I just finished reading an article, Remembering Michael Kelly, by Bret Stephens, a journalist for the Wall Street Journal. Michael Kelly was a grown-up version of Holden Caulfield, a man who despised phonies, but unlike Holden, he was courageous enough to actually do something about it.
While embedded with the troops outside of Baghdad, he wrote, “To march against the war is not to give peace a chance. It is to give tyranny a chance.” Kelly died in Iraq, in 2003, a courageous man backing up his words with his actions.
When Frank Sinatra died in 1998, everyone mourned Old Blue Eyes except Michael Kelly. Kelly hated Frank because he had invented Cool and Cool had replaced Smart. “Cool said the old values were for suckers… Cool didn’t go to war; Saps went to war, and anyway, cool had no beliefs he was willing to die for. Cool never, ever, got into a fight it might lose; cool had friends who could take care of that sort of thing.”
What was Smart? “Smart was Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca: He possessed an outward cynicism, but at his core he is a square… He is willing to die for his beliefs, and his beliefs are, although he takes pains to hide it, old-fashioned. He believes in truth, justice, the American way and love… Where there is a war, he goes to it.”
Psychiatry at its core is a medical specialty that values discovering the underlying truth and freeing a person from the bondage of hidden secrets. The cool quick fix of “just take a Xanax and chill” is not what most psychiatrists believe. The work of untangling the hidden past, in the end can free us to think and make decisions based on a reasoned approach to truth rather than the way we were programmed by our parents and society. I guess Michael Kelly and psychiatry have a lot in common. Not that I don’t appreciate Frank Sinatra’s contribution, I do, but I also appreciate the way an honest man thinks.
So, as I listen to Frankie croon, My Way, I think about wearing my old Armani sports jacket and decide instead to put on a pair of jeans and a battered leather jacket. Is that cool or smart? Maybe it just doesn’t matter. Maybe what’s really important is to just be myself. We’re all works-in-progress and to develop new approaches to life and keep learning is what’s important. It’s what’s important in my office and what’s important out of the office. I toast all free thinkers who aren’t afraid to learn and apply what they’ve learned, even though it may not be PC.
Special thanks to Dr. Bernard Feldman, definitely a free thinker, who gave me a copy of Bret Stephens’ article.
Art Smukler MD is the author of Skin Dance, a mystery, Chasing Backwards, a psychological murder mystery, The Man with a Microphone in his Ear, and the blog, Inside the Mind of a Psychiatrist.