The Failure of Trusteeship at Penn State

Dear Readers,

I had a request for the following article, The Failure of Trusteeship at Penn State, which appeared on the Huffington Post web site, but is no longer available.  I am reprinting it here.

With caring wishes,


The Failure of Trusteeship at Penn State

The recent events at Penn State and the ongoing uncovering of sexual abuse of hopeful innocents have sickened and saddened.  If you live in Pennsylvania, as I do, the tragedies seem endless and terribly close to home --  the violated young children; college students shamed by their university; the firing of a sports legend, now suffering cancer; endless finger pointing coupled by endless confusion about failed leadership.

It was only a matter of time before the public would begin to assess the role of trustees in this horror story and to find them seriously lacking.  Most know that trustees hold fiduciary responsibility for the college or university they serve.  However, fiduciary responsibility is far more than raising money or writing checks. It involves ethics, morality and responsibility for the welfare and wellbeing of an institution and its community

According to  Charles William Golding in “Inside the Nonprofit Boardroom”:  “(A trustee holds) the very existence of the organization in trust for the people who contribute to it and for those who benefit from it.  What does “in trust” mean?  It means that you nurture, care for, and protect the entire organization.”  He further explains:  “(There is a) sense of security that comes with knowing that someone is overseeing things.  People want to feel that someone is paying attention to what is going on.  That’s the job of the board…Serving on a board is not about you.  It’s about doing all you can to help the organization carry out its mission...The ideal situation is when the trustee experiences the intensity of the cause in his or her head, heart, and stomach.”

For the past six years I have been a trustee of a small liberal arts college, admittedly a far different community than Penn State.  Still, trusteeship is trusteeship, and above all, trustees must feel free to ask questions. When this story first unfolded my reaction was immediate:  What did the trustees know about the grand-jury investigation of child-sex-abuse allegations against former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, as well as the long standing progression of events leading up to it? If they had been told about this, how were events characterized? What were trustee reactions and recommendations? If they were not told, why?

This week former provost and present university president Rodney Erickson said that although he was not present, the Penn State board was briefed by then President Graham B. Spanier.  His explanation will surely lead to more questions  about what trustees were actually told.  When asked the seriousness of the allegations characterized in the briefing, Erickson responded:  “I have no idea, because I was not there.”

Ben Novak, a former Penn State alumni (class of 1965) trustee who served from 1988 to 2000, wrote that open discussion in board meetings was nonexistent.  In his words published in a three part installment in the Centre Daily Times that he paid for himself:  “The simple truth is that it is not simply one bad apple that has brought about the humiliating situation we face.  Rather, it is the way the board of trustees has structured the whole governance of the university that has made this scandal not only possible but almost inevitable.” According to Novak, the board is controlled by the president and a few rich, connected trustees, and dissent is silenced:  “I came onto the board thinking that it was a deliberative body such as one reads about in civic books.  It is not.”   

Most are confused about the role of trustees and their relationship with the president of a college or university.  The college or university president is hired by, reports to, and as we recently saw, can be fired by the board. It is the board of trustees that sets policy of a school, with recommendations and significant input by the college president, (and hopefully) his or her staff, faculty, students and members of the community.  The president and the staff then carry out the policy on a day to day basis.  According to Golding,  “When a board becomes a true and solid sounding place for management, and when management has both the courage and the sense to listen, the positive effects can be remarkable on both sides.”

When I became a trustee the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges sent trustees throughout our country a copy of Golding’s book, which has a forward by William H. Gates, Sr. (yes, the father of the Bill Gates, who has expanded his parents’ enormous philanthropic commitments).  I cannot help but wonder if President Spanier or his board of trustees read the following: “(The board and the president) should be able to ask any questions, with neither side feeling threatened or intimidated.  It doesn’t always work that way, but it should.”  And, “The conduct of all activities by all persons representing the corporation in any way, at any time, must be right and proper.”

Author Golding also offers a prescient warning, words spoken by his father-in-law, a Greek immigrant and an American success story:   “A corporation is like a fish.  It rots from the head first.”

A Dangerous Grasp

I had an experience today that is related to the film "45 Years." One of the reasons I value this film so much is that its genius is based on the importance of "an examined life." Every civilized society discovers this importance, but facing it in one's own life can be very disruptive and painful, and takes a great deal of courage. Without revealing plot, the film's end is both stunning and startling because it is based on a sudden awareness -- putting together truths that previously had been blinded by love and devotion. Today a good friend visited me out of the blue, and here is what she said: "As you well know, I have been the loyalist possible supporter of Donald Trump for many reasons, but finally today I was able to face what this man is doing to our country, to our allies, to our world. I finally see the danger of his selfish, grandiose, and impulsive leadership, and that the office he holds must be removed from his dangerous grasp."

