“It is no sign of sanity to be well adjusted to a sick society"

“It is no sign of sanity to be well adjusted to a sick society
Thought for the Day

Find a little personal space today. Just breathe. Enjoy today's 'Thought for the day'.

It is no sign of sanity to be well adjusted to a sick society - R D Laing

This famous quote by Ronnie Laing, the much-maligned yet unarguably brilliant founder of the anti-psychiatry movement, speaks directly of the profound and implicit impact of family and social systems upon our perceptions of self, other and world.

Laing, an iconoclastic Scottish psychiatrist and founder of the Philadelphia association, argued that the psychiatry of his time was inherently pathologizing of the valid expressions of the lived experience of patients under psychiatric ‘care’. He was arguably instrumental in bringing the ‘user-movement’ into being within mental health services, by providing a platform for, and giving a voice to, a group which heretofore had been effectively silenced by both psychiatric theory and practice.

Person reading burning paper

Laing’s legacy extends further beyond the confines of the user movement. The systemic method he pioneered with Aaron Esterson to examine the patterns of communication over time between family members revealed the social intelligibility of what had previously been considered personal pathological behaviour and expression. It served to free the individual or mental health patient from wholly personal blame. The careful study of each person in the family, the relations between persons in the family and the family itself as a system, involved hours of direct observation and tape recording of what people said when alone and when interacting with others. It was crucial to Laing that his method involved minimal interpretation in favour of deep curiosity, silence and observation. Attention was drawn to the ‘warm’ links between the disturbed ideas and behaviour of patients and to observed patterns in their families and/or social groups.

Laing’s work remains vital for us all in our efforts to ‘see through’ familial and media representations of our personal, social and collective realities. In considering the recurrence of patterns through successive generations, Laing’s method also questions the functioning of social or collective memories. The matrix-like network of actions, associations and perspectives within media representations of ‘reality’ can be patiently and silently examined – not just to deconstruct the apparent ‘madness’ of any one individual’s reaction to an article or broadcast, but to determine what is actually going on in life and has been going on through time. We collectively have much to learn about the recovery of the human-family memory, beyond what we are asked to believe is real or fake news. Perhaps our future collective sanity relies upon it. The various monks of old have always known this; That every formulation and system is dependent on a set of factors that relativizes it.

At an anxious time of increased polarity in our media reporting (and perhaps right now, in the narrower confines of our quarantined families), we might do well to follow Laing’s advice and suspend our reliance on the accepted languages and ideas of our surrounding systems. Instead, we might become the silent and care-ful observer of ourselves, without judgement or interpretation, and to widen the bandwidth of what is acceptable personal expression within the wider fabric of our complex lives.

Find a little personal space today. Just breathe. Drop the storylines of your life.

The thought for the day is a short reflective writing relevant to the art of suffering well (enough) in difficult times, for parents and staff of Alice Smith. If it offers comfort amidst adversity, read the text and call it to mind when needed (even if just a short phrase from the larger text), allowing it to soak into the marrow of your bones and merge with your breath. Remember, we are all in this together…

Take good care, Dan