I just learned that Theodore Roszack died this past July in his California home at the age of 77 from liver cancer.
I’ll miss him. I’ll miss his wisdom, his perspective, his call to therapists everywhere to respond to the “madness involved in urban industrial society that has to do with our lack of balance and integration with the natural environment…” He urged us to join those ecologists and environmentalists who warn that we’re on a path of self-destruction. He implored us not to remain so focused on our clients’ individual issues that we failed to confront the wounds inflicted by a “deeply toxic” culture. In an interview with Jeffrey Mishlove on Thinking Allowed, he encouraged us to find out why ordinary people are engaging in behaviors that are so destructive. To ask, “how did we lose our intimate connection to the natural world?” And “what drives us so fiercely towards material gain at the expense of community, spirituality, health, morality, and so very much more?” And he adviced us to listen very carefully to the answers as closely and as genuinely as we listen to the stories of our clients.
He pointed out that while our mental health system was focused on trauma, pathology and illness for so long, there have always been those who’ve maintained that, “the deeper you look inside, the more reason you find for joy, for celebration; that the foundations for human nature are clean and good and innocent and creative.” He asked us, as mental health professionals, to lead the way in helping people move away from the burdens of shame and guilt and original sin and towards what psychoanalyst Eric Fromme called, biophilia — the love of humanity and life. If we were to fall in love with the beauty that’s contained both within the natural world and within ourselves, we’d be far more proactive in caring for ourselves, our planet, and one another.
In an interview on PBS which focused on ideas from his first book, an examination of the revolutionary youth movement of the sixties entitled, “The Making of a Counter Culture,” Roszac suggested that if the ethos of the sixties had prevailed today, “it would be a world, where people lived gently on the planet without the sense that they have to exploit nature or make war upon nature in order to find basic security. It would be a simpler way of life, less urban, less consumption-oriented, and much more concerned about spiritual values, about companionship, friendship, community. Community was one of the great words of this period, getting together with other people, solving problems, enjoying one another’s company, sharing ideas, values, insights. And if that’s not what life is all about, if that’s not what the wealth is for, then we are definitely on the wrong path.”
He called on therapists such as myself in his book, “The Voice of the Earth: An Exploration of Ecopsychology,” and he called on boomers such as myself in his last book, “The Making of an Elder Culture: Reflections on the Future of America’s Most Audacious Generation,” to relaim the spirit that was very much alive in the sixties, the one that “questioned rather deeply the cultural standards of the time. He asked us now that we are becoming elders to revive the energy and commitment we had back when we were young to work to birth a better and more just world.
I will miss you Theodore. I took you for granted. I was too self absobed to fully hear your message. And now, as is all too often the case with we humans, you got my full attention only when I found out that you had left me. I’m listening now with both a sad and grateful heart….
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