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  1. #1
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    Kilt Wearing Can Promote Mental Health

    Kilt Wearing and Mental Health

    Caveat: One’s views about just about anything and everything are colored by perspectives shaped by personal and professional history and experience, cultural issues of both time and place, and many other personal and interpersonal factors too many to list. In my own case, some of these consist of being born in a Naval Hospital near San Francisco just before the close of World War II, being raised in a lower middle class home in southern California during the 1950s and early 1960s, serving in the United States Navy (Vietnam) and subsequently pursuing an academic and practice career in philosophy, science, and the mental health professions which has afforded me the opportunity to live in or visit not only many places throughout the United States but also to experience many other cultures in the world. What all this amounts to is this: I have learned all too well through both personal and professional experience that the opportunities for understanding or misunderstanding and acceptance or rejection of ourselves and others abound. It all depends on what kind of opportunities one is looking for and willing to accept. Add to this this irony: The ability to communicate through the complex phenomenon we call language is, as far as we know, a uniquely human trait. It can facilitate some of the most intimate sharing and closeness imaginable -- the sharing of one’s mind, spirit, soul, or in other words, of one’s very “self.” Unfortunately, it can also lead to one of the most painful and destructive of human experiences: alienation. Words are neither static nor absolute. Even the technical word ‘mass,’ for example means very different things in the physics of Newton, Einstein, and quantum physics let alone what it connotes to a Roman Catholic. In order for real communication to take place, both the speaker and hearer (writer and reader) must have the same understanding of the terms they use. If they do not, the consequences can feel as explosive as that represented by E=mc2. In face-to-face dialogue there is at least the possibility of correcting any unintentional misunderstandings. In writing/print there usually is not. Internet “communications” (email, social networking sites etc) are subject to their own peculiar problems, as anyone who has ever been misunderstood, gotten their feelings hurt or unintentionally hurt someone else knows. The attempt to understand human attitudes, beliefs and behaviors and to promote understanding among human attitudes, beliefs and behaviors is not rocket science. It is much harder than that! With that said and with your understanding, I shall now try to explain why kilt wearing can promote your own as well as your community‘s “mental health.”

    Responsibility, Acceptance, Guilt and Shame

    People are upset not by things, but rather by the views they take of them.” This expression, stated by Epictetus in first century Rome and based upon principles drawn from Socrates, has become the cornerstone of the modern clinical practice known as “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).”1 In essence, it is saying that it is we ourselves, individually and collectively, who are responsible for our views and feelings about ourselves, others, and the world. In short, if you are upset, you have upset yourself and have no one else to blame. This does not mean that one should never be upset or that being upset is always bad or inappropriate, only that it is always something for which one is ultimately responsible oneself.2 Unfortunately, the “choice” to be upset may not always be a conscious or explicit one. In fact and unfortunately, it is frequently neither. That is why this ancient and fundamental observation about human beliefs and emotional well-being must be paired with the equally fundamental and ancient injunction to “Know thyself.” Why and how am I upsetting myself? Is it something I really want to do? Is it appropriate? Is it worth it?

    There are many many ways of being upset. One of the most painful is being upset or uncomfortable with oneself. Unconditional self acceptance is not always easy but in the end, you are the only person you have to live with for as long as you live (exist) and if that relationship is a difficult one, how much more so any others in your life? You bring the relation you have with yourself to every other relation in your life. Two things that sometimes get in the way of our acceptance of ourselves are guilt and shame [and of others -- blaming and shaming].

    Guilt and shame are not the same. Properly speaking, guilt is related to a sense of moral transgression experienced “internally,” like an inner voice accusing us or holding us accountable for some ethical wrong we have done. Shame on the other hand is experienced as more of an “external” phenomenon characterized by a concern with how others might see us and can be aroused by nothing more than failure to conform to some aesthetic standard of taste. Ethics and aesthetics are not the same. The first involves issues of responsibility for harm done to oneself or others; the second concerns issues of style or personal taste. There is a huge and categorical difference between the two yet many people confuse them, particularly by acting as though issues of mere aesthetics are somehow or other violations of ethics. Enjoying beating or humiliating someone is very different from preferring a certain kind of food, art, music, dress style or any one of many other personal activities and desires. Social sanctions against the first case are healthy and appropriate, they are neither healthy nor appropriate in the second. Determining if someone is (or isn’t) appropriately experiencing a sense of guilt (realistically assessing moral responsibility) can sometimes be difficult. Some people experience too much (inappropriately hold themselves responsible), others too little (don’t’ take responsibility where it is due).3 A self defeating sense of shame (embarrassment, or even un-comfortableness with or about oneself) is almost always inappropriate and unhealthy. Yet, it can be a pervasive and powerful force both psychologically and socially. Learning to overcome it can be an important step toward unconditional self acceptance -- a somewhat fancy way of saying “being able to feel comfortable with oneself.” To that end, CBT practitioners frequently employ what they call “shame attacking exercises.”4

