Updated: Aug 3, 2020
I thought I'd write a piece more or less in the spirit of the founders of this tech and provide more synthesis on all the ideas I've found essential to getting a fuller understanding of mental health and human growth in the particular fashion as I've come to see it.
Hershel Toomim, the guy who coined the HEG, belonged to a group of people calling themselves the "Human Potential Movement." Before it was a corporate motivational speaker and self-help book trope, essentially this was a bunch of transcendentalists and humanistic psychologists who believed that most humans were not pushing anywhere near their real capacity for creativity, social organization, and fulfillment. They believed we could all steer the conversation culturally toward a place that would hold these principles of human growth and equality much closer to create a more inclusive and progressive environment to explore the world and what we could truly accomplish as a more united people.
We went to the moon, we control the land, sea, and air, we have amazing computers and amazing media, we have modern medicine, and most of us can learn and do anything we set our sights on using our modern information networks (given that we have access). These are feats of collective action brought about only by a lot of driven people working against the tides of decay and militant power structures in society so that we may continue this conversation today but with better language and more people able to engage on a more level playing field.
These collective feats took action, organization, compassion, swiftness, and a lot of good people in good health. When a society becomes fragmented, we lose all of that. When you and me and everyone else spend more of our time suffering than growing, we won't see our own moon landings or grand adventures and discoveries, we won't even really feel a point to this experience. The thesis of the human potential people was that turning our sights toward bringing ourselves up in a fuller way would then lead to us helping bring up others in complete earnest. Then that would lead to broad-based social change that would then accelerate all of the projects of humanity that really make us an amazing species and make it such a joy to be alive - beyond creature comforts and peckish humility, and into a grand infinity.
In the original Hermetic narrative from their Corpus, we have a fictional conversation between the hypothetical perfect student and the hypothetical perfect teacher. The perfect teacher is a maximally-enlightened being - Hermes Trismegistus - and the perfect student is a medicine man in training - Asclepius - whom we base our universal medical symbol off of, the caduceus. The reason the perfect student is a medicine man, is because in their theory the purest intentions we can have in life are to help others live and grow. Therefore, the only way for an individual to learn the deepest and most important things in life in earnest and without getting distracted or falling into despair, is to simply help others live fuller lives so that they may make a similar journey - whether that be through medicine or education or working in other forms of infrastructure.
Back to the Human Potential movement, the reason they believed raising yourself would lead to you raising others was because we are completely interconnected, and that we would be essentially forced to recognize our need to help each other in order to continue our own growth as individuals - as this isn't just about you or me, but everyone. Everything I am writing is the result of millennia of language and idea development and the careful passing along of our collected wisdom. Everything I find inspiring was the result of collective works spanning decades or even centuries, and no particular individual can get away with probably 99% of their work being derivative simply by their word choices and typical expressions, with that last 1% being a genuinely creative act. But that 1% is still something being created and added and mixed in to the human collective cultural linguistic soup and is unique to that creative individual's efforts, while that 99% is the scaffolding and the way to reach the Other. This is how progressive change happens.
Ralph Nader himself said it took all of a dozen people - him and a bunch of awesome interns - to get the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act through among others. Arguably some of the most transformative environmental laws in our country ever and it came down to a small group of very keen people who understood the collective language of law and politics and how to implant laws that are/were genuinely good for people. Some say the precedent for these environmental reforms was set by the Earthrise photo from the first Apollo landing, which finally put our blue marble into an unforgettably humbling perspective and kicked off a huge environmental and education movement worldwide. And again, this required serious collective effort to organize and you had a similarly huge collective uptake.
An issue I want to talk about is the idea that our language for this collaborative schema is horribly undeveloped. I have to rely on esoteric references and a lot of narrative to convey my ideas here where a few simple -ologies and objective-sounding tidbits of wisdom ought to convey the same thing. Sure, we're starting to see this language develop with things like "social entrepreneurship" or "behavioral economics" which are just over-inflated ways to talk about how to create progressive communal systems that aren't about "maximizing profit" or preferring hedonism and short term decision-making when faced with scarcity, like how was that ever considered "rational" in the classical economic sense? Why did we decide that was the way to educate each other about each other? It's a complete inversion of obvious choices we'd actually make when faced with hard times and meeting needs given we have some actual character and a functioning community. It only serves those who look down on others in society in the name of control and hierarchy and preserving what-is, which was indeed once a much more brutal society as you go back through Western history - though doesn't and never needed to be and has many counter-examples in other cultures.
There is a well developed language of individualism, class, and identity politics in this culture yet very little for positive collaboration outside of academic and business models - where most are horribly in need of ethical and civic restructuring. Thinking in terms of human and environmental infrastructure seems to be the way to go as it is a way to talk about safety nets and providing for each other's essential needs, and without a veneer of prestige or resource extraction and money problems in general. This is citizen science meets community harmony on a scale not often seen, with the understanding that if one of us falls we all fall with them no matter how thick of a bubble we think we have around ourselves. Every day there is less and less distance between each other through our expansive communications and economic infrastructure.
