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Psychological SOTU Address

January 12, 2016

In keeping with the psyche-logos-ical approach in this narrative, I’m thinking about the images, stories, and conversations in this event, as archetypal forms of our soulful public discourse about our democratic national community and its psychopathologies, many of which the President addressed.   This speech was rich in all three forms; and Barack Obama is a person who is inclined, as a politician and public servant, to try to be a healer.

Even before the President entered, we had visual images that he created for context. A major one, of course, is the empty seat. It is archetypal, a missing person, like the missing plane in a formation or an empty chair at the table, perhaps a missing child in the ongoing life of a family, and the family that is our country.

Another is affirmation of Muslim culture and thus of America’s diversity and respect for all (and our refusal to be stupidly fearful and bigoted), with further diversity represented by, among others, an immigrant from Mexico and a Syrian refugee. Plus Michelle Obama in safron.

The President’s conversation, sometimes a gesture of dialogue, was with Congress (calling for a constructive bipartisan approach), with his Republican opponents (including some of their candidates), and with the American people. He delivered his speech in a semi-colloquial style that was appropriate to the occasion—personal, thoughtful, dignified, sometimes humorous, sometimes grave.

In part he told the story of his presidency, but mainly he told the story of what Americans can and must do in a world of extraordinary changes.  Indeed, the theme was change, that we can believe in, that we had better believe in because the world is changing whether we like it or not, and that he still believes in because he believes in the capacity and desire of the American people to make the changes in our economy and our politics that are necessary.

He told of changes that have been made for the good during his time in office; and he told of many changes that we need to make in specific areas, to build an economy that is fair, apply technology to our benefit, be safe from enemies, and reform our politics so that it is truly democratic.

In a changing world, his story goes, change presents choice. We can choose to deny change, fear it, hate it, turn inward, turn against each other, turn change into something negative; or we can choose to embrace change as opportunity, and apply our proven spirit of optimism, confidence, inquiry, exploration and discovery, diversity and openness to all, problem solving—indeed our spirit of change—to make the future good.

We need only be true to ourselves. He believes in the American people because of who we are, and he called us to be true to our best character. He recited images within stories within images, that he has heard and seen, of people who exemplify the America that he believes in. Then he closed with an image of an America that is both strong and lovable, “clear-eyed. Big-hearted. Optimistic that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word. That’s what makes me so hopeful about our future. Because of you. I believe in you. That’s why I stand here confident that the State of our Union is strong.”

Earlier he reminded us that the political imagination must stay grounded in facts (a moral principle perhaps second only to Love thy neighbot as thyself). Twice he quoted MLK about “unarmed truth and unconditional love,” and it sounded to me as though his aim was to exemplify those.

This was a soulful speech. Not one of his most emotional or sublime, but speaking the logos (the word, the logic, and the knowledge) of soul imagining health in practical existence within constant change.

Good breathing.

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