The Other Side Of The Story

(Column appeared on January 13, 2011, in The Montclair Times)

And so it's happened again.

Jan. 8, 2011, became yet another example of senseless violence, deaths, tragedies and post mortems about a culture which is too often reflective of hyper-partisanship, general incivility and disrespect; about hatred and bigotry and about the Internet's power to make it possible to de-humanize each other by not having to look into another person's eyes and not having to hear emotion in another person's voice.

It is beyond depressing. And yet...

There is another side to this story; the driving force that most of us have to be better; to try to change, and to overcome our personal imperfections and society's imperfections.

The growing divisiveness, incivility and violence in this country does not make the vast majority of us feel good. It makes us feel angry and diminished.

We want to be better we want our country to be better - but we struggle to figure out how.

As a practicing psychotherapist I see this daily in my office.

As a writer, it's interesting to me that of all the articles and columns I've written over the years, the ones that have evoked the greatest response have focused on the topics of forgiveness and moral courage.

I am not a particularly forgiving or courageous person. I struggle with these concepts mightily, which is why I often write about them.

But I've learned that focusing on these issues hits a nerve with people.

We virtually all want to be better people and live in a better society.

But apart from our inner quest, in this regard, our outer quest needs to be aided by our country's leaders.

They must recognize that their role goes beyond trying to balance the budget.

They must work on creating opportunities for citizens to channel their essential goodness, and spend more time focusing on - and learning from - the best of us (rather than the worst of us).

Studies have shown that people who take moral stands and work actively to fight the wrongs in society not only possess motivation and good intentions; they have specific opportunities to help. This was famously true in Nazi-occupied Denmark, in 1943, when the Germans attempted to round up the country's Jews.

The underground government and religious leaders formed a plan and asked citizens to become involved. The Danes responded to the call and saved the lives of tens of thousands of Jews, at considerable risk.

Were the Danes any more altruistic in 1943 than are Americans in 2011?

No one can know for sure unless we, too, are called upon to bring forth our best selves.

Janice Cohn is a psychotherapist with offices in Montclair and Manhattan.
 
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