The Needless, Unacceptable Suffering and Death of Children

On Friday, December 14 on the front page of the Region Section of our Inquirer was yet another indictment of how the Department of Human Services (DHS) is failing our most vulnerable children. I shook with rage and horror as I once again read about “statewide patterns" of abuse and maltreatment at foster-care facilities.

My first social work job after graduating from Penn with my master's degree in social work was with the Society to Protect Children. Here I learned from a rainbow coalition of committed social workers how to turn an inability to care for one's children and safeguard them around -- to offer hope and direction to those who were repeating and reacting to the kind of care they had received. In 1991 Lynne Abraham began referring carefully selected pro bono cases of first offenders where there were no fatalities for intensive therapy, rather than incarceration — -- By this time the responsibility held by PSPC had been turned over to DHS, and I saw that my colleagues and mentors who went from PSPC to DHS had left, explaining to me that they decided to leave a field they cared deeply about and had trained for arduously because they were "burned the hell out."

This led to 5 years of research into what burnout is and the necessary self-care strategies that can turn it around and prevent it. My papers about the ongoing tragedies -- with approaches -- are in the Archives of the University of Pennsylvania. They span more than 30 years with stories about unnecessary deaths of our children. They include reports and information about reports that are similar to the one reported on December 14, but gather dust.

I wrote yet another Letter to the Editor to the Philadelphia Inquirer: When will city leadership put an end to this?

Here is what I wrote:

To the editor:

I invite readers to visit the Archives of the University of Pennsylvania at 3401 Market Street — #210. In a collection bearing my name is a huge folder of pleas and suggestions written to DHS and other city resources, some printed in this newspaper, spanning over thirty years. There are also articles about many of the dead and severely injured children, who have been under the care of several administrations as well as studies of reports similar to the one highlighted in another tragic article.

Therefore, rather than detailing once again what can and should be done, I suggest another route: Print the salaries and budget of the resources who have failed our city’s most vulnerable children, and demand an accounting of where this money actually goes.

Why President Trump Caved: Shame in Helsinki

Making Sense of the Inexplicable

If anyone needs living proof that denial is not just a river in Egypt. President Trump’s support of a ruthless Russian dictator and his crass Helsinki dismissal of the institutions that protect our country have provided it. It also provided a portrait of the impotent rage of a bully acted out dangerously on a world stage.

I assure you: I do not believe in diagnosing an elected official in a public arena. However, I believe there are times when it is imperative to share vital information about the development of well-grounded emotional maturity, and what can go terribly, dangerously wrong in the functioning and awareness of an individual. Now is surely one of these times.

Fortunate individuals grow up in homes where there is secure “attachment” — essential bonding with primary caretakers during one’s early years. This bonding becomes the first floor in an emotional home that leads to the ability to care for and about others, as well as realize that he or she is not the center of the universe. Further, it leads to the ability to differentiate between friend and foe as well as the confidence to confront dangerous adversaries -- in other words develop what I describe as a reliable “emotional sense of direction.”

In time, the fortunate are given permission to leave a parental home and carve out their own lives independently. The primary factors that make this healthy “separation-individuation” process impossible — ones that make a child doubt he will ever be able to protect himself, navigate the slippery slopes of life, or communicate with strength and honor— are terrifying rage and inability to find safety within the home, rejection if one displeases a parent, enmeshment (where all family members must agree on all and act as one unit), complete neglect, and extreme overprotection and overindulgence.

Deep within those who cannot separate from their parents is burning, unyielding anger (at themselves for their perceived weakness and at the parent or parents who made independence seem an impossibility). Yet, there is also the terror of expressing anger appropriately. 

Related research by University of Massachusetts doctoral candidate, Matt MacWilliams, became public during the primary of our 2016 presidential primary election. The study showed that the best predictor of those who would back Donald Trump’s candidacy were views about child raising — views that were black and white, held without question, and described as “authoritarian.” Trump supporters could not tolerate their children believing and acting in ways that differed from those stressed in the homes where they were raised.

When permission to think freely is not granted, a child grows into a chronological adult who lacks confidence and is emotionally fragile. In situations where one has learned how to be charming and glib, these traits are used to cover up frailties. Every possible means to keep this cover-up is called upon. Such personalities are ever on the run, often act impetuously, and delight in causing conflict. They cannot tolerate criticism of any type. Nor can they abide another winning what they desire. Unable to tolerate true intimacy, they feel compelled to continuously prove their sexual attractiveness and powers. Often their charm, verve, determination, and ruthlessness propel them to powerful positions, where bullying can become second nature.

Donald Trump’s father’s approach to success and business has been mirrored by his son. Further, it is common knowledge that Trump senior introduced his son to his revered guide, Roy Cohn, the corrupt attorney who helped mastermind the disgraceful reign of Joseph McCarthy during a ruthless witch-hunting period that bears his name. Roy Cohn’s mantra was to get what you want, regardless of how this is accomplished; to never admit an error; and above all, to keep your name in the public press.

