A psychiatrist's view of living with integrity in a possible end time
June 15, 2017
Originally published in the Des Moines Register
As a psychiatrist I know the temptation can be to turn away, to dismiss those things in our lives and world where we feel we have little influence to change or even be heard. Who wants to think about the monstrous circumstances in our current world, such as climate change, that are altering the Earth we have known beyond recognition, or the possibility of instantly destroying the Earth with nuclear weapons?
We see images of polar bears stranded on small sheets of ice. Melting ice masses from Antarctica threaten to drastically raise sea levels. Reports of conventional and nuclear weapons from North Korea directed towards Seoul, Japan, and even the West Coast of the United States enter our minds. Meanwhile, our own country harbors its own doomsday suicide tripartite arsenal of more than 7,000 nuclear weapons on land, in the air and at sea. An Iowa friend, Jeffrey Weiss with Catholic Peace Ministry, reminds us, "There is no planet B."
A psychiatry colleague and author, Judith Lipton of Redmond, Wash., who writes on ridding the world of nuclear weapons, wrote: "I look at every cat and dog and horse, and every rhododendron, and every spider and I think, this might be your last moment. I'm so sorry. I'm doing what I can to try to help you. I'm so sorry. I bow to all living beings, and try to apologize for the stupidity of our species."
In this context, I see our current day as a time when many of us realize the importance of living with integrity and not giving up even when hope and optimism seem part of wishful thinking. The state of our planet and our species is a loss I feel deeply. Worse can come, and we must prevent that with all our energy and will.
Iowans and others pull the rest of us forward with a spark of hope that the future for our children and grandchildren can become more secure.
Iowa engineer and climate activist Steve Shivvers wrote me: "The future is unknown and unknowable. We may be living in the end times or we may be birthing a culture of unequaled justice and equity for humankind. I remind myself periodically of this quote from my Iowa friend Joan Fumetti: 'Action is a great antidote to despair.' I choose to water the seeds."
Des Moines-area attorney and climate activist Channing Dutton wrote me: "We have two choices in tough times. Stand against the storm and act, or cower under the sheets and whistle a happy tune. I choose to act."
Co-president of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (and recipient of the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize) Dr. Ira Helfand wrote: "To live with integrity at a time of existential threat to our civilization we must do everything we possibly can to overcome the danger and assure that this moment is not the end of time. Anything less is a betrayal of our children and our children's children."
Martin Fleck, security program director with Physicians for Social Responsibility, states: "Integrity means resisting the urge to 'turn away' from the daunting realities of our situation. In this time of rapid and turbulent change, the honorable path is to steer the transition rather than be swept along by it."
Words from the Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore speak to me:
“Faith is the bird
that feels the light
when the dawn
is still dark."
We depend on each other. Let's show up.
David E. Drake, D.O., is a national board member of Physicians for Social Responsibility and a psychiatrist in Des Moines. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org