That's challenging, that seems impossible, how do you fix, well, everything? That doesn't mean everything is completely broken, just that there is a better, more universal and systemic decision-making structure that needs to be developed for everyone to learn. One which makes the best use of all of the incredible tools and services we already have - many of them having contributed to the massive reductions in poverty, ignorance, and violence worldwide, and much better general health over hundreds of years. We have had so many successes as a species and we are riding what is truly a renaissance of science, technology, and collaboration at this time. But it holds to bear that we need to develop a more practical and critical common language to realize the next steps for our society on a unified front and finally start meeting everyone's mental, physical, and spiritual needs.
I firmly believe that if we can simply come up with the right words - and if we can demonstrate these words with positive actions and an evidence-based approach to set the precedent, there's not much that can stop these new and more positive mind-virus thinking systems from finding their way into the world. As someone from a country where Abrahamic faiths are the mainstay, the first thing according to these religions were words and ideas themselves, or Logos. In Jungian psych and among Gnostics in general this is interpreted not so literally to say that our primary motivating forces are the principles we take in and let structure our awareness - therefore there is an element of absolute power about our language in how it unfolds our world as we experience it. This extends to the language of our physical bodies and the architecture of our environment, too, not just the gibberish we flap out our mouths. Those who are less trained in language are more beholden to its power, like how advertisements or emotionally manipulative media in general can be so, so overwhelming to our senses for so many of us. We become the boxes that get put up around us - whether that's by ourselves through ignorance or deliberate choice or by others or the environment, and that's an echo chamber that's quite hard to break through and many think impossible depending on circumstances.
This leads my thoughts into some other conversations I've had with so many people now about mental health and how delicate our psyche's are - and how our bodies are so beholden to our beginnings and our choices and lackings in our life. These conversations are what have gotten me so fired up on the ideas I've covered so far. Basically I have yet to meet someone my age who I find kind of interesting who isn't also saddled with crippling mental illness and a long history of therapy and psych medication or drug addiction or some other kind of deprivation. I've had my swings with depression too though nothing like so many others. The others who seem "normal" for all intents and purposes seem to be often more crippled with egocentrism and limited scope, so I tend to doubt their ultimate adaptability as well. I'm convinced it's a third to a half of us dealing with some pretty serious shit mentally, and the other half are mostly just not aware of their limited situations and would likely face the same pitfalls when pushed. The few who are educated and quite reasonable in the face of adversity are fairly far and few between. The numbers seem to support this too, by cursory readings of mental health statistics in this country by our NIMH.
The unfortunate reality is that for many there is only so much "fixing" we can do for this issue at least in one generation, our genes are stronger than our environments very often, and we only get so much candle to burn. In the cases of long term stress and trauma, deprivation and addictions, there is often permanent irreversible damage done whether to our bodies or our personalities. A lot of us sacrifice a lot of pieces of ourselves without even realizing, if it was even our choice. This is where we have to stress prevention and strong safety nets with more current information. So my conversations tend to go like this. The person I'm talking to has x diagnosis and does y therapy and/or is on any list of drugs to deal with it, and is maybe better off now than before but tends to just be coasting on what little ground they have been able to gain with what coping mechanisms they've figured out, whether clinical or habitual (usually a bit of both). I generally ask if there is some trauma association and if not it's usually something one of the parents had, but it's generally trauma associated or a mix. These people tend to have a number of other health issues associated, and often look pretty rough with many equally rough life choices. Every time I hear these stories from my peers it stabs my heart a little bit, and what I hear in the struggles being conveyed to me is a deep sense of loss and a persistent lacking. My first questions after this are usually "okay and what was your physical health like?" Generally terrible. "How well did you learn how to take care of yourself?" Not well. The next question I usually have is "and who was there for you?" Nobody. Or those who were there lacked the tools to respond. Rarely did they see if their needs were being met in the most basic ways, because the mental experience was too overwhelming, and for me that always leaves questions of what a little prevention and earlier education might have done.
For me it's easy to parse that there are a few dynamics present in every one of these stories that are universal to the human struggle. That's our needs for strong physical health, education about one's body and brain, and social safety nets if we are to succeed and meet our ideals and responsibilities. Our minds are so very delicately held in existence, and our mental development demands only the very best environments to facilitate growth and creativity, like the finest gardens and lushest wilderness. Much of mental illness begins with stress and conditioning. Symptoms often only start after a lot of exposure and deprivation then some shift in the environment that reveals someone's severe vulnerabilities, meaning so much of this story is not about us being damned by any particular pathology, but preventing often very normal but quite complex human reactions to extraordinary circumstances.
It's not just about prevention and potential either, but setting things right on Earth by a codified set of evidence-based ethics and systems that any empathetic human would agree on. So much about fixing our climate and our culture requires tending our minds and healing deep multi-generational psychological wounds, and with a renewed outlook on life, economy, and community. The universal human rights movement and the accompanying conversation of our potential as a people needs a reboot.