Immediately before his Helsinki fiasco, President Trump received detailed information concerning 12 Russians indicted for compromising our electoral system.  Three days before his inauguration he was briefed about proven Russian cyber interference in the 2016 presidential election.  Yet, his frailties and fears made necessary confrontation of Putin an impossibility. Instead, Donald Trump offered sickening praise to a ruthless adversary. Evidence that he had not won the presidency on his own compounded an inability to distance himself from one like Roy Cohn, who had no ethical or moral guidelines. Without question, in Helsinki, the president of our United States aided and continues to aid a dangerous enemy in his quest for world domination.

Helsinki must be an awakening moral tipping point. McCarthyism received its fatal blow during a June 9, 1954 hearing when Boston lawyer, Joseph Welch, finally confronted Joseph McCarthy: “Until this moment, Senator…I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness…Have you no sense of decency?”

Tragically, the Republican Party fears this brave stance. They must at long last address Donald Trump’s reckless, terrifying behavior and displaced rage, and restate these long overdue words. Further, this is a message that voters must echo in the upcoming congressional elections, as well as our next election for the presidency of the United States. The future of our free world depends on it.

— Published on July 20, 2018

The Importance of Emotional Intelligence: Hillary’s Sad and Disappointing Presidential Campaign

Some readers may recall an early September pre-publication commentary first appearing in “The Philadelphia Inquirer,” where I expressed my hopes for What Happened. Very sadly my hopes crashed,, and I want to explain why.  Please read on, even if you are sick of hearing about Hillary and her book.  I think my focus will offer a different take.

You see, I wanted Hillary to use her book to talk to us honestly about her campaign -- her detractors, of course, which she did focus on (often in excruciating detail), but also the lapses she and her campaign leadership were responsible for.  For example, personal polling was stopped a month before the election.  Why?

Through building this trust with us, her leadership direction in how to deal with our exceedingly dangerous, complicated present would have been carefully listened to, even, I believe, by many of those who did not support her.  This would have been especially true of women, who could have assured Hillary’s victory, but whose support was disappointingly low. The ability to communicate in this way rests with trusted connection, a hallmark of “emotional intelligence.” 

Those with emotional intelligence know how to navigate the slippery slopes of life through sincere communication with others.  Through their mutual, trusted connections they often reach their goals.  Or if goals are denied, which is frequently the case since life is not fair, those with emotional intelligence learn from the experience, and are then able to offer important insights and direction to others. Sadly, however, What Happened offers the best possible explanation of what “emotional intelligence” is not. 

 After my commentary was published, I received close to 100 emails from readers throughout our country, which fell into three camps:  those who never would have voted for Hillary, those who worked for her victory with every fiber of their being and were furious at a poorly run campaign, and those who asked for a clearer definition of “emotional intelligence,” with examples.

Three examples follow, each underscoring the kind of missed opportunity that would lead to non-flinching loyalty of women, regardless of  a candidate’s detractors. (Do remember:  It was women’s compassion for Hillary when Monica Lewinsky came into her life that humanized her to many, leading to her senate victory.  We “got” her pain; it hit home.) 

  1. When Hillary was ill and went to her daughter Chelsea’s to rest, rather than distance herself from us, if she had told us that she had pneumonia, appreciated our concern, which would surely help her recovery, women would have been deeply moved by her truth and her trust.  In discussing this incident in her book, Hillary held on to a wall around her, showing resentment of the intrusion of her privacy.
  2.  When her husband cornered Attorney General Loretta Lynch on her plane, Hillary uses What Happened to lay all blame Jim Comey.  (Yes, Comey proved a horror to Hillary, but he did not instigate this event.) As presidential candidate, women would have rallied around Hillary if she had apologized for poor judgment and shown regret, confiding:  “As you can well imagine, Bill and I had a bad night when I learned of this.  I apologize for both of us – this conversation was especially unfair to Attorney General Lynch.”
  3. In Hillary’s personal email fiasco, consider the difference an immediate apology would have made, rather than stone-walling until an apology seemed insincere and contrived.  Women would have identified with Hillary had she spoken of all of the moving parts in her life that propelled her to take a very wrong short cut. (Once in my kitchen preparing for a dinner party I became so distracted by an overdue report  that I put rubber bands, rather than noodles, in the chicken soup.  Don’t ask!  And you?), In her book we read a 32 page defense of her actions.  She calls her decision “dumb” but explains that others did it, and it is still being done.  

Cry My Beloved, Fractured Country: Rapid Technological Change, Burnout, the Paralysis of Common Sense, and the Challenge of Finding Hope and Direction

Personal, Academic, and Professional Back-Drop

Since my research on the epidemic of burnout was published – with a concentration on its differences from depression -- I have been asked frequently the genesis of my interest.  Although I did not realize it at the time, the journey began during my years as a student at Goucher, where, along with many fellow students, I became deeply involved in student activism.  This passion was nurtured by many on our faculty who deeply believed in the necessity of a more just society for all of our citizens. 