    A shame attacking exercise consists simply of learning to be comfortable with oneself in public while being a potential object of attention. The only “rules” are that whatever one does to draw such attention is not something that is illegal, harms anyone or would lose you a valued job or relationship; in other words, purely practical consequences. Otherwise -- go for it.

    In clinical settings, people are frequently encouraged to do something that for some reason or other, they “feel somewhat uncomfortable about.” Which, in the wide range of human concerns and feelings might be almost anything. Dressing in a manner that might draw attention to oneself is a common example.

    So, what typically happens to someone during a shame attacking exercise? Basically, nothing, at least not anything tragic and usually not even anything remotely negative. In fact, they can lead to some very positive experiences, not the least of which is learning to feel more comfortable and accepting of oneself -- and others. For example, one fellow walked around his town dressed in a business suit holding a large yellow feather above his head. What happened? Some people didn’t even seem to notice him, others noticed but benignly ignored him, a few looked at him strangely, fewer still made unkind comments but otherwise went quietly on their way, some stopped and asked him why he was holding a yellow feather above his head. He also met new people and made new friends. Sound familiar? Anyone who has worn a kilt in public (other than at highlands games or other obviously “Scottish” places or functions) will have had very similar experiences.

    What does any of this have to do with “mental health?” The concept of health, mental or otherwise, is complex and at times controversial. However, among the characteristics universally recognized as an essential aspect of it is adaptability -- the ability to adjust and function comfortably under conditions of environmental variety or change. It is basically the opposite of rigidity. Closed, rigid and intolerant individuals or communities are usually also fearful, un-accepting and unhealthy ones. Variety is not only the spice of life; it is also its substance.

    Wearing your kilt in public can be not only good for you, it can also be good for your community. The more a community learns to accept (not be judgmental, rejecting or fearful of) those who, for whatever reasons, “don’t fit the mold,” the more it and all the people who live in it can feel at ease, comfortable, safe, secure and better able to distinguish real threats from imaginary ones. A community’s health is a function of the people who live in it. Confident, non-threatened and non-threatening individuals help improve a community’s health not only by being members but also by setting an example for others. One of my professors and colleague (and the best psychiatrist I have ever known) used to say “mental illness is contagious.” So is mental health.

    In the relatively short time I have been a member of XMarks, I have noticed a number of recurring themes in posts having to do with “wearing the kilt in public” and what one should wear or look like when doing so. There is even a forum for “Putting It On Properly.” These are frequently quite informative and entertaining especially when conducted in a spirit of playful comradery and mutual respect, as is most often the case. [I attribute much of this to the rules of the forum and the work of its staff and moderators as well as the fine character of our members.] However, occasionally there can be what at least seems to be some degree of tension and not always the cordiality and mutual acceptance and respect for which one might hope. Different points of view are good. They help us expand our experience and understanding. However, when the specter of “shoulds” emerges (as for example whether I should have spelled specter as spectre), there is the possibility not only for innocent misunderstanding or differing expressions of aesthetic taste but disagreements which can lead to various kinds and degrees of “upsetness.” The word and even the unexpressed (and sometimes even unconscious) idea of should is slippery and potentially divisive. For example, saying that one “should” wear this or that, irrespective of context or appeal to legitimate reasons of consequence, can be or at least can come across as a form of dictatorial demandingness.5 Such demanding attitudes are good neither for those toward whom they are directed and still less so for those from whom they come. If you want to find the source of just about any human “upsetness” (especially anger) --“cherchez la should” -- look for the “should.” It is virtually impossible to become angry or upset without making some kind of “should” judgment at its source. If you want to be healthy, happy and have healthy happy relationships (even, or perhaps most especially, with yourself), take care that your “shoulds” are ones really worth the cost. “I will not should on myself (or anyone else) today” is a mantra worth practicing. May you always be happy and healthy in your kilt -- however and wherever you wear it.

