Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Concrete Thinking

Michael Graham at The Corner observes:

THIS FLAG IS YOUR FLAG, IT SURE AIN'T MY FLAG... That was the clear message from listeners and emailers defending the state of Virginia's policy that school children can't be forced to stand while their classmates say the Pledge of Allegiance. There's a non-partisan issue about whether or not forcing kids to stand during the Pledge means you're forcing them to make a political statement (answer: No.), but I was amazed by the many Bush-haters who argued that making a kid pledge to the flag meant he was being forced to support President Bush. One caller--who also mentioned he believes Dan Rather, so he's obviously a kook-- said that "No child should be forced to pledge allegiance to that man," GWBush. Wow. I didn't know that it was the Pledge of Allegiance to the Bush. I didn't know that it was the Flag of the Republican States of America, either. (emphasis mine)

The people Graham desribes are demonstrating "concrete thinking". Concrete thinking is the inability to abstract. For example, sometimes when a psychiatrist asks a patient to explain what the saying "people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones"means; they reply, "You might break the glass." That is a CONCRETE answer because shows that the person does not grasp the abstract meaning of the saying. Those who look beyond the actual words, to the meaning realize that the"people who live in glass houses" proverb is cautioning against 'judging lest ye be judged'. We psychiatrists have a whole host of these proverbs to help us evaluate the thought processes of people we must evaluate ("A rolling stone gathers no moss"; "Don't change horses in midstream"; "A stitch in time saves nine" etc. etc.). Concretized thinking limits a person's ability to cope with reality, because it limits their reality. Let's look at the situation regarding the U.S. Flag and U.S. President.

Like the proverbs, the actual concrete physical object of the American Flag or the physical persona of the American President stands for something more than just a piece of colored cloth, or a particular man. Pledging allegiance to the Flag means that you are pledging your allegiance to the country it symbolizes. By equating America = George W. Bush, a person is failing to grasp the abstract concept of "America"--a concept that is much more than any particular piece of cloth or any particular President.

By demonstrating respect for the Office of the President--even if you hate the particular President who is in that office--you are demonstrating respect for the country the President represents. By equating the Flag of the U.S. with the particular person of the Presidency, you are concretizing an abstract concept.

One patient I saw years ago asked me when I quoted the glass houses proverb, "why would anyone live in a glass house--that sounds awful! You may feel that GWB doesn't "represent" the concept of America and is an "awful" president or an "awful" symbol of America, and you are entitled to think that. BUT THE OFFICE HE HOLDS REPRESENTS AMERICA, JUST AS THE STARS AND STRIPES REPRESENTS AMERICA--and if you can't appreciate that, you are thinking concretely.

You may also claim that pledging allegience to the Flag of the U.S. means "pledging allegiance to that man", but you would be failing to abstract to the concept behind the action. Just as the patient who responded "you might break the glass" failed to appreciate the meaning behind the words, people who equate the individual person of George Bush (or Bill Clinton, for that matter) with "America" are missing the true meaning of the symbol and focusing on on the concrete aspect of it. Of course, some people don't just hate George Bush--they hate America, too.

To use another proverb: They can't see the forest for the trees. And if they keep cutting down and destroying all those trees that are in the way--at some point there will be no forest to see.

No comments: