The Dutch House

Thirdly, the novel poses a more fundamental question over all the stories that we tell ourselves in order to make sense of our existence and give our lives a purpose.  The wonderful kind and caring Maeve, blames her step-mother, Andrea, for expelling her and her brother from the family home.

Each year one novel comes along that stands out from all the rest for its dramatic presentation of some existential truth.  Ann Pachett’s novel, “The Dutch House” would be my choice for 2020.

The Dutch House is an amazing novel for a number of reasons.  Firstly, it describes the intricate intimacy of a close sister-brother relationship in a deeply authentic manner.  The conversations, the reactions, the mutual devotion in times of crisis ring true.  There is not a false note in the relationship between Maeve and Danny from beginning to end.

 

 

Secondly, it poses a central question over the ideal of “other-centred” love or “agape” love as they tend to call it in the Christian or Catholic tradition.   In one sense, the Mother in the story abandons her children in order to escape the Dutch House and she commits to loving the poor and abandoned for the rest of her life as a sort of reparation.  Perhaps many religious vocations have been lived out in a similar kind of way.

 

Thirdly, the novel poses a more fundamental question over all the stories that we tell ourselves in order to make sense of our existence and give our lives a purpose.  The wonderful kind and caring Maeve, blames her step-mother, Andrea, for expelling her and her brother from the family home.  For the rest of her life, this is the central event that makes sense for her of everything else.  Danny shares with her this understanding but without committing himself to it.  Danny avoids really committing himself to anything other than his sister as his way of surviving.  He does marry Celeste and has two children, May and Kevin, whom he loves and cares for but not in a totally committed manner. maxresdefault

This last question about meaning becomes painfully explicit when Maeve becomes sick and the mother reappears to help to take care of her.  Maeve is over the moon as all her old hopes and dreams are returning.  Danny is much more circumspect.  In a certain sense, what seems to kill Maeve, in the end,  is the sudden decision of the Mother to take care of Andrea who descends rapidly into dementia.  Danny’s understanding of the reality is somehow closer to the elusive truth than is Maeve’s.  It is as if the truth is too painful to contemplate.

This is a powerful novel and it asks a really central question about the stories that we construct to give meaning to our lives.  However this question is posed inside the authentic life-giving sibling relationship of Maeve and Danny.  This family context grounds the question inside love.

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The Great Alone

However the real strength of this novel is in its second important characteristic.   Leni experiences the love relationship between her parents as a mystery at first.  She realizes that since Ernt returned from Vietnam, he is troubled and violent in a way that he was not before he went.  Cora loves him and tries to love him back to good mental health.  She fails. 

It was interesting to read “The Great Alone”, during this time of corona virus semi-lockdown in Battambang in Cambodia.  Kristin Hannah describes the life of one small family who decide to move to a remote region of Alaska.  They hope to begin a new life “close to nature” and far away from modern “civilization”.  Actually this family really just involves three people, Cora Allbright, her husband Ernt and their teenage daughter Leni.  Alaska

This novel rises above the level of a sophisticated romance story in two ways. Continue reading “The Great Alone”

The Long Take

But the novel’s real strength lies in the poignant vignettes of ordinary people, both men and women, whose lives have been ruined by personal or collective tragedy.  In particular, Walker tries to follow up on the experiences of fellow soldiers who end up on the bottom tier of society and are left just hanging on there until they fall off into the abyss of nothingness.

The Long Take is a most unusual novel.  Robin Robertson has penned a wonderful poetic description of a man’s spiritual journey after some horrific experiences as an Allied soldier in World War 2.  Walker’s geographical journey away from Nova Scotia to post-war Los Angeles, parallels his inner journey from contended innocence before the war to moral degradation after it.  Robertson describes the tearing down of the old quarters of the City which scatters the fragile communities living there in exquisite and compassionate detail.

The Long Take also catalogues the attempts by several movie directors to capture this sense of rapid but destructive capitalist development taking place before Walker’s eyes in the city.

