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COMMUNITY – Willard Gaylin

September 14, 2012

The following are comments by Dr.Willard Gaylin, a practicing psychiatrist, a Bioethicist and cofounder in 1969 of the Hastings Institute which studies the relationships between biology and ethics. He is the author of Hatred: The Psychological Descent Into Violence (2003). The comments below are my excerpts from a 1988 dialog that Bill Moyers had with Dr Gaylin and published in the book, A World of Ideas, by Bill Moyers (1989) p.119ff.

When Moyers asked Dr Gaylen, “What do you think is the most pressing ethical issue we have to face ?” Gaylen replied, “ The most important thing we face is a rediscovery of community. We are a very individually oriented country, and I love that. But somewhere along the line we’ve gotten a peculiar idea of what an individual is, what individual pleasure is, and what individual purpose is. But . . . the human being is not like an amoeba, it’s not a thing. We’re much more like coral, we’re interconnected. We cannot survive without each other. But now communities have broken down . Most people don’t take religious community that seriously any more. It’s tough to identify with something called New York City. In the pursuit of individual liberties we have allowed a corruption of the public space, so that there are areas that are not safe, and where that happens, there is no individual liberty. The people who are living in Harlem, who cannot go out to shop at night because of the crack addicts, are in a prison, and we’ve helped create the prison by ignoring what community means in this country.

“For instance, there’s a shibboleth against institutions and home care. Do you know what home care is for most people? It’s solitary confinement! We have to rediscover institutions. I would rather be among seven other older and helpless people with one nurse and a housekeeper than confined in solitary confinement even as a wealthy man who could afford around-the-clock nursing. We have to rediscover community. . . The idea that we can actually do things for something broader – a community – is lost.

“Human beings require food, water, protection from the elements, heat, and other human beings. If a child is deprived of contact with human beings, even if you give him perfect nourishment, he becomes an incomplete adult. He loses those qualities that are most identified with being human: the capacity to form attachments, the capacity to have guilt, the capacity to see the future – in other words, the capacity to have conscience and love.

“Somehow or other we’ve developed a concept of personal pleasure, of personal fulfillment – let it all hang out, do your own thing – so that all of pleasure is seen as a quick fix, as an isolated experience. The concept of attachment, the concept of service, the concept that somehow pleasure can involve pain or sacrifice – those ideas have simply been dissipated in our culture. . . I happen to know that service is empowering. It’s great. It’s terrific!

“I believe that service involves pain, but once experienced, will never be traded. The most pleasurable thing I ever did in my life was raise my kids. It’s also the most painful thing I ever did in my life. It was agonizing! So I am optimistic that if we begin to introduce people to service, we will see that they are hungry for it, hungry for a cause. And I’ll tell you something – if we don’t give them a good cause, they’ll find a bad one. People want someone to show them a better way. It worries me that we have generations of children being born without the capacity for caring, without figures to identify with. This is a ticking time-bomb.

“ ‘No man is an island’ is a biological as well as a poetic truth.”

Loren Bullock
September 14, 2012

From → The Church

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