As my 55th college reunion approaches, I hope what I write about our present difficult, challenging period holds meaning and relevance to readers.  In addition, I write as an expression of my gratitude for the importance of individual social and political responsibility stressed at my alma mater.

At Goucher, we were urged to understand what stood in the way of equal opportunity for all of our citizens and to work tirelessly toward necessary change.  No one on our faculty believed this more deeply than my mentor and the department chair of political science, Dr. Brownlee Sands Corrin, who encouraged us to follow this pursuit throughout our lifetimes.

During the period I was a student at Goucher all stores and services in the Towson community (where our college is located) -- restaurants, coffee shops, a beauty salon, a bowling lane -- banned African Americans.  I was incensed, and along with others, including several faculty members, I became an activist. Following two years of communication attempts, leading to protest with no change, we threatened a student boycott of all establishments in the Towson area.  The Baltimore Sun wrote about these efforts. Finally, all stores and facilities became desegregated and we realized the power of group activism.

I have been blessed with a few honors in my life, but the one I cherish most was given to me at my graduation in 1962 because of this work.

For those far younger than I who may be reading this, I will try to show how often the road we deeply wish for, plan to take, and may even have begun to travel, will abruptly and often painfully be uprooted.  When that happens, there is only one choice:  refuse to be defeated and find another road.  The combination of your self-awareness and freedom to take wise risks will be key in the determination of your path, and you are the one who must learn to make these decisions.

My first job after graduation was as a regional coordinator for the Young Democrats.  These activities were a continuation of those that began at Goucher. My office was a small cubby at the DNC, pre-Watergate days.  During this time President John F. Kennedy, whom I had met at the 1960 Democratic National Convention, encouraged me to begin graduate work in social work at Catholic University. 

Since I am from an Orthodox Jewish Baltimore family, the president’s suggestion (taken after a year working at the Washington bureau of CBS News) seemed startling.  Yet, it is impossible to tell you the gifts of this extraordinary experience: Nuns, priests, and devout Catholics became my dearest friends, and we held each other tightly on the tragic day that our president was assassinated.

The president’s suggestion of profession and school not only enriched my life immeasurably, but also led to a way to support myself years later and to afford the legal help and therapy when divorce with two young daughters, ages 4 and 7, became necessary in my life. 

After President Kennedy’s assassination, I transferred to the University of Pennsylvania (Penn continued my scholarship and stipend), where my husband, whom I married only weeks after the completion of my first year of graduate school, was also a graduate student.

Part of the work toward my degree involved a “field placement” in a social work setting.  My setting was the Philadelphia Society to Protect Children, known as a “protective service” agency.  Our clients were neglected and abused children and their families, with whom we worked intensively. When we could not bring about change and safeguard the children (who sometimes temporarily lived in a large townhouse, with dormitories and classrooms attached to our offices), we petitioned the court to protect them by removing them from their parents.

AT PSPC, I learned so very much from a rainbow coalition of dedicated social workers who taught me how to endure the physical and emotional abuse and torment I saw, support suffering children, and inspire and motivate their parents toward change.  However, although I stayed with the agency for a year after graduation, I saw that this work necessitated looking at my own life in ways that I was not yet ready to face. I left PSPC, promising myself that when I was able, I would return to the quality of work I saw carried out with such devotion, skill, and excellence.

After the birth of two daughters, deep personal pain had to be faced and dealt with.  Although the word “burnout” had not yet been coined, nor the condition described, burnout was the precise state of confusion I found myself overwhelmed by.  My life came to a screeching halt:  Immobilized I had no choice but to face that before I could help others find justice and direction, I would first have to find it for myself. In a state with no alimony, no equitable division of property and no “no-fault” divorce, I was finally able to attain my divorce.    Four years after separating from the father of my children, I remarried; my life stabilized; and my promise to myself to return to “protective service” could be kept. 

During the decade of my first marriage, I watched the major institutions we relied upon to protect the well being of us all fractured by distrust, discord, inflexibility and yes, hatred. In the passing years, regardless of one’s political affiliation, it has grown more and more apparent that the institutions of Washington are breaking down and that our electoral process is fraught with intricate and complex dangers.  Further, the art of give and take, and the necessity of compromise, each crucial to responsible governance, has evaporated.  This absolute necessity for sharing, conversation and discussion that can lead to an understanding of the point of view of another, for the good of the whole – an understanding that results in creative, mature decision making, a process vitally necessary in safeguarding every healthy institution, including marriage and family, seems to have vanished.