    Paul W. Sharkey, PhD, MPH (aka O’Searcaigh)
    Professor Emeritus

    Notes:

    1. This statement is made in the Enchiridion or “handbook of Epictetus” (a handbook for living). {See: (1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enchiridion_of_Epictetus
    (2) http://classics.mit.edu/Epictetus/epicench.html }. It presents some of the basic principles and teachings of Stoic philosophy. The main focus of the Cynics, Stoics, Skeptics and Epicureans of ancient Greece was upon finding principles by which to live a “good life,” all claiming to be built upon the example of Socrates. Though they differed in emphasis and on a number of fine points, they all agreed that the purpose of philosophy is the achievement of “mental tranquility.” In this regard, they are similar in spirit (and in many ways in-principle) to the advent and development of Buddhism at approximately the same time in India. Much of contemporary (21st century) counseling and psychotherapy practice is borrowed from and based upon these ancient traditions recast in modern garb -- all too often without any awareness of their origins. However, Albert Ellis, founder of “Rational Emotive Therapy” and the predominance of “cognitive therapy” in modern counseling and psychotherapy, stated quite explicitly his debt to Epictetus after his failures as a therapist with traditional psychoanalysis (Freud et al.) and classical behaviorism (Skinner et al).

    2. Except perhaps for those who may suffer from some form of a truly psychiatric as opposed to a psychologically or philosophically caused malaise. Suffering or “upsetness” that is caused by anatomical or physiological abnormalities are properly medical concerns. However, even in these cases, how one deals with having such a condition involves issues of emotional and psychological conditioning as well as philosophical perspective. -- See, I told you it was harder than rocket science!

    3. A dysfunctional sense of guilt is also unhealthy but in somewhat more complicated ways inasmuch as it involves issues of moral responsibility. Even “appropriate guilt” is only appropriate in a healthy way when it becomes an occasion for the development of a more mature and rational acceptance of moral responsibility and the consequences of one’s actions. One common dysfunctional form of guilt is continuing to “feel guilty” as a form of punishment “to pay for” what one has done rather than squarely addressing, taking mature responsibility for, and learning from whatever one might initially feel guilty about. A common observation of this form of guilt is that as long as someone merely continues to feel guilty about “it,” they will probably do “it” again.

    4. See for example, http://philosophy-of-cbt.com/2010/09...ing-exercises/

    5. Virtually every “should” statement can be replaced by a conditional (if-then) one. E.g., “The lights should come one when you flip the switch.” (if you flip the switch, then the lights will come on.) “You should eat fresh fruits and vegetables.” (if you want to be healthy..,.) “You should drive the speed limit” (if you don’t want a ticket… ) “You should wear the pleats of your kilt in the back“ (If you want to wear a kilt in the traditional manner, …) etc. Any statement that says or implies a “should” that does not easily translate into such an “if - then” conditional is probably an example of a dictatorial demand. Even here the “You should do it because I say so” implies some sort “if-then” threat (“if you don’t want me to inflict some undesirable consequence on you….”) and is basically a bully’s threat. The threat can be as simple as “we (or I) won’t like you” or as severe as “we (or I) will torture and kill you.” Happily, no one I know of is being tortured or killed for wearing a kilt these days and hey -- do you really need or even want mean and nasty people to like you? No one has ever been liked by everyone. Demanding of yourself that everyone like or always agree with you is one of the top ten irrational beliefs and a sure-fire way to emotional pain. If you want to feel really really bad about yourself, then you should expect everyone to like and agree with you all the time and never think you look silly or say or do silly things or ever make mistakes. In other words, demand that you not be human!
    ________________________
    Laird Sugach Fearann O'Searcaigh
    Reverend Doctor Eccliastica Indefferentia, PhD, MPH, CHt, MPG, DEI

  2. The Following 14 Users say 'Aye' to O'Searcaigh For This Useful Post:


  3. #2
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    Mr. O’Searcaigh

    I've read your thread from stem to stern, and found it really interesting, enlightening , and enjoyable. I even read the foot notes.

    I have always been of the opinion that kilt wearing is in fact not only fun, but is also a "service to humanity". It seems that your writing helps to define why that is, by (in essence) turning the "smoke" of thought and opinion, into the tangible "wood" of letters and words..

    I enjoyed your writing, and maybe "I should" read things like this more often...LOL.

    Thanks for your shared insight, and time.

    Stan L.