But the novel’s real strength lies in the poignant vignettes of ordinary people, both men and women, whose lives have been ruined by personal or collective tragedy.  In particular, Walker tries to follow up on the experiences of fellow soldiers who end up on the bottom tier of society and are left just hanging on there until they fall off into the abyss of nothingness.  In the end, Walker simply follows them.  His fellow journalist, Pike, is simply the symbol of an evil, lurking behind always, just waiting to devour him when the time comes.0 xB4CfaulmMW_yPGi

But while this novel is a literary master-piece, I found it to be a moral kop-out.  Walker’s approach and attitude to his own and other’s suffering is the exact anti-thesis of Edith Eger in her auto-biography, “The Choice”, which I reviewed last month.  While Walker relates with kindness and compassion to those suffering loss in the dark and lonely places of Los Angeles and other cities, he can offer no real hope to those people at all, because he has none himself.

In the few, curt but sincere post-cards that Walker sends to his former fiancée, Annie MacLeod back in Nova Scotia, we catch a glimpse of what Walker could have become had he been able to overcome his own private suffering.  It is only towards the end of the novel, that we realize that his real problem is not the suffering of others but the evil acts that he himself committed during the war.  His own religious background (rosary beads at the bottom of a box) is not strong enough for him to hope for redemption.  So he simply denies himself and others that possibility.

Robertson

In the end, he can only describe the destruction of communities, of individuals and of himself.  He cannot construct anything new as those recovering through involvement in Alcoholics Anonymous may be able to do.  Walker chooses the bottle rather than the Bible.  That is why the novel is a kop-out.  There are other choices to be made.  Other choices that are more humanly authentic.

ទស្សនវិជ្ជានៃការអប់រំខាងផ្លូវចិត្ត

ថ្ងៃមួយនៅជំរំ មានលោកគ្រូពេទ្យម្នាក់ឈ្មោះ Mengele បានសុំឱ្យយុវនារី Edith រាំរបាំបាល់ឡេសម្រាប់គាត់ហើយនាងឡើងរាំជូនគាត់ទោះបីនាងដឹងថាលោកគ្រូពេទ្យទើប នឹងបញ្ជាឱ្យគេយកម្តាយរបស់នាងទៅសម្លាប់និងដុតចោលក៏ដោយ។

ខ្ញុំបានអានសៀវភៅមានចំណងជើងថា «មានជម្រើស» ឬ “The Choice”ហើយត្រូវបាននិពន្ធឡើងដោយលោកស្រី Edith Eger ជនជាតិហុងគ្រីម្នាក់កាន់សាសនាជ្វីវ ដែលបានរួចខ្លួនពីសេចក្តីស្លាប់នៅជំរំ Auchwitz នាសម័យសង្រ្គាមលោកលើកទីពីរ។ លោកស្រីបានលាក់ទុករឿងរ៉ាវអាក្រក់ទាំងនោះនៅក្នុងចិត្ត  អស់រយៈពេលជាច្រើនឆ្នាំ។ យូរឆ្នាំក្រោយមកគាត់ក៏បានសម្រេចចិត្តនិយាយពីបទពិសោធន៍ផ្ទាល់ខ្លួនរបស់គាត់​​ ហើយបានចង់ក្រងជាសៀវភៅមួយក្បាលដែលទើបនឹងបោះពុម្ពនាឆ្នាំ២០១៧ថ្មីៗនេះ។