The Toll of Burnout:  Research and Discovery

In 1991, Philadelphia’s District Attorney, Lynne Abraham, asked me, in addition to my private practice, to return to “protective service” through a pro bono practice, The practice offered therapy to carefully selected first time offenders in cases of abuse and neglect where there was no fatality.  It was a commitment I gladly accepted, one that lasted for over 20 years.  (Lynne wisely saw that this approach would be far more effective and far lest costly than incarceration.)

When I returned, PSPC was no longer responsible for neglected and abused children.  This responsibility had passed to Philadelphia’s Department of Human Services, and much of my rainbow coalition of dedicated teachers and supervisors had left their jobs. Those who remained and those they mentored and inspired were spread paper-thin.  Further, I learned that due to limited resources for programs for clients, as well as diminished and inadequate professional support, an estimated 47 to 71 percent of those trained and passionate about this essential work were leaving the field nationwide.  Their decision to leave was not motivated by a lack of desire to remain.  On the contrary, they left because, in the words of a colleague and friend, “we are burned the hell out.”  These departures motivated my six years of research into precisely what burnout is, how it manifests itself, its differences from depression, the toll it takes, and what to do to address and prevent it.     


Future Shock and Technology on Steroids

As my research progressed, I once again was reminded of the futurist Alvin Toffler’s 1970 groundbreaking book, Future Shock.  The one reliable constant, of course, is change, but Toffler argued that our society was undergoing what I think of as “change on steroids,” as we moved from an industrial society to one he described as a “super-industrial society.” He predicted that the rate of technological and social change on every front would leave us overwhelmed, disconnected, and suffering from “shattering stress and disorientation” – future shocked.  Toffler introduced the term (and state of being), “information overload,” predicting that the majority of social problems would be symptoms of future shock.  Further, Toffler urged us to prepare for extraordinarily fast-paced societal changes, warning that if we did not, these changes would overwhelm and paralyze us, in effect compromising all we hold dear.

A glaring example of the underbelly of predicted change is technology, which, despite its obvious genius, is also man’s latest isolation booth.  Unless we make dramatic effort, we are wired 24/7, with little time to think, to be, to share, and to connect.  As a result, the average attention span is now 8 seconds.  (That’s less than that of a goldfish.)

Think about it:  Our communities are disappearing because people are buying online and in bulk. Our reliable neighborhood stores, where we regularly visit shopkeepers who know us and care about us, as we do about them, are disappearing.  Increasingly accessible city newspapers concentrating on community and neighborhood issues are dying.  Young children, rather than being spoken with, are given iPads at family dinners. Several of my clients are married couples who, in the words of several have “lost each other” due to “no time to connect and share intimacy of any kind.”  Others are college and graduate students seeking help to initiate and maintain caring conversation.  As one explained, “We move too fast to talk. The idea of sitting down with a person I care about without my iPhone makes me break out into a sweat.”


Defining Burnout

Four years after Toffler’s groundbreaking work, the German-born American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger examined overload from a psychological perspective.  Turning to Webster’s dictionary to define what he saw, he coined the descriptive term “burnout” to describe a state of increasing exhaustion, leading one to become “inoperative” due to “excessive demands on energy, strength, or resources.”

Although Freudenberger’s research concentrated on professional responsibilities, burnout is a completely understandable and human response to personal stress and societal overload. Everyone is vulnerable to its clutches. As it progresses, those who suffer experience one or a combination of responses:  a strong need to withdraw; an inability to hear another point of view (and in this way connect); the loss of a sense of personal accomplishment; long bouts of irritability and hopelessness, leading to an inability to see clearly and assess a situation rationally.  Often there is paranoia, coupled with an attempt to self-medicate through alcohol or drugs.

Further researchers revealed specific personal and professional causes of burnout, which I am condensing to three primary evidence based causes, and taking the liberty, for this discussion, to address on a societal or macro level. For, in this election societal burnout played major roles in voter choice.   

1. Compassion fatigue

  •  State of overload due to pervasive suffering
  • Emphasis on the support of others that drain and anger those   who feel unheard and invisible

2. Vicarious trauma

  • A continual, enveloping lack of community safety and security

3.  Countertransference, a term, used in the research into the causes of burnout taken from psychiatry, which describes reactions between client and therapist.  Its societal translation is:

  • Impact of those in positions of power whose spoken word and decisions either attract support –- or confuse, overwhelm, frighten, and anger
  • Dealing with impossible people and impossible situations
  • Confronting impenetrable walls of resistance

Through the insights of Toffler and the research of Freudenberger and those who followed him, I realized the ongoing impact of burnout in both society and humankind, and its dangers to us all.  I began doing workshops and writing about my findings.  After one of my articles won a national award, NASW Press reached out to me for a book proposal.  Blanche Schlessinger, my dedicated literary agent, strongly counseled that because burnout is in the wings for us all, I write my book for the general public.  However, the droves of trained and committed mental health professionals who were leaving a field they deeply cared about was putting our most vulnerable families at risk, which put all at risk.  My passion was to help them to remain in their chosen profession.  Later, pleased with the written results of this decision, Blanche kindly said, “If you replace the words ‘social worker’ and ‘mental health professional’ in your shared studies with any profession, including homemaking and volunteer activity, your findings remain relevant.”  Some reviewers have generously agreed.


