On Drinking from a Fire Hose

Is there a science or art to drinking from a fire hose? This expression refers to when “things” (whatever they are) come at you so fast, so hard, so furiously that you can’t take it all in or process it adequately. It is like trying to take just a sip of water out of a fire hose that is spraying you directly in the face.

So, back to my question: is there a way to drink from the figurative fire hose of this moment in time? If so, would somebody please tell me how to do it?

As we inch toward the election (now less than 100 days away) it seems the crazy is coming faster, harder, and more furiously than ever.

I try to be a responsible news consumer. I limit my consumption of “wisdom” from pundits. I listen to the BBC and NPR news daily and watch the PBS News Hour regularly if not religiously because I trust the reporting of these outlets more than others. I also watch local news (mostly for the weather, a habit I learned as a child growing up on a farm in rural Iowa where weather was the news). I also watch or listen to news from the major broadcast networks. Each day I read headlines and articles that grab my attention from the traditional print media online (to save trees). In short, while each media outlet has its own bias I do my best to stick with sources that have earned reputations for accuracy, fairness, and balance.

And still, the crazy comes through. Whether it is a Federal invasion of American cities, the latest Tweet from Trump, Stupid people who refuse to wear masks then test positive for COVID-19, a “doctor” promoted by Trump who think demons and hydroxychloroquine have something to do with COVID-19 and when he is questioned about it he walks out of a briefing, and, of course, we are now at 150,000+ deaths from a virus that was, according to Trump, not a big deal barely four months ago.

Really. All of this in just the last 24 hours. And this is not a complete list. We need to get to the valve and turn off the fire hose. Do we have the will to do it? I hope so.


a clear and present danger…now

Click on the image to secure your own book at Amazon.com.

I just finished reading the book by Mary Trump about her uncle, Donald, who, as you may be aware, is currently occupying the White House.

My own background and training have some relevance on how I read the book and how I see both Mary and Donald Trump. First, like both Trumps, I am the product of a highly dysfunctional family resplendent with all the abuses that often characterize such families. This gives me the ability to read the book with a level of empathy that I might not otherwise be able to achieve.

Second, I pursued training in mental health counseling for my Masters degree. It could rightly be argued that I pursued that training as an unconscious response to my own personal background and need for healing. Upon completion of the degree, I practiced for a time as a therapist. Typically I saw individuals suffering from “adverse childhood experiences” which had created a post-traumatic disorder for them; men’s therapy groups; and, because sometimes I can’t say no, couples in the midst of a divorce who were mandated by the court to have counseling as a condition for getting a divorce. Mostly, though, the insights and techniques I gained from that course of study have informed my work with groups, organizations, and communities today.

Being able to read the book through these two different lenses allowed me to read it with a deep curiosity and a minimum of judgment. Let me say up front that the book does not portray either Mary Trump or Donald Trump as wholly “good” or “bad.” They just “are.” Both are victims of the same highly dysfunctional family system and it has significantly impacted both of their lives.

For Mary, the book reveals a sense of hurt and isolation from the larger Trump family. Her father, Freddy, was the heir apparent to the fortune of Fred Trump, Sr. but he was not deemed worthy of it by his father. This unworthiness extended to all of Freddy’s family, even after his untimely death. The same view of Freddy’s unworthiness was held by Donald and all other members of the Trump family. As a result Mary, her brother, and her mother were all treated as “less than” by the Trump clan.

This is not to say that Mary Trump grew up destitute. She did not. At the same time, she did not grow up in the full wealth of the Trump family nor with the unbridled excess that Donald enjoyed as the favored son after Freddy was deemed unworthy and died.

Mary Trump still bears the scars, if not open wounds, from having been kept outside the family and being guilty of unworthiness by association with her father. Sometimes I see this hurt come through the book but most of the time it isn’t obvious. This is a credit to her training as a clinical psychologist in which she likely learned how to observe and manage her own messy emotions that can arise in the process of observing others, even family members.

Like Mary, Donald Trump is a hapless and helpless victim of the same dysfunctional family system. Unlike Mary, Donald Trump seems clueless about his victimization and pain.

Don’t misunderstand what your are about to read: sometimes clueless is a good thing. The most painful part of healing is coming to grips with reality. To do so requires you to take your whole world, turn it upside down, and see it from a very different perspective. The pain comes as you intentionally walk away from your cluelessness. That’s not easy. It’s not fun. It’s downright painful because we all want to believe that the world as we perceive it is the world as it really is. It is just much easier to live in a state of cluelessness.

