The Birthday Gift of Human Dignity


In the spirit of Freud’s recommendation to free associate in psychoanalysis, perhaps we can be inspired to do whatever we can for freedom, human dignity, and the future of children.


Today is my birthday. I am 69. At my age, I am grateful for any birthday, especially if I am in good health and mind, though the latter some might debate! Yesterday I received my first card, from Norway. This was not one of those impersonal generic cards. It was a long and professionally personal one, from Dr Evelin Lindner, who is both a physician and psychologist.

As a leader in the development of a variety of organizations devoted to human dignity, Dr Lindner’s “patient” is in all actuality the world. Her work is based on the Ubuntu philosophy, “I am because of you.” Ubuntu is an ancient African word that signifies “humanity to others.”

For our mutual interests, my birthday present is the message in Dr Lindner’s card that she has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Yes, that peace prize! Well deserved, as far as I’m concerned.

Last December, I was part of the inspirational 11th annual Workshop on Human Dignity at Columbia University. The topic was Transforming Humiliation and Violent Trauma. I was invited because of a blog I had written for Psychiatric Times on humiliation.

Ubuntu means that I-and to a greater extent, Psychiatric Times readers-connect in some very small way to Dr Lindner’s honor and objective. It brings to mind a presentation I gave some years back on the role of jazz in ending apartheid at a Creativity & Madness conference in South Africa.

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Then, there is Cinco de Mayo, the day in 1862 that the Mexican army unexpectedly defeated the French forces at Pueblo, paving the way for Independence. In the US, May 5, 1865, is when our 13th Amendment was ratified, abolishing slavery. These events in the 1860s celebrate freedom and human dignity, do they not?

Last year, around the time of my birthday, I discussed the screening of the movie Hitler’s Children. I had an insight I never gained in psychotherapy training and treatment. I would not have been born without World War II. An infinite number of events historically go into one soul being conceived and born, but near the end of the War, my father joined the Army and soon met my mother where he was stationed. About a year later I was born, one of Hitler’s Children-in the way Hitler did not want.

How is this association to Hitler especially relevant this year? May 5th is the publication date in the US for the book by Timur Vermes titled Look Who’s Back. A sensation in Germany, the book presents a confused Hitler returning to a confused German people. I could never laugh at the jokes about Hitler in the show The Producers. I wonder if I will be able to find humor in reading this book?

Today, one of the ways I am going to celebrate my birthday is to appear on an Internet broadcast for Talk Ten Tuesday. We will discuss the psychiatric aspects of the upcoming Supreme Court decision on gay marriage.

I decided to write this blog in the spirit of Freud’s recommendation to free associate in psychoanalysis. These associations are an inspiration to me to do whatever I can for freedom, human dignity, and the future of children. Ubuntu means that if you are reading this, you, too, are connected to all that Ubuntu and May 5th bring.

Perhaps there are associations to your birthday that you would like to consider and share. Happy Birthday to all, whenever that may be.

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