ថ្ងៃមួយនៅជំរំ មានលោកគ្រូពេទ្យម្នាក់ឈ្មោះ Mengele បានសុំឱ្យយុវនារី Edith រាំរបាំបាល់ឡេសម្រាប់គាត់ហើយនាងឡើងរាំជូនគាត់ទោះបីនាងដឹងថាលោកគ្រូពេទ្យទើប នឹងបញ្ជាឱ្យគេយកម្តាយរបស់នាងទៅសម្លាប់និងដុតចោលក៏ដោយ។ បន្ទាប់ពីសង្រ្គាម លោកលើកទីពីរត្រូវបានបញ្ចប់​ លោកស្រីបានប្រើពេលវេលាយ៉ាងយូរមុននឹកឃើញថា           វិធីសាស្រ្តផ្សេងៗដែលគាត់ធ្លាប់ប្រើក្នុងជំរំ ដើម្បីការពារខ្លួន លែងមានប្រសិទ្ធភាព ការពារគាត់នឹងកូនរបស់គាត់ពីស្រមោលនៃអំពើឃោរឃៅអតីតកាល។ ជូនកាល ការស្តាប់ សម្លេងកញ្ចែឬសូរស្បែកជើងទាហាន ឬធំក្លិនរទេសភ្លើង ធ្វើឱ្យលោកស្រីភ័យខ្លាច ញ័រដៃញ័រជើងរន្ធត់ចិត្ត បាត់បង់ស្មារតីទាំងស្រុងនាំឱ្យកូនគាតភ័យដែរ។

លោកស្រី Egerរៀបរាប់អំពីជីវិតមិនស្រួលនៅប្រទេសហុងគ្រីក្រោមរបបកុម្មុយនិស្ត បន្ទាប់ពីការរំដោះដោយទាហានរុស្ស៊ី។ គាត់ពន្យល់អំពីការសម្រេចចិត្ត ភៀសខ្លួន ទៅប្រទេសអាមេរិចជាមួយប្តី។​ លោកស្រីបានចូលធ្វើការជាកម្មការណីនៅរោងចក្រដូច ជនអន្តោប្រវេសន៍ឯទៀតៗនៅសម័យនោះ។ ក្រោយមកលោកស្រីបានចូលរៀនអំពីចិត្តវិទ្យា នាពេលយប់។ គាត់បានអានសៀវភៅរបស់មនុស្សម្នាក់ ដែលធ្លាប់ឆ្លងកាត់ការរស់នៅក្នុងជំរំ ដ៏សាហាវដូចគាត់។​  សៀវភៅមានចំណងជើងថា “Man’s Search for Meaning” និពន្ធដោយលោក Victor Frankl  ។ សៀវភៅនោះបានជំរុញគាត់ឱ្យរិះគិតកាន់តែស៊ីជម្រៅអំពីអត្ថន័យ នៃបទពិសោធន៍ក្នុងដំណើរជីវិតរបស់គាត់។