The Candidate Meets the Precarious Times

By the time of the publication of this book, my third, I was writing increasingly about the impact of Toffler’s truths on those who could not keep up with the changes within our “super-industrial society” -- the racial, cultural, and social transformations unimaginable only a decade before.  Simply, our vast societal transformation was burning them out.  

Several were my clients who, in addition to their family members, bravely defended their cherished country in battle. To quote a Viet Nam veteran, “I risked my life to protect the freedom of others, and now as hard as I try I cannot protect my own family. My government cares more about immigrants than it does about me.” 

Some of my clients were laid off as their jobs became obsolete and the companies that employed them closed, downsized, or shifted work to other countries.  Feeling confused, invisible, frightened and angry, they longed for political leaders they believed heard them and responded to their frustration and anguish.  In the words of a 36-year-old mother of four whose husband’s place of employment, where he worked diligently for 10 years, suddenly closed, “Washington is broken. I do not think either party gives a damn about families like mine.”  She confided, “I can’t deal with all the changes in marriage, in who is male and who is female, and who belongs with who.  I just can’t keep up anymore.”

Others deeply unsettled by dramatic societal changes are those with the unshakable religious belief that everyone is a born sinner who must repent, that G-d created our world, and that evolution and Creationism cannot exist side by side.  They believe, too, that homosexuality is sinful. With this mindset, they are vehemently opposed to changing laws and government programs that ease suffering, offer choice and provide protection for all citizens.

Enter Donald Trump, one who knew how to pitch to the fears, anger and frustration of a large segment of our population suffering from signs of burnout. As a young man, the Republican candidate (whom we know values apprenticeship) had been apprenticed by the unscrupulous, flamboyant, win-at-any-cost attorney, Roy Cohn, a master of inducing fear, who was eventually disbarred. Cohn counseled Donald Trump to act as he did, to think big, to keep his name in the press, and to never admit a mistake.   Before this mentorship began, Cohn had been chief counsel to Senator Joe McCarthy in a relentless crusade against Communism and homosexuals in the mid 1950s, where he skillfully avoided public scrutiny of his shameless tactics.    

Until he was finally discredited, Joe McCarthy convinced much of the public that he protected them from the menace of Communism and the danger of homosexuals forced to spy in order not to be exposed. In like manner, Trump convinced many of those overwhelmed by a vastly changed society that he would be their protector and savior.  To achieve this, immigrants, the press, and long relied upon government institutions became scapegoats, castigated as enemies of the people.

No one, however, received stronger wrath and ridicule than Hillary Clinton, and the Trump campaign is now being investigated as having collaborated with the Russian government to undermine her credibility.  Ugly accusations were made about Clinton, once again igniting discussion about her likability, as if this were a necessary quality with so much at stake. (“You do not have to invite her to lunch, dinner, or tea,” I often said, trying levity with those who shared this view.  And then continuing, “The future of the Supreme Court rests with this candidate.”) 

Of course, the strong appeal of Bernie Sander’s candidacy also shone light on Clinton’s vulnerabilities, as did errors in decision making during her campaign and in the actions of the DNC.  Although Sanders backed her strongly when she won her party endorsement, many of his supporters did not.  Sanders’ support and a lack of enthusiasm of many of his supporters can also be attributed to burnout.  Once again, to quote a client:  “Sanders exposed Clinton’s ties to Wall Street and the manipulations of the DNC on her behalf.  Her lifetime decisions to compromise values in the name of ambition overwhelms me.  I am disconnected from both major candidates and have decided not to vote.”      

I have blogged for The Huffington Post since 2008.  Many HP bloggers have hundreds plus followers.  That is not my case.  The only followers I know of are my husband and four adult children (sometimes), who I think may summarize blogs to each other and take turns texting to cheer me on, knowing that what I write goes the way of cyberspace wind. This past summer, I blogged that due to societal overload the appeal of Donald Trump was strong.  I felt deep within that this ruthless candidate, who would do anything to win was not going away and was no laughing matter. There was not one comment, but the blog got 15 “likes,” which for me is an extremely high number

By early Fall, I was telling my husband quietly that common sense about who would lead our country would not prevail and Trump was going to win, hoping with every fiber of my being that I was wrong.  My reason was not merely Trump’s successful divisive, “stir-the-pot” populism.  It also was based on what I can best describe as “a perfect anti-Hillary storm,” one that put many of those who should have been her natural supporters on overload, in effect burning them out. In the words of a close friend, a 46-year-old-journalist and mom, “This campaign began as Hillary’s to lose, and I am worn out watching one campaign error after another.  Hillary just does not understand the people she must appeal to.”