A therapist I used to see for my own healing once gave me this saying on a wall hanging: Pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses our understanding.

The portrait of Donald Trump offered by Mary Trump is of a man so deep in denial about himself, his childhood, his relationship with his parents, etc. that he has lost all sense of himself. The first and biggest wall Trump ever built was the one that separates himself from what he fears is his true self. A self that was profoundly informed by his parents as it was for each of their children. In an effort to avoid what he fears most about himself he has created this other wildly glorified self he continues to project today – strength, toughness, manliness. This is his protection from a father who could not show love and approval and a mother who preferred to be rid of him and sent him off to a military school (in truth, a “reform school”).

When we are very afraid we try to make others fear us. We erroneously believe we will be less afraid if others are afraid of us. We can also confuse their fear with respect and imagine ourselves, therefore, to be great. Unfortunately, using our fear in this way doesn’t work the way we think it does. It only makes us dangerous because the more we try to control others – whether by fear or some other form of manipulation – the more frustrated and dangerous we become.

People of the Lie by the late M. Scott Peck is one of the most interesting books I’ve ever read. Peck’s thesis is that there are people so masterful at crafting lies about their reality, including themselves, that they actually believe them to be true. When they do this they become incredibly dangerous to others. Parker Palmer, in A Hidden Wholeness, seems to suggest these same people are those who live divided lives. They are so invested in being what and who others (e.g., parents, family, bosses, spouses, etc.) think they should be that they lose touch with who they really are. These speak to Mr. Trump’s condition.

I offer this assessment without condemnation, only pity. I know what it is like to be a person of the lie and to live a divided life. I know the pain of breaking the shell that encloses deeper understanding of reality. I also do not blame Mr. Trump for choosing to believe the myth he has created rather than the reality the rest of us are experiencing under his presidency. The luxury of a soothing personal myth is a wonderful thing…until it doesn’t work anymore.

Will Mr. Trump ever let go of his myth? I don’t know. Frankly, I wish he would because I think he could be a decent man if he could allow himself to be a fully human person. I say this because all of us who have made that same journey of self have come out in a better place than we started. It is only the fear of pain that keeps us from taking the first step.

Sometimes we are forced into taking the first step. Mine came as the result of a series of life dominoes which began falling when I was 27. My father died unexpectedly and that was a deep and profound shock to my life. Within a few months I lost 75 pounds (which, in hindsight, was actually good for my health) and long held family secrets began to leak out. I began the painful journey of facing the reality of my family, its legacy of dysfunction, and how I had been impacted by it from birth.

For Mr. Trump, the first step may come as he feels his grip on the country is being loosened and, especially, if he loses the upcoming election. In a worst case scenario, he will continue to live in the full power of the myth and use every resource at his disposal to try to reclaim the office he lost because it proves his manhood and his worthiness to his long deceased father whom he saw (and helped) mercilessly judge and push out his older brother Freddy. In a best case scenario he will learn from the opportunity it presents, allow himself to heal as a result, and become less myth and more human.

I hope Mr. Trump chooses healing and humanity for our sake and his. Of course, choosing these carries a price. It is the price of personal responsibility for the hurt and damage we have done while living out our myth. If Mr. Trump can do that, he will become the real man he has tried so hard to convince himself that he is already.


chickenman – episode 85

After considerable negotiation with the Winged Warrior to end his trans Atlantic flight, Ms. Helfinger agrees to meet him at Plymouth Rock and promises to reimburse him the collect charges from their call.


Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and keep striving for justice, peace, and health for all.

Tom

4 thoughts on “On Drinking from a Fire Hose”

  1. Thanks, Bruce, for your comments and for your life! It is a joy to have you and Carol both in our lives.

  2. “When we are very afraid we try to make others fear us. We erroneously believe we will be less afraid if others are afraid of us.” As an educator I have seen this truth in the “bully”. The biggest bullies are the most insecure kids. In my own life I made some bad decisions while trying to be someone I was not. At 33 I was forced to take a fork in the road that, through the Grace of God and the love of a strong woman, steered me away from what I believe would have been a tragic end. I was then able to see how the false persona I constructed was really a front for destructive behavior. Thank you for your insights and empathetic analysis.

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