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Hearing Voices On The View

I was wondering what I was going to do for my first blog entry for my new site? And then fate intervened. You may have heard the controversy over Bill Maher’s interview on The View yesterday, September 30, 2008. He was on promoting his new movie, “Religulous,” which pokes holes in organized religion, so it was not surprising that the subject of religion came up.

The segment opened with Whoopi perhaps foreshadowing the fiery end of it when she mentioned out loud that her producers had just reminded her to be sure to let Sherri Shephard ask “her question” to Bill. When “the question” was actually asked, it did not sound like an interviewer’s scripted question, but merely a lateral thought as a counter-point to the conversation. Bill was giving a very rational accounting of the fact that the virgin birth, death and resurrection plot had shown up in many ancient religions – not just Christianity.

Here’s what ensued, as best I could transcribe it, beginning with “the question”:

SHERRY: When you did this movie you talked to lots of people about God. Have you ever just talked to God, and asked God, what does He think?

BILL: Well…uh…

SHERRI: When you think about it, God’ll talk to you, Bill, it’ll be real deep.

BILL: The question is, did he answer you?

SHERRI: Did he answer me? He answered me! He absolutely answered me!

BILL: Then we should call Belleview! [a mental hospital in NYC]

SHERRI: No, we don’t need to call Belleview. Did he answer you?

BILL: If you think… That’s just a voice in your head… [and he made the crazy sign with his right index finger going in a circle around his head].

SHERRI: No, it’s not a voice, it’s not a voice.

BILL: It’s just a voice…

SHERRI: No, it’s not just a voice…

BILL: You mean God actually – God actually…

WHOOPI: Well, we gotta go…

I would say that if not daily, then at least weekly, or for sure more than once a month, I hear a reference to the fact that anyone who hears voices is crazy. And it’s always accompanied by a series of non-verbal assurances of their own sanity including, but not limited to: the crazy sign Bill Maher used, a widening of the eyes, a straightening of the posture, and a moving backward – a visible disassociation – from anyone who may be admitting to (or even alluding to) the forbidden act of “hearing voices.”

Where did this fear come from? And why is it so deeply instilled? And what would happen if people would take it off the list of things to be afraid of in the same way we downgrade the boogie man from that list as we get older?

In breaking down why it might be scary, the biggest cause of consternation would be the fear of incarceration into an insane asylum, and I can definitely understand that kind of worry. And, of course, the worst part is that if you utter those words to the wrong mental health professional, or law enforcement officer, at the wrong time, your worst fears could come true.

So then we could ask why the admission of “hearing voices” could lead to such a terrible fate? Well, obviously, because there are psychopaths out there who have committed horrendous acts because a voice told them to do it. Does the logic follow, therefore, that we are actually afraid of being psychopathic if we hear a voice? The answer is maybe or maybe not – but we’re definitely afraid someone else will think we are!

I cite statistics in my book, Talking to My Selves: Learning to Love the Voices in Your Head, (www.talkingtomyselves.com also available on Amazon.com) that according to studies in both the US and England, roughly 7-10% of the population has admitted to hearing voices, which were in 85% of cases, helpful, with “extremely positive and beneficial results.” Yet out of those 20 million people, virtually none of them had ever spoken about their experiences before they were interviewed!

Therein lies the F.E.A.R. – False Evidence Appearing Real! So 85% of 20 million people have good experiences and go on to lead better lives thanks to the voices they heard in their head; but hardly one out of 17 million says anything about it. That’s a lot of people keeping quiet about something that they have no reason to be ashamed of, just because of all those people like Bill Maher that’ll think they’re crazy, shun them, or make them the brunt of their jokes. Case in point: Shirley MacLaine.

Hey, I’m only one person, and this is just my first blog entry, but I want to make it a goal in my lifetime to blow up this myth that keeps us feeling trapped and alone inside our head, through an open dialog where we can explore the evidence by allowing the silent majority to come out of their closets. Is it really scarier than the boogey man? Come on, Bill, man up, and stop bullying people who may even have something to teach you.


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