បន្ទាប់ពីរៀនចប់ លោក​ស្រីចាប់ផ្ដើមព្យាបាលមនុស្សដែលមានវិបត្តិធ្ងន់ធ្ងរខាងផ្លូវចិត្ត។ គាត់មានរបៀបថែទាំនិងថ្នាក់ថ្នមផ្ទាល់ខ្លួនចំពោះអតីតទាហានមួយចំនួន ដែលគ្រូពេទ្យធម្មតាព្យាបាលពុំកើត។​ ដំបូងឡើយ លោកស្រីអញ្ជើញអ្នកជំងឺរៀបរាប់ អំពីបទពិសោធន៍នៃហឹង្សារបស់ខ្លួនដោយពុំមានភាពអៀនខ្មាស់ ដើម្បីឱ្យពួកគេយល់ អំពីដំណើរនៃជីវិត។ បន្ទាប់មក លោកស្រីរិះគិតពិចារណាអំពីពាក្យពេច ទាំងប៉ុន្មានដែលអ្នកជំងឺបាននិយាយប្រាប់ ព្រមទាំងពិនិត្យមើលចលនាខាងផ្លូវចិត្តរបស់ខ្លួន ដើម្បីជៀសវាងការវិនិច្ឆ័យនិងបកស្រាយខុស  ឆ្គង។ លោកស្រីអះអាងថាយើងត្រូវទទួលស្គាល់ថា​ «ទាំងអារម្មណ៍ ឬមនោសញ្ចេតនា ទាំងរបៀបគិតគូពីកុមារភាព» កំពុងជះឥទ្ធិពលនិង គ្រប់គ្រងលើឥរីយាបទនិងសកម្មភាពប្រចាំថ្ងៃរបស់យើងដោយមិនដឹងខ្លួន។  ការនិយាយគ្នាដើម្បីចែករំលែកពីអារម្មណ៍និងការវិភាគបែបនេះអាចនាំឱ្យកើតឡើងនូវគំហឹងឬបំណងចង់សង់សឹកបាន​ ប៉ុន្តែនៅពេលដែលអ្នកជំងឺទុកចិត្តលើអ្នកព្យាបាល នោះការចែកបទពិសោធន៍រវាងមនុស្សពីរនាក់ អាចនាំឱ្យអ្នកជំងឺនឹកឃើញពីភាពអាណិតអាសូរ និងសេចក្ដីស្រឡាញ់ចំពោះអ្នកដទៃ ហើយឈានទៅដល់ការលើកលែងទោសឱ្យមនុស្សដែលធ្លាប់ធ្វើអាក្រក់មកលើគេ។ តាមមធ្យោបាយនេះ ទាំងអ្នកជំងឺ​ផង ទាំងគ្រូពេទ្យផង អាចទទួលការព្យាបាលរហូតទាល់តែជាសះស្បើយពីរបួសខាងផ្លូវចិត្ត ។

មានសំណួរមួយដែលត្រូវសួរខ្លួនឯងថា «តើខ្ញុំចង់បានអ្វីមួយអោយពិតប្រាកដ?»។ ដើម្បីឆ្លើយតបនឹងសំណួរនេះឱ្យបានច្បាស់លាស់ ទាល់តែខ្ញុំរិះគិតលើមនោសញ្ចេតនាច្របូកច្របល់នៅខាងក្នុងដើម្បីឱ្យអារម្មណ៍ស្ងប់សិន ទើបខ្ញុំអាចសង្កេតមើលបំណងប្រាថ្នាចម្បងរបស់ខ្ញុំបាន។ បន្ទាប់ពីឆ្លើយសំណួរចម្បងនេះហើយ សំណួរបន្តទៀតចេញមកដោយងាយ។ «តើសកម្មភាពរបស់ខ្ញុំសព្វថ្ងៃ កំពុងជួយខ្ញុំឱ្យសម្រេចនូវបំណងប្រាថ្នាចម្បងឬយ៉ាងណា?» តាមលោកស្រី Eger ជាធម្មតាយើងត្រូវឆ្លើយខ្លួនឯងថា «មិនមែនទេ»។ មកដល់កម្រិតនេះ ច្បាស់ថាយើងត្រូវផ្លាស់ប្តូរឥរិយាបថប្រចាំរបស់យើងហើយត្រូវលះបង់សកម្មភាពអត់ប្រយោជន៍ចោល។  រឿងនេះជាមូលហេតុដែលលោកស្រីហៅសៀវភៅរបស់គាត់ថា «មានជម្រើស»។  ជម្រើសនេះគឺមានតែរូបខ្ញុំផ្ទាល់ទេដែលអាចសម្រេចបាន ហើយខ្ញុំនៅតែមានសមត្ថភាពធ្វើ។ គ្មានអ្នកណាផ្សេងទៀតអាចជំនួសខ្ញុំបានឡើយ។

