In 1978, developmental psychologist Edward Tronick and his colleagues published a paper in the Journal of the American Academy of Child Psychiatry that demonstrated the psychological importance of the earliest interactions between mothers and babies. The interactions of interest involved the playful, animated and reciprocal mirroring of each other’s facial expressions. Tronick’s experimental design was simple: A mother was asked to play naturally with her 6-month-old infant. The mother was instructed to suddenly make her facial expression flat and neutral; to remain completely still, for three minutes, regardless of her baby’s activity. Mothers were then told to resume normal play. The design came to be called the “still face paradigm.”
One Saturday afternoon in the early 1980s, I was home visiting my mother who lived in a small two-bedroom apartment in the wealthy community of Rumson, New Jersey. I was in my early 30s. I was walking down Bellevue Avenue, admiring the gorgeous and stately homes partially hidden behind walls and high hedges, and as I reached Ridge Road, I stopped in front of one of these mansions. I knew it belonged to my high school musical hero, Bruce Springsteen. No, unlike what Springsteen admits doing at Graceland, I did not climb the wall and try to meet my hero. I just remember looking with a longing, a nostalgic ache, desiring something I couldn’t articulate. I guess I wished I could go inside, see Bruce in his “natural state,” hang out, get close to him, or be a fly on the wall, observing what mattered to him.
Golf seems like such a good idea, doesn’t it? It shouldn’t be the nightmare it is for so many people. Spending the morning with your friends, beautiful surroundings, playing and competing, occasionally making contact with the ball so sweet you can hardly feel it, but can only marvel at the sight of the ball doing exactly what you want it to do. No wonder so many people play it. Therefore, it’s puzzling that more people have been leaving the sport than picking it up. It’s estimated that, in 2013, 4.1 million more people quit golf than began to play it. Moreover, within each golfer this approach/avoidance tension exists as well. Too many of us have God on one shoulder and the Devil on the other. And most golfers don’t know why.
Debates over gun control vs. mental illness after a mass shooting are ridiculous kabuki dances that defy reason but have become so ingrained in our culture that their essential irrationality is invisible. The dance begins with a tragic shooting rampage by a young man dressed in camo with a semi-automatic rifle or pistol. Gun-control advocates take to the airwaves calling, again, for greater regulation. Initially, the NRA and its shills, aware of their shameful political vulnerability at this moment, are quiet “out of respect for the grieving families. Soon, however, when pressed, they begin talking about mental illness and call for a “national conversation” about how to detect, treat, and handle these disturbed individuals and others who might become like them. Eventually, when the threat of regulation gains traction, they begin to play political hardball and fight any reforms at any cost.