Facing Reality  

On the evening before the election, after two full days of canvassing for Hillary, my husband and I watched on television the extravaganza outside of Philadelphia’s Constitution Hall.  (Two of our grandchildren who had worked tirelessly for Hillary for months were at the event with friends and their moms.) On this same evening, Donald Trump was televised surrounded by his family, telling viewers that they were all he needed.  This, of course, was said despite ugly revelations of his conduct for decades.  What the Clinton campaign leadership failed to grasp is that most people long for a loving, devoted family, one that is secure and whose future is protected, above all else.  As we watched my husband knew what I was going to say before I said, “Yes, he will win,”

There are Trump supporters who believed that the unsettling lies, distortions, manipulations, and impulsive promises – as well as the thin skin -- that marked Donald Trump’s candidacy would end with his election, when our 45th president faced the weight, challenges, and realities of his grave responsibilities. However, one’s personality patterns are ingrained and can only change if one sees this change as necessary. Donald Trump had never been forced to see the impossibility of total control over others, as well as control over circumstance, and the dangers of demanding each.  An experienced master of relentless, demeaning, and excoriating attacks, he has never been expected to temper his oversized pride with any semblance of humility.

Central in our new president’s vision of himself has been his belief that only he can rescue us from pervasive dangers (grossly exaggerated or non-existent), and therefore, he may not be questioned, even when what he says has no basis of truth.  With this in mind, the dire negativity of his inaugural address was predictable, as was the disrespect and disregard shown our 44th president and his wife, present on the dais, and viewed world wide, as all they had worked honorably to achieve in the past eight years was denigrated.  This pattern of humiliating and demeaning others has sadly continued.    

Because of his perceived talent and extraordinary abilities, those in President Trump’s personal and professional circles are expected to protect his total control over others and circumstance at all times. This buffered self-view inhibits thoughtful decision-making and requires continuous affirmation by individuals and crowds. Unquestioning praise is the oxygen that fuels our president.  If threatened, his temper flairs.

Surely, John Lewis, a brilliant strategist, outsmarted President Trump by using the word “illegitimate,” which he knew would result in fury, and in this way justify a decision of those who wished to boycott the inauguration.  Surely there are world leaders just as savvy as Lewis, but if they are our enemies, they could be extremely dangerous; and a pattern of impulsive responses by a leader in a complex world order is a terrifying trait.  Since this presidency began, President Trump’s impulsivity has led to intense and dramatic backlash on numerous fronts. President Trump must be reminded that an impulsive act in Sarajevo, Bosnia, the killing of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was the tipping point leading to World War I.


Moving Forward:  Addressing the Impact of Burnout with Awareness

Since the 1960s, many have clung to the idealism stressed by Dr. Corrin, a hope that propelled our entry into World War II, a belief that we could and would make our country and the world a better, safer place.  I hope we never give up this determination, but it must be tempered with the realism that there will be impossible people (who care only about their power and control over others), exceedingly complex situations, and seemingly impossible times that will challenge hope and idealism at every turn.  Now is surely one of them. 

In my lifetime, there has never been a greater need to slow down, take a break from our technological intrusions, and talk together, hearing and valuing each other, for the good of us all.

Building these quality bridges of conversation and communion with those who feel excluded, invisible, betrayed and overwhelmed is the wisest way to address and heal the fractures within our country.  Included in that dialogue must be those who distrusted both major presidential candidates and those who have never participated in elections.  

Respected, committed communication is the wisest way to distinguish between thoughtful governance motivated by concern for others, and one that achieves power through exploiting fear, ridiculing others, and creating an avalanche of distractions and decoys.  It must include members of both parties who will come to see the dangers of governing through exclusion, executive order, and rash, ill-advised decisions.

There are parallels between what works in successful therapy involving seemingly intractable challenges and what will work to successfully navigate political quagmires.  To explain: there are times when a child, adolescent or teenager is bullied by a damaging family member who will not change, but for complex reasons the young family member cannot be removed from his or her home.  In situations like these, the therapist often works to isolate the abuser by involving family members, as well as community resources such as the school, church or synagogue, and neighbors.  In time, the abusive parent loses a feeling of omnipotence, other family members stop fearing him or her, and the balance of power within the family shifts.

As I watch young people being involved in the democratic process as were Goucher students in the 1960s, I can hear Dr. Corrin’s voice, compelling us,  “Never stop working toward what you know is right.  Never be afraid to speak out for what you believe, and never stop believing in yourselves.”