ជំពូកដែលគួររំភើពចិត្តជាទីបំផុតនោះគឺ ចំពេលដែលលោកស្រីធ្វើដំណើរត្រឡប់ទៅជំរំដ៏សាហាវ Auchwitz ម្តងទៀត។ បងស្រីបង្កើតរបស់គាត់មិនព្រមទៅជាមួយឡើយ។ មកដល់អតីតជំរំហើយ លោកស្រីបានរំលឹករឿងអាក្រក់ទាំងអស់ដែលបានកើតឡើងចំពោះគាត់។ លោកស្រីពន្យល់អំពីចម្លើយខុសឆ្គងរបស់គាត់មួយ​ ក្នុងពេលដែលលោកគ្រូពេទ្យដ៏សាហាវម្នាក់សួរគាត់ថា «តើស្រ្តីម្នាក់នេះជា ម្តាយឬជាបងស្រី?»​​។ សម័យនោះលោកស្រីអាយុតែ១៥ ឆ្នាំ គាត់បានឆ្លើយថា «ជាម្តាយ»។ ដូច្នេះហើយគ្រូពេទ្យបញ្ជាអោយទាហានអាឡឺមង់យកម្តាយលោកស្រីទៅសម្លាប់ចោលភ្លាម ដោយចាត់ទុកថាគាត់ជាមនុស្សចាស់មិនអាចធ្វើការធ្ងន់បានឡើយ។ លោកស្រីត្រូវសុំទោសម្តាយដោយបានឆ្លើយសំណួរខុស។

មានបងប្អូនខ្មែរច្រើននាក់ដែលបានចែករំលែកពីបទពិសោធន៍របស់ពួកគេនាសម័យខ្មែរក្រហម ដោយបានប្រាប់អំពីសមាជិកក្រុមគ្រួសាររបស់ខ្លួនដែលត្រូវបានគេវាយប្រហារជីវិតឬស្លាប់ដោយសារអត់អាហារ ក៏ប៉ុន្តែ​កម្រមានមនុស្សទទួលសារភាពថា «ខ្ញុំសោកស្តាយទង្វើផ្ទាល់ខ្លួនដែលខ្ញុំធ្លាប់ប្រព្រឹត្តនាសម័យខ្មែរក្រហមនៅឡើយទេ»។ អ្នកគូរគំនូរខ្មែរឈ្មោះ វ៉ាន់ណាត់ ធ្លាប់ណែនាំការិះគិតពិចារណាឡើងវិញចំពោះអំពើទាំងប៉ុន្មានដែលបានកើតឡើងនៅពន្ធនាគារទួលស្លែងរបស់ខ្មែរក្រហម ហៅថា S21 តាមឯកសារទូរទស្សន៍។ ចំពោះមុខឆ្មាំចាស់របស់គាត់ ពួកគេពិតជាពិបាកទទួលស្គាល់អំពើអាក្រក់ឃោរឃៅដែលពួកគេធ្លាប់ប្រព្រឹតទៅលើបងប្អូនខ្មែរសុចតិតទៀងត្រង់ ទោះបីលោកវ៉ាន់ណាត់សួរសំណួរដោយរបៀបទន់ផ្លន់ស្លូតបូតយ៉ាងណាក៏ដោយ។ ពួកឆ្មាំតែងតែចាត់ទុកអ្នកជាប់ឃុំឃាំងថា​ជា «ខ្មាំង» មិនមែនជាមនុស្សស្មើនឹងពួកគេទេ។

vann nath

ចំណុចខ្លាំងក្នុងសៀវភៅរបស់លោកស្រី Eger គឺជាការអំពាវនាវដល់យើងម្នាក់ៗឱ្យទទួលខុសត្រូវចំពោះរាល់ការសម្រេចចិត្តរបស់យើងនៅក្នុងឆាកជីវិត កុំឱ្យយើងផ្ទេរការទទួលខុសត្រូវនេះដល់អ្នកផ្សេង។ រាល់ព្រឹកយើងមានឳកាសដើម្បីជ្រើសរើសការរីកចម្រើនជាមនុស្សដោយសម្តែងសេចក្តីស្រឡាញ់ តែបើយើងជ្រើសរើសយកការបដិសេធមិនព្រមបង្ហាញសេចក្តីស្រឡាញនោះ យើងនឹងប្រែពីសភាពជាមនុស្ស វិលត្រឡប់ទៅរកសភាពជាសត្វវិញ។

 

The Choice

It turns out that all the positive thinking tricks that Edith Eger used to survive in the camp with her sister Magda are not so helpful later on as she tries to cope with the after effects of trauma and prevent it from harming her children.

