllic; cranky people can take their crankiness, well you know, out on a therapist. And of course then there are the leavings, the fact that people move on and get better enough to leave. And even if they never leave, they leave a certain kind of adaptation, a certain level of dependency that may seem grating at the time but that becomes a distraction from my own inside.

And then there are the leavings because we all change and grow and grow older, and I move to Colorado (the New Yorkers says, “What? “Why on earth?”) but there is the grandchild there and the husband who feels ready to retire even though I still don’t know what that word even means.

Changing lanes and locations, makes more dramatic a certain kind of loneliness that has never really properly gone away. It is that outsider thing, the cranky thing. It’s also wanting not to hide or feel ashamed of what I have picked up on even though in the early years the crankiness was a cause of criticism, and on my part some shame and doubt. And actually it’s not only about sharing: it’s about introducing some ideas I’ve been working on and seeing if collaboration can be possible.

In writing my book The Human Climate (2019) I think I may finally come of age. I’m finally sharing what I’ve come to but with the added accessory: I’m daring to say that there is a human climate that needs to be attended to, that I know this, that I’ve studied this. I know about this, even if I am not the academic researcher and even though I can’t win debates easily if at all.

Sharing can be daring—a rhyme that was unintended at its inception. The easiest way to share is when there are people waiting to welcome you. Or when it is clear that other people want what you have to offer and appreciate both the offer and you.

Sharing when you and what you share interrupts the steady flow of sameness, will not necessarily call out the welcome wagons. And yet it can nudge the potential kindred spirit, and it can call forth someone who is aching to share on the same level as well. It is often like making the first step to reach out, unsure of what the response will be.

And finally–finally, it feels that whatever the response, I have a right to what I know. And while it may feel deflating to feel rejected, I can really appreciate that even a rejection or encountering people too busy to pause or to care, doesn’t have to cancel out that I am ready to share nonetheless.

At the same time I realize, though I suppose it’s pretty obvious, that being ready to share does not mean the other person is ready. It takes two to tango and two to share, at least two. So maybe being ready to share also means working to understand what may be going on with the other person who says no.

One more thing that is a process.