Heroes: Harold A Maio

We no longer talk about ‘the’ Jews. So why do we talk about ‘the’ mentally ill?

Here is an excerpt from  Harold A Maio’s article:

“English is not a complicated language. The rules for prejudice are rigid and clear, regularly practised against a “this” or a “that”, which changes with time. The techniques do not change; the target does.

“The” Jews. One has no difficulty pinpointing where that metaphor rose, or fell to its lowest. The industrialised murder of “the” Jews is taught in about every culture, we are aware of the effect of reducing a group to a “the”, and how far someone can take it. I address the form not the incidence.

Presently popular worldwide is “the” mentally ill, a replica of “the” Jews. It is seldom recognised. In 2008 all nine US supreme court justices agreed “the” mentally ill existed. I shuddered; the US went silent. The entire country went dark and did not notice. An alley expression had reached the height of the US supreme court and journalism fell silent, neither seeing it, nor wanting to. Not just in the US, but worldwide. It is one of the prejudices I track worldwide on the net. I respond to each example.”

Dedicated to two young heroes

One of the most luminous moments in my life was in 1988, when I was talking with a small boy in his room. Another small boy came in, and I was introduced with the words: “This is Ingrid. She is also a survivor.”

That moment is etched in my memory with a sprinkle of Tinkerbell dust: Time stood still, and we savoured that feeling of kinship, of belonging, of seeing each other and being seen.

This blog is for them, and for all others who need to see and be seen.


Someone wrote in a forum: 
“In our culture, there appears to be an assumption that unless you’re shit-hot at something, you perhaps shouldn’t be doing it. There’s a pressure to strive to be “The Best” at something, to be really fucking good, or you’re “not good enough” to do it and should therefore not do it.”
My reply:
Isn’t that a part of our childhood brainwashing?
A Norwegian author has formulated the Jante Law:
Don’t think that you are special.
Don’t think that you are of the same standing as us.
Don’t think that you are smarter than us.
Don’t fancy yourself as being better than us.
Don’t think that you know more than us.
Don’t think that you are more important than us.
Don’t think that you are good at anything.
Don’t laugh at us.
Don’t think that anyone of us cares about you.
Don’t think that you can teach us anything.
Don’t think that there is something we don’t know about you.
And a part of that mentality seems to be a fear of letting kids be proud of what they’ve made or done … in case they become stuck-up or something?
There weren’t many rules in our house when the kids were growing up, but one was unbreakable: It was totally forbidden to belittle oneself. Visiting kids who didn’t know me would say: “Lookit this awful painting I made!” And I’d explain that I did’nt think any of us WANTED to make something awful, so in this house we were expected to be proud of whatever we made.
They learned very quickly.
This was a legacy from a wonderful art teacher I had when I was a very messed-up 8-year-old who had gone to 4 schools on 2 continents.
None of the other teachers cut any slack for culture shock – once I was rapped on the knuckles for not knowing long division.
But the art teacher left me alone to mess around with paints, so at least his class was an oasis of peace … and he buildt up my confidence in my colour sense so much that I never have to wonder if colours go together. And at that time he helped me find solid ground: confidence spreads like a virus – if we feel we can master one thing, it spreads over to other aspects of our lives. So after a while I did get the hang of long division and the plural of woman and all those other tangly English things.

“Not good enough” can often seriously impede creativity, is what I’m saying. Blah blah blah ramble waffle yadda yadda. Can you tell I sometimes get up my own arse about this subject? :)”
You’re not the only one, but I have an exception that proves your point: I worked as a potter when the kids were small, and I loved it … the turning, the mad scientist aspect of making glazes, the sheer slippery filthy  muddiness of it. BUT.
After some years I made a very hard decision: I loved this, but I was never going to be REALLY good at it. There was some sort of spark missing, the knowing how to get from OK to GREAT. So I sold all my equipment, but kept my beloved pottery books, cried for a whole day, and now, 30 years later, I’m a translator. With the spark.


I wrote this in 1986. When I insisted on working in this direction, I was treated as an anosognostic borderline psychotic in the mental help services, and it is only recently that I’ve realized how rare it seems to be to own responsibility for having suppressed the vulnerable child one used to be.  