This Christmas, I received the gift of a book which I will count as a priceless treasure.  It broaches the issue of psychological trauma head on and comes out on the other side with a human way of processing things.  The book is called “The Choice” and it was authored by Edith Eger, a Hungarian Jewess, who survived Auchwitz (just about) and took a long time to tell her story.  Her book was only published in 2017.

 

When I arrived into the Cambodian refugee camps in Thailand during 1986, the malevolent presence of the Khmer Rouge was still tangible.  Fear and insecurity crippled people’s thinking processes.  I remember listening to stories where a family member routinely described the death and disappearance of other family members in a passionless, robotic manner which prevented any real sharing in sadness or grief.

People were still surviving as isolated monads and were only slowly readjusting from horrific trauma to relative peace.

Over the past few years, I have read many books which have broached these issues in various ways.  Among those which have lingered in the memory longest are “The Book Thief” by Marcus Zuzak and “In the Shadow of the Banyan” by Vaddey Ratner.

What really impressed me about Edith Eger’s life-story in “The Choice” was its rigorous honesty in self-examination.  I found a resonance similar to testimonies of people who have recovered from long-term debilitating addictions or violent abuse of different types.  There is no hint of false romanticism on these pages.

Once the young Edith is asked by Dr. Mengele to perform a ballet dance for him which she does even though she knows that it was he who had ordered the killing of her mother.     Eger describes how the malevolent power of evil infiltrated the lives of the innocent in Auchwitz and somehow managed to remain buried in painful memories inside her mind that were never aired or shared.  Later panic attacks would occur in response to sounds or sights like sirens or train carriages etc.

Eger also describes life in Communist Hungary after “liberation”.  She explains her dramatic and brave decision to emigrate to America with nothing, rather than to Israel where the family wealth had already been sent.  Her husband Bela followed her.  She works in manual labour for a few years like so many other immigrants.  Slowly she finds her way to study and eventually to Psychiatry.  Victor Frankl’s book “Man’s Search for Meaning” played a role in her spiritual journey.

However it is clear in her personal care for the individual “troubled” patients, that she finds her own way.  Firstly, she helps these individuals to understand themselves more deeply.  Then, secondly, she comes to understand herself more deeply by thinking about what they said.  She argues that we need to recognize how both “feelings” and “thinking” are influencing or controlling our behavior patterns.   This process of sharing and analysis can itself be traumatic as the feelings can be explosive or dangerous.  However only by a patient sharing and re-sharing of these feelings in a human relationship can we rediscover wholeness in our wounded humanity.

The thinking patterns also need to be analysed and examined.  It is interesting to note that the most important question to be answered deep down is “What do I really want”.  Once I have crossed the stormy sea of tumultuous feelings and so can see clearly what I really want and am striving for, the next question falls into place easily.  Are my present behavior patterns helping or hindering my journey towards what I want or not?  In most cases the answer is no. So change is required.  Hence “The Choice”.   It is mine to make and I have the power to make it.  No one else can make it for me.  While her perspective is medical and scientific, a remote faith perspective remains.  At one point Dr. Eger will say, “I do not just receive patients.  I feel that they are sent to me”.  When all else fails, she will pray.

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One of the most moving passages in the book is where the  mature Dr. Edith Eger returns to Auschwitz for a visit and remembers everything.  Here she describes her own actions and her own innocent mistake which resulted in the death of her mother.  Many Cambodians have shared with me their traumatic experiences during the Khmer Rouge time and how their family members died or were killed. Yet, I have not heard someone say “I really regret what I did during the Khmer Rouge time”.