It will not happen overnight, but the balance of power and freedom of speech that distinguishes our country can isolate and expose the dangers of impulsivity and dangerous policy-making within our present White House. The voices of seasoned politicians, devoted government employees and concerned citizens of all ages are growing louder.  This union, as my years at Goucher College made clear, is the surest antidote to societal burnout.

About Arianna Huffington

I wrote the following letter to the editors of Vanity Fair.  One of the researchers called a few weeks later to tell me that my letter was going to be printed —- in the UK edition.  He subsequently sent me a copy of this edition, and though the American and UK editions are pretty much the same, other than some difference in ads, the Letters sections are quite different,  The UK section has more letters, and longer ones.

Here is the letter I submitted, which was printed in a slightly edited form:

My latest copy of Vanity Fair has not arrived. However, a writing colleague has forwarded the first part of your mean spirited, unbalanced coverage of Arianna Huffington to me. Therefore, as one who has only met Arianna one time, but has blogged for The Huffington Post for 8 years, permit me to offer balance. Arianna is brilliant, open, respectful and fair, to her writers, to her staff, to the public. She answers every email.  She writes encouraging emails to those who write for her.  She is devoted to the health and well being of families in our country and beyond.  She knows well that printed words can hurt and that It is the best of journalistic practices, if a condemning report about another is printed, to offer the accused the opportunity to comment. I had a personal experience that shows Arianna’s strong support of her staff. Arianna had been supportive of many hours of research that I did into the relationship between Harper Lee and her older sister, Alice, her attorney and housemate. I concluded that Harper Lee, in her controversial second book, “Go Set A Watchman,” finally free from Alice’s relentless scrutiny and control, was able to publish the book she longed to write, and could die in peace knowing this. The Huffington Post editor, however, rejected my article.  And that was that!  Matter closed! There can be only two reasons for this scathing coverage of Arianna — jealousy of her mutually respectful, caring relationship with so many — and envy of what she has accomplished.

When Your Work Setting Makes You Sick: What to Do When Work Conditions Are Burning You Up and Burning You Out

Some of you may know I live in Philadelphia, where the past election results took on enormous importance. While most people my husband and I canvassed for weeks were polite, not all were. One man spit at me. His daughter, in her 40s and with him in the elevator we shared, found this appalling behavior funny. Someone else had some choice curse words. While we are working in any way, including volunteer activities, this type of rudeness takes its toll.

Sadly, there are employers, those we report to, and general work settings where this kind of mean culture and lack of personal respect prevails. There are even employers who believe that productivity will thrive in the kind of setting here meanness prevails  and colleagues are pitting against each other. Nothing leads to professional burnout faster than this kind of accepted or perpetuated behavior in a work setting. Work settings should protect, inform, nurture and encourage their employees. When they don’t, the exhaustion and depletion of burnout is predictable. Please read on….  

My client, Tom, age 41, had been working arduously toward partnership in his highly respected and hugely competitive law firm for 7 years.  In Tom’s words:  “At first it was fun to see all I worked with as rivals, rather than colleagues. It felt motivating, and although I hate to admit it, I felt good as I watched others fail.  Of course, friendships and support did not develop in my firm, but I had my family and friends outside of work for this, so it did not seem to matter.”

Then, out of the blue his wife, Andrea, was stricken with ovarian cancer. The couple had two children, ages 5 and 3. Although Andrea's mom come to help, Tom wanted to support his wife by accompanying her to arduous chemo sessions and spending more time with their children, who were naturally very upset by the changes in their lives. This flexibility and compassion were not forthcoming in Tom’s firm, where not one colleague offered to help in any way, or even wrote a comforting note. Tom explained his new awareness: “I started to feel ill, along with Andrea, and I saw that I did not want to spend my waking hours with those who did not care if Andrea lived or died. It seemed incredible that not one colleague called to see how we were doing. much less offered to bring us dinner. With this realization, I became furious that I had been dumb enough to waste precious years with these kinds of selfish and arrogant people, and even more furious that my firm liked pitting us against each other, and in this way, pitching to everyone’s worse instincts.  I really got psyched as I wondered if I would have acted any differently if one in my firm faced what Andrea and I were facing.”  

Because of his savings and investments, Tom was able to afford to leave his firm. During these months of devotion to her and their children, Andrea went into remission. Upon her full recovery the couple opened up a combined bookstore/cafe, where they could spend time together and their children could join them after school.  In Tom’s words, “I could have looked into other settings where my knowledge about the law could have been respected and colleagues were treated with far more respect. But Andrea’s illness showed both of us that we wanted something very different.” 

Most people do not have Tom and Andrea's resources if faced with untenable conditions at work. However, if there is not one person in a leadership position who can be trusted to work toward change, colleagues can band together and help each promote change through collegial behavior. Plus, employees can consult with professionals trained to help them to improve conditions using creative options, cope with seemingly impossible conditions, and learn about other freeing opportunities.