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Ignorant of Mind

Detail of a "Demon Queller" by Kuniyoshi, at Prints of Japan.

Contrast in the news: a report on NPR about sports psychologists and their crucial role in helping Olympic athletes prepare for competition. The conclusion of those quoted in the report was that sports psychology is essential to athletic performance, that the mind must also be trained.

How is it then that we remain ignorant of mind in other areas until, once again, tragedy makes a train wreck of people's lives? Just hours before the Winter Olympics opening ceremony, University of Alabama at Huntsville Professor Amy Bishop killed three of her colleagues and wounded three others. The "reason" appears to be her anger at not being granted tenure.

According to press reports, numerous students had issued complaints about her since she joined the faculty in 2003. Many people also, however, called the Harvard graduate, "brilliant" and one of the university's "best researchers." This brings two important points to mind--as in, these points need minding:

1) We remain untrained in recognizing signs of mental illness. The students' complaints needed not only to be reviewed, but also studied. They could have provided clues to an imbalance, a personality disorder, a chemical or neurological problem.

2) How often have you heard people excuse someone's behavior because they are "a genius," "a brainiac," or "a scientist?" Genius is is never an excuse for insanity, or for harming someone else. We have a strange way of excusing inhumane behavior when we know of someone who "performs" in some way. Picasso had a cruel streak. Einstein's brilliant and devoted wife, evidence now indicates, played a key role in the research that made the physicist so famous that his very name is now a "term" for being intelligent. Einstein left his wife to die destitute in an institution while she cared for their mentally ill son, without the resources she needed. I know of an instance where a famous German painter, who shall remain nameless for now, was so verbally abusive to an aspiring female painter that she gave up her artistic career. I have seen her work. It is more vibrant and every bit as good as that of the famous (and wealthy) teacher who treated her as a mental dart board. There may be reasons for these people's behaviors--but genius, intelligence, or artistry does not excuse or explain them. Being cruel or abandoning your family are not signs of genius. They are signs of having an unhealthy mind and / or spirit.

There is research that runs counter to what I'm saying. One example is Kate Melville's study that "established" a "Link Between Creative Genius and Mental Illness," published in 2002. Even if this is hard-proven truth, however, this information should still serve not to excuse or dismiss harmful behaviors, but to alert friends, family and staff of those geniuses.

I don't know what all the answers are. I do know what the need is. We need to be able to recognize the signs of mental illness before that illness causes physical, tragic, and irreversible damage to human life. We know the early signs of countless physical diseases. We so very much need to pay the same kind of attention and fund the same high levels of research for mental illness.

May the families of Professors Gopi K. Podila, Marilyn Ragland Davis, and Adriel Johnson find the help, care, and strength they need as they mourn the loss of their loved ones. May those still hospitalized from the wounds caused by Ms. Bishop's bullets heal, both inside and out, from this trauma.

The above image of the Demon Queller comes from a great site and shopping source for Japanese art.
Text, copyright Ysabel de la Rosa, all rights reserved.


Such an excellent post, Ysabel. I have read it twice. Thanks.


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