Category Psychology

Empathy and Intelligence: Regarding “The Incomparable” Messrs. Buckley and Baldwin

William F. Buckley was always one of those conservatives it was good for liberals to keep abreast of. Liberal arguments for an expansive government role in American life had to go through Buckley’s mixture of cultured intellectual gravitas, take-no-prisoners debate skills and slightly mischievous humor, all of which made for a formidable presence across the American cultural landscape in the second half of the 20th century.

Buckley died in 2008 at age 82, less than a year after Pat, his socialite wife of 56 years, passed on and left him desolate. He died, however, in the wake of a life that had shaped the history of his era in ways that reverberate to this day. That impact is ably and entertainingly chronicled in a currently streaming (through May 3) PBS documentary entitled, “The Incomparable Mr. Buckley.”

Last fall, I finally caught up via YouTube to the famous 1965 debate between Buckley and the equally...

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Piercing the Clouds of Unknowing: Ciona Rouse’s “Red-Shouldered Hawk”

The spiritually inclined 20th century psychologist Carl Jung’s concept of “synchronicity” is in the driver’s seat with this post. After I began assembling another selection for this blog’s “Brilliant Songs” series, I thought the better of ignoring the long-deceased Dr. Jung’s clear message to me across space and time to veer over into the poetry realm instead.

Perhaps I should explain.

My blogging friend over at Loren is a longtime birder whose post the other day featured, among other winged creatures, the gorgeous portrait of the red-shouldered hawk that you see below. After admiring its fierce, self-possessed bearing before retiring for the night, I awoke the next morning to my customary and most welcome “Poem-a-Day” from the American Academy of Poets gracing my email in-box.

And what do I find there? The heading, “Red-Shouldered Hawk by Ciona Rouse.”


Jung developed his concept of “sync...

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Heaven, Hell and OTHER People: Finding Happiness in “The Good Life”

French philosopher and playwright Jean Paul Sartre’s 1944 play, “No Exit,” envisioned a hell devoid of searing flames, torture devices or red-eyed devils pitchforking inhabitants for eternity. But that doesn’t mean the punishment for unredeemed sinners wasn’t awful beyond imagining.

Sartre instead placed multiple people in a locked room—in this case, two women and one man—carefully selected to provoke maximum and mutual psychological discomfort upon one another by picking astutely at the scabs of the moral failings that landed each of them in this dreaded situation, yes, for all eternity.

“Anything but that!”, we can hear ourselves saying in sympathy with these otherwise despicable characters. (Military desertion, vicious marital infidelity, seduction, sadism, infanticide…)

The prospect of spending eternity locked in a room with others capable and committed to driving you crazy without relief led to t...

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A Larger Vision: Frank Bruni’s “The Beauty of Dusk”

“We have no control over what happens to us; we have enormous control over what happens to us. I’ll spend the rest of my life better understanding and better accepting that paradox, which I understand and accept better today than I did before October, 2017, before that first day of incomprehensible blur, before an education in neuro-ophthalmology that became an education in so much more.”

That sentence near the end of “New York Times” columnist-turned-college-professor Frank Bruni’s 2022 memoir, “The Beauty of Dusk,” underpins most all the reflections on his ongoing experience of a rare stroke that robs him of vision in one eye and forces him to live under a portentous cloud of possibility that his other eye may suffer the same fate. It could happen at any time for the rest of his life, his doctors tell him, and it would leave him functionally blind.

Or if his luck holds, it may not happen at all.


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Virus Dreams

You don’t have to be a Jungian psychologist to know that dreams can be the most confounding things. Your long-dead mother is brewing coffee and turns to you with a beatific smile as a torrent of word salad comes out of her mouth, whereupon a parrot flies right through a closed window and hops onto her shoulder to translate it as a long poem by Sophocles, the meaning of which you grasp instantly even though you hate poetry, have never read Sophocles in your life and wouldn’t know him from Maya Angelou.

Then the parrot dons an apron and asks—in Greek, which you suddenly, magically understand— whether you prefer your eggs scrambled or poached.

In a previous post about the impersonality of dreams propounded by the late archetypal psychologist James Hillman, we discussed his admonition not to take dreams too personally. We shouldn’t think they are all about us and our waking lives, Hillman says...

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