I see a child. A war-torn child who has survived torture and betrayal. It does not show, but I see it in the hand I’m holding … a shiver, as if she wants to escape. I feel waves of suspicion and need. What she wants, most of all, is to trust someone. She has always been betrayed.

I am sitting with my back to a tree. She is standing in front of me.

Part of her is far, far away, in a place where no one can reach her. The part she hides in order to survive.

A part of her longs to sit in my lap and give in to the need for love. But she knows that she cannot trust me. I have betrayed her earlier, and I can betray her again.

She does not run away. She cannot. She is me.

“I love trees,” I say to her. “Trees never change. If you chop down a tree, the stump will remain for a long, long time. Trees and mountains just are there, they never harm us.”

She nods. Silently.

“I have harmed you. I know that now. I did not want to, it was not my intention, but I have harmed you. I cannot ask your forgiveness – that would be to cheapen your hurts and my responsibility for them. I can only say that I see you. I feel your pain. I see the scars you have kept hidden for such a long time. I see what I have done, and I take the responsibility for it, and when I do that, I can see your strength and your courage.

She turns away. “I am nothing.”

“You always thought that you were cowardly. So did I. But consider what you have survived. Torturers know that the best way of breaking parents is to hurt them while their children are looking on. Or hurt the children while the parents are looking on. Children need their parents, the child’s existence is dependant on parents and other reliable adults. To be helpless and be hurt by the people we need is the worst thing that can happen to a child.”

She sits down beside me, carefully, ready to flee. “I was scared all the time.”

“Yes, you were scared. And you had good reason to be scared. But you did not give up. And what are people who do not give up, even if they’re scared?”

“Stubborn? Brave?” A shadow of a smile. “I am brave.”

“You are very brave.”

“I am brave. But I get scared when I say that.”

“So do I. Remember that you are me. I have been escaping from you all my adult life, but we belong together, you and I. Your pain is my pain, your loneliness is my loneliness, your grief is my grief.”

She shakes her head. “This is wrong. You are never scared. You can do anything. I’m a failure.”

“No. I have tried to lose you, forget you, lock you up the dark cellars of my mind, but that is impossible. We are the same person. We are one.”

“But why did you, whom I needed to trust more than anyone, betray me? Do you know what is the very, very worst thing? To be invisible. Untouchable. To scream as loudly as I can … into nothing.

Now I’m the one who wants to look away, but I force myself to look at her. “Do you remember all that stuff about ‘chin up and keep smiling, they didn’t mean to hurt you, don’t think about it and it’ll go away, children forget so easily, it’s all my fault…?’ I really believed it. I really believed that if I stopped thinking about you, you would just fade away and disappear”.

A fierce grin. “But I didn’t.”

“No, you didn’t. And I’m glad you didn’t, for you are my core. I have met many people who have managed to shut away the hurting child inside, and there is something missing in them. Thank you for refusing to be shut away. What does that make you?”

“Rude? Pushy? Do you really mean it? Can I say … persevering?”

“You are a brave and persevering child. And much more than that. And I love you..”

“Is that possible?”

“Yes. I love you. There has been a wall of guilt between you and my love for you. Now I know that the only thing that can crumble that wall, is responsibility. I have to own what I have done to you. See how much I have hurt you. Not hide between a wall of explanations and logic. I have been afraid of you, I have tried to escape from you. What does that make me?”


“That’s right. I am weak. And I am not going to ask you to forgive me or trust me or anything. I am not going to promise never to hurt you. But I am going to see you. Hear you. Experience what you have experienced.”

“Do you promise never to shut me away in the cellar again?”

“I think I have to promise something else: If something happens that makes me shut you away, I’m going to tell you. Then you’ll know that it’s not your fault. Then we can continue later.”

“It is so painful. I have lived this. It hurts to be made invisible by someone who is just going to hear about it.”

“It is painful. It is very painful. And you are very brave.”

“I am brave. I thought I was a coward, but I am brave. I also thought I was sinful and bad. Please don’t laugh … that hurts so terribly. Why do you laugh and make fun of us?”

“I think we laugh to make children invisible. We make fun of the things we are trying to escape from. And we make fun of the things we don’t understand. You are really quite improbable … you have survived.”

“Yes, I have survived. And I know what I want you to do for me: Listen to me. Believe what I say. Do something about it. Show me that I can trust you.”

(c) 1986, Ingrid Johanne Vaalund