A Higher Calling

Notwithstanding the myriad of political diatribes I occasionally author in this column, it isn’t my intent to comment on politics particularly or exclusively. Politics is part of a larger discourse — even an inseparable part — but it is no more than a part.

Because of my curiosity about all things behavioral and linguistic (and the inextricable relationship of the two), this particular post is about depression. I’ve written this post because of the proliferation of depression in the popular vernacular, and it refers not to economic depression but to personal, psychological, perhaps clinical or biological depression. Economic depression may be related to other forms of depression. It may precipitate them. No one knows. At bottom, no one knows much.

The medical community can attribute biological depression to chemistry, to chemical imbalances — too much adrenaline or cortisol, not enough serotonin or norepinephrine. But it can’t explain the causes of the imbalances. Are they genetic?  Are they psychologically predisposed responses to particular circumstances? Are they caused by the lack of constructive contemporary outlets for our hard-wired fight-or-flight mechanisms? With nowhere to run and no one to fight, maybe we hit internal walls that leave us feeling helpless, powerless, insignificant, wanting, unfulfilled, terrified, haunted.

Let Go

In 1989, the late comedian, Louie Anderson, published a book called Dear Dad. Rather than synopsize, I’ll simply encourage you to buy the book. But I’ll offer this excerpt as a starting point for our discourse on depression:

I have this theory that all we deal with in life is loss. We lose the protective comfort of the womb. We lose our mother’s breast. We lose the right to mess our pants. We lose friends, teachers, relatives. We lose our hair, our teeth, and our youth. We keep losing all these things and never get them back, but we never really learn how to deal with the loss. We never say that it hurts, really hurts, and so we spend the rest of our lives trying to make up for it, holding on tightly to things that we should really let go of.

Given the prevalence of depression in Western societies — and notwithstanding our predilections for quick fixes, easy outs, and the pharmaceutical possibilities for feeling nothing at all — it’s as possible as anything else that our inability to accept cycles and the natural course of aging work against us.

Perhaps our preoccupations with youth, vitality, and glamour render us unable to accept the realities of impermanence, the inevitability of loss, and the impossibility of stasis. Maybe because aging necessitates decline, we refuse to accept the passing of our connections to popular culture. Maybe the preoccupation with being young causes us to overlook the treasures of aging — wisdom, nobility, self-knowledge.

Maybe all our material, physical preoccupations are capable of inducing our failure to embrace the spiritual center of the human condition. So, we fight the inexorable and the inevitable futilely. And we do so at the expense of our psychological and emotional natures and well-being.

The Collective Unconscious

This denial of our maturation and our spirituality — and its consequences — is neither a new idea nor a new practice. In his invaluable treatise on world mythology, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, written in 1949, Joseph Campbell noted this:

It has always been the prime function of mythology and rite to supply the symbols that carry the human spirit forward, in counteraction to those other constant human fantasies that tend to tie it back. In fact, it may very well be that the high incidence of neuroticism amongst ourselves follows from the decline among us to such effective spiritual aid. We remain fixated to the unexorcised images of our infancy, and hence disinclined to the necessary passages of our adulthood. In the United States there is even a pathos of inverted emphasis: the goal is not to grow old, but to remain young.

Perhaps, then, the price of modern civilization is depression. As we invent ever more modes and methods of communication, so we become less communal. As we create ever more electronic connections, so we abandon our human ones. As we separate, so we fail to share. As we worship the physical, so withers the spirit. As we defy rites of passage, so we fight our inevitable passing. As we create more fears to fight, so we forsake joy.

That price is too high. And we have a higher calling.


Mark O'Brien
Mark O'Brien
I’m a business owner. My company — O’Brien Communications Group (OCG) — is a B2B brand-management and marketing-communication firm that helps companies position their brands effectively and persuasively in industries as diverse as: Insurance, Financial Services, Senior Living, Manufacturing, Construction, and Nonprofit. We do our work so well that seven of the companies (brands) we’ve represented have been acquired by other companies. OCG is different because our business model is different. We don’t bill by the hour or the project. We don’t bill by time or materials. We don’t mark anything up. We don’t take media commissions. We pass through every expense incurred on behalf of our clients at net. We scope the work, price the work, put beginning and end dates on our engagements, and charge flat, consistent fees every month for the terms of the engagements. I’m also a writer by calling and an Irish storyteller by nature. In addition to writing posts for my company’s blog, I’m a frequent publisher on LinkedIn and Medium. And I’ve published three books for children, numerous short stories, and other works, all of which are available on Amazon under my full name, Mark Nelson O’Brien.

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  1. Mark, thank you for sharing this observation. So thought-provoking. I come from long family tree limbs of depression and anxiety. Our “fallen leaves” didn’t have the technology of today, but it aligns with the progression of such in every generation. For each generation, there are more and more non-human distractions and thus, perhaps, the escalation of mental illness. Just me rambling. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.