October 18, 2012

How not to kill yourself

Every so often I teach a college class in sociology, often on the topic of "Deviance and Social Control." One of the topics usually covered is suicide. Sometimes I bring in literary readings, including Hamlet's "To be or not to be" speech (soliloquy being too difficult a word to spell); a section of Herman Hesse's Steppenwolf (not to be confused with the 70s rock group); and good old Moby-Dick.

Of the three, Moby has the best practical advice for people who may have self destructive thoughts but want to avoid acting them out. He has a safety plan. Safety plans are familiar to people working in the field of domestic violence. Potential victims are encouraged to devise a plan for escape if things ever get bad enough. As I understand it, even batterers undergoing treatment in intervention and prevention programs are encouraged to use safety plans when they feel the tension level rising. It's a way of getting the hell out of a situation when before the situation gets to you.

Ishmael, the windy narrator of Melville's classic, has his own safety plan when he gets a bit too morbid:

 Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off- then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship.
Maybe going off to sea on a whaling ship isn't the best option for people today when the hypos get the upper hand, but the basic idea is a good one. When things go bad, break the pattern.

We're just on the first paragraph of this greatest American novel and there's already been a potentially life saving tip. Who knows what else we'll find.

HERE'S ANOTHER GOOD IDEA: to wit, how not to give away the store and wind up with nothing when it comes to economic development incentives.

GOVERNMENT: WHAT IS IT GOOD FOR? Here are some ideas

SPEAKING OF READING, here's a look at how important it can be for the brain development of children. I say, make the little ones read Moby-Dick! (Actually, I think I did read a kid's version when I was young, which might explain a lot.)



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