The Khmer artist, Vann Nath, led a deep reflection on the evil of the Khmer Rouge in a documentary on the notorious S21 Tuol Slaeng prison.   It was hard for his former guards to take responsibility for their actions even under his gentle questioning.

The real strength of Dr. Eger’s book is that it invites to take a radical personal responsibility for our choices in life.  Each new day offer us a choice to grow up or to grow down.

Where the Crawdads Sing

At Christmas, my sister sent me a novel to read.  The title was “Where the Crawdads Sing” and it was written by Delia Owens.   It takes place along the coast of North Carolina. The novel tells the story of Kya, a girl who was abandoned in the marsh by her mother, her siblings and finally by her father when she was still only a small child. 

At Christmas, my sister sent me a novel to read.  The title was “Where the Crawdads Sing” and it was written by Delia Owens.   It takes place along the coast of North Carolina. The novel tells the story of Kya, a girl who was abandoned in the marsh by her mother, her siblings and finally by her father when she was still only a small child.  “Jumpin”, an old Black man running a small store helps her.Abandoned-Cabin-Picture-Of-Jean-Lafitte-Swamp-Tours

The unusual strength of this novel is that we learn to discover the beauty, mystery and interior life of the plants and animals of the marsh through Kya’s eyes as she fends for herself to survive there alone. The author describes Kya’s resilience and deep isolation leading to severe and crippling loneliness in a sensitive and credible manner.  At the same time the author describes the prejudice and negative judgments that the local people demonstrate towards her.  With the help of one childhood friend, Tate, Kya learns to read and to express herself and her scientific curiosity in paintings. 1-Francis-Marion-saltmarsh-edited-KG-580x390

While the novel beautifully describes life in the marsh and almost becomes an ode to its natural preciousness, it also portrays the harshness of a life of poverty on the edges of society with an acuity similar to that of Barbara Kingsolver and Marilynne Robinson.

However while I found the characters credible and varied, I felt that they were somehow more caricatures than real people.  In English literature, the novels “Middlemarch” and “the Portrait of a Lady”, portray loneliness among a variety of real characters to the most depth.  In this sense prize-winning modern novels, like “Where the Crawdads Sing”, pale in comparison.

The novel could open a reflection on the more general theme of abandonment of remote rural farmers by a technologically connected society that is no longer human.  I still remember visiting former Cambodian soldiers in remote rural areas who had suffered mine injuries and were disabled.  While some flourished with the love of their family or spouse to envelop them, some were abandoned to survive on their own.  I still remember one man, a double amputee, sitting on his remote shack on stilts breaking down in tears as he described how his wife had abandoned him and left him all alone. where-the-crawdads-sing-8.jpg

Social Anxiety and Shyness

It is clear that many Cambodian young people experience high levels of stress. Many are fearful and will not speak in public. It is at least possible that respect for authority has been so strongly internalized by them that it has become a paralysis, preventing the young people from acting creatively and freely in society.

A friend of mine recommended a book by Gillian Butler entitled “Overcoming Social Anxiety and Shyness”.  I finished it this morning.  It was a good read.

It seems that there are many people who suffer silently from a paralyzing fear of certain type of social events (yours truly included) and the book accurately describes the thoughts, feelings and behavior patterns of those caught in the cycle of these types of fear.  In a simple but clear manner the author lays out a few simple clear self-help strategies to encourage people first to face and then to overcome these paralyzing fears.

The first strategy is to reduce self-consciousness by steering one’s attention away from the inner emotional turmoil to the actual context in which one is actually experiencing paralysis.  The second strategy is to alter the “automatic” thinking processes triggered by the event, especially the negative ones.  The third strategy is to try to do things a little differently by not engaging in “avoidance” behaviours.  These strategies will eventually encourage a growth in confidence in one’s ability to “weather the storms”.    The book develops each of these strategies in considerable detail.   Each strategy is accompanied by a work-sheet so that one can work through the steps in a methodical manner. Continue reading “Social Anxiety and Shyness”