  4. #3
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    For sure agree with self-confidence building and shame attacking. I'm a master's level Licensed Professional Counselor with 20 years in the business - mostly criminal justice, psych, and crisis. When I'm working in an office and not a prison or crisis wagon, often wear kilts. Some agency's management thinks its a distraction. I think it shows cultural pride and role models self-confidence. Fortunately, my current agency - a Navajo Nation run residential treatment center for addictions - likes me kilted.

    Don't think any of my Navajo clients would wear a kilt. But have met Navajos of mixed blood who have Scot or Irish ancestors who do or want to.

    And, medically, I think there's something inherently healthy about letting your boy parts have the natural freedom to adjust to the ambient temperatures providing a comfort that would contribute to mental peace.
    Ol' Macdonald himself, a proud son of Skye and Cape Breton Island
    Lifetime Member STA. Two time winner of Utilikiltarian of the Month.
    "I'll have a kilt please, a nice hand sewn tartan, 16 ounce Strome. Oh, and a sporran on the side, with a strap please."

  5. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by Stan View Post
    Mr. O’Searcaigh

    I've read your thread from stem to stern, and found it really interesting, enlightening , and enjoyable. I even read the foot notes.

    I have always been of the opinion that kilt wearing is in fact not only fun, but is also a "service to humanity". It seems that your writing helps to define why that is, by (in essence) turning the "smoke" of thought and opinion, into the tangible "wood" of letters and words..

    I enjoyed your writing, and maybe "I should" read things like this more often...LOL.

    Thanks for your shared insight, and time.

    Stan L.
    Hmmmm..... even the footnotes? OCD? Thank you for the kind comments, ' glad you liked it.
    ________________________
    Laird Sugach Fearann O'Searcaigh
    Reverend Doctor Eccliastica Indefferentia, PhD, MPH, CHt, MPG, DEI

  6. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by Riverkilt View Post
    For sure agree with self-confidence building and shame attacking. I'm a master's level Licensed Professional Counselor with 20 years in the business - mostly criminal justice, psych, and crisis. When I'm working in an office and not a prison or crisis wagon, often wear kilts. Some agency's management thinks its a distraction. I think it shows cultural pride and role models self-confidence. Fortunately, my current agency - a Navajo Nation run residential treatment center for addictions - likes me kilted.

    Don't think any of my Navajo clients would wear a kilt. But have met Navajos of mixed blood who have Scot or Irish ancestors who do or want to.

    And, medically, I think there's something inherently healthy about letting your boy parts have the natural freedom to adjust to the ambient temperatures providing a comfort that would contribute to mental peace.
    20 years "in the business" -- you have my empathy, sympathy and admiration -- especially given the population of clients you serve.

    Re: "boy parts" -- I don't know about "mental peace" there but there IS epidemiological evidence that it is healthier for 'em! "Kilts -- for a healthy mind and a healthy......"
    ________________________
    Laird Sugach Fearann O'Searcaigh
    Reverend Doctor Eccliastica Indefferentia, PhD, MPH, CHt, MPG, DEI

  7. #6
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    I found your article thoroughly interesting and learned a few things. Thank you, doc!
    The Official [BREN]

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    I'm glad I read this worthwhile post! Thanks for the time you spent on it O'Searcaigh. I will apply what I learned.

  9. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by TheOfficialBren View Post
    I found your article thoroughly interesting and learned a few things. Thank you, doc!
    Thank you for your kind comments; you are more than welcome!
    ________________________
    Laird Sugach Fearann O'Searcaigh
    Reverend Doctor Eccliastica Indefferentia, PhD, MPH, CHt, MPG, DEI

  10. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by jetstar63 View Post
    I'm glad I read this worthwhile post! Thanks for the time you spent on it O'Searcaigh. I will apply what I learned.
    You are very welcome. I saw some of your pictures on one of the other forum threads -- great look, no shame there (a bunch of deserved pride maybe! )
    ________________________
    Laird Sugach Fearann O'Searcaigh
    Reverend Doctor Eccliastica Indefferentia, PhD, MPH, CHt, MPG, DEI

  11. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by O'Searcaigh View Post
    Closed, rigid and intolerant individuals or communities are usually also fearful, un-accepting and unhealthy ones.

    A community’s health is a function of the people who live in it. Confident, non-threatened and non-threatening individuals help improve a community’s health not only by being members but also by setting an example for others.
    Paul, I really appreciated your treatise. I believe that many of us XMTS'ers are setting an example, even if we don't realize it (should I wonder?), when we step out in our kilts.

    Nile

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