Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. No good deed goes unpunished

Once upon a time in social work, psychology and even psychiatry there was a construct, a belief in the schizophrenogenic mother. It wasn’t that the devil made you do it, it was just that your mother simply made you crazy, very nearly literally she made you crazy.  The process was even elegantly illustrated by stories that went something like this:

            When Wanda was 4 or 5 year old she her her mother talking to Wanda’s Aunties. Her mother was sad because Wanda’ father never brought her flowers or little gifts. Wanda thought about this for a bit, and then she went out into the back yard and gathered a small hand full of wild flowers. Very pleased with herself, she took them into the house and gave them to her mother as a token of her affection and adoration for her mother. Her mother took one look at Wanda & the flowers, and cried out, “What is wrong with you! You are nothing but trouble to me. I just washed and ironed that dress and now you have mud all over it! And why did you bring those weeds full of dirt and bugs into the house! Get them out of here right now. Go wash your hands, put on clean clothes, and try to stay out of trouble for 10 minutes.” And Wanda went off and did as she was told, not quite understanding what had gone wrong, not quite understanding what she had done wrong.

            When Florence turned 16 her mother gave her two blouses for her birthday. Florence treasured and cherished them both. Her family did not have an abundance of extra money, so gifts where rare and cherished; clothes were more often hand me downs or homemade – so new clothes were particularly special. And these were blouses that Florence had been dreaming about for months as she gazed longingly at them during the family’s Sunday window shopping walks along Main Street. When she opened the box and took out the blouses, Florence’s eyes lit up and filled with tears of joy and gratitude. She dropped the blouses in the box and ran over to her mother to hug her. Florence then quickly gathered the blouses, when off to her room and put one of the blouses on to model it for her family and her mother. When Florence appeared, her mother looked at her, shook her head and chastised Florence saying: “What’s the matter with the other blouse? You didn’t like that one?”

 And so it went … the schizophrenogenic paradox. Now of course, modern mental health has moved far beyond the schizophrenogenic paradox and mother. We now resonate with nature/nurture etiology and explanations for various manifestations of craziness. But still, there is the veracity, the feeling truth of “Damned if you do. Damned if you don’t.” Still there is the feeling truth of “no good deed goes unpunished.”

 And I have the feeling that all of this was of relatively recent vintage. Until the other day when I was reading widely, wildly and wantonly, and I came across the work of Ignacy Karsicki. Karsicki lived in Poland between 1735 and 1801. Here is his fable, “The Master and the Dog”

 The dog barked all the night, keeping the burglar away;

It got a beating for waking the master, next day.

That night it slept soundly and did the burglar no harm;

He burgled; the dog got caned for not raising alarm.

No good deed goes unpunished. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. It’s been around at least since the 1700’s, and I suspect a lot longer. 

 As you work for human rights and social justice, you might just want to keep these stories in mind. Know your mind. Know your heart. Have at least one dear trusted friend with whom you share your heart and soul and who will be your reality check. Remember always, love is the reason. And that is reason enough.

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