KJ Hannah Greenberg

Relative Mental Health

The “waters” of human experience are constituted by both pragmatic and semantic droplets, whose impartial shaping effects ever increasing concentric circles of associations. Ultimately, our semantic nodes touch everyone. Akin to rain, which wets wherever it falls, from the hardest encasement to the softest loam, from the least interesting character to the most intriguing, our dispositions, ideologies, and power of invention are nourished and constrained (Grigg) by relatively unstable communal, private, or mixed definitions. Sometimes, we capitulate to those influences and then scrutinize their processes and products. Other times, we look to “nonrhetorics” for our acumen (Foucault.1977).

More exactly, we rely on societal identities, on “what it takes to make a human being this or that particular person within a public-collective context” (Harre’, 203) to deconstruct discourse, else we become stymied by (real or imagined) events. Unfortunately, contemporary fields like bioethics, engineering morality, and organizational behavioral lack sufficiently detailed, practical explorations of the link between words and deeds to lift us beyond this sort of dysregulation; those disciplines mostly tender qualitative directions.

So, we get stuck in toxic cycles, in emotional “response[s} that [are] poorly regulated and [do] not fall within the traditionally accepted range of emotional reaction” (Bhandari). We get locked into incorrect epistemology [ies, which can’t help us] distinguish truth from error. The upshots are obvious. The degree to which our epistemology is correct is the degree to which we [can] understand reality, and the degree to which we [can] use that knowledge to promote our lives and goals” (Landauer and Rowlands.)

Rather, we become confused by intrapersonal, intentional manipulation, e.g., by gaslighting or by love-bombing, and by intrapersonal, unintentional manipulations, e.g., by intrusions on our privacy or by guilt-tripping, as well as by mass mediated manipulations, e.g., by astroturfing, or by click baiting, etc. Hence, if we’re victims, we become revictimized since authorities fail to sanction our realities. Consider how humanity has equivocated innocent Israeli hostages with convicted Palestinian terrorists during “prisoner” swaps of late 2023. Meaning, when our grasp of reality is assessed relative to leading global understandings, it is not necessarily assessed according to actual Truth.

After all, a leading philosophy, “[c]ultural relativism[,] supports the belief that mental health should be understood through the context of normative behavior within a specific culture” (“Cultural Relativism”). This outlook proffers the concepts of “emics” vs “etics,” of “insider” vs. “outsider,” of “subjective” vs. “objective” (Headland et. al.) “Emics” reference local certainties while “etics” are employed to analyze “emics” (Qualitative Methods). This model fails whenever the observed or the observer bases their suppositions on in falsehoods.

For example, even now, as the rest of the world stands against Israel, demanding we stop pursuing our assailants or that we make allowances for their carnage, Israel upholds the veracities spelled out in Torah. “The survival of Judaism is more important than a momentary public relations triumph….the Torah of the Lord is complete, pure, uncorrupted. It is not a relativistic document that changes in every generation and climate” (Lamm). We are good for preserving our tenets, we are a light unto the nations.

What’s more, cultural relativism is incommensurable with Torah’s truth. For instance, the Jewish code of righteousness dictates that we value of life. In contrast, Hamas’ “high-minded” canons prioritize death. These perspectives cannot be integrated any more than that of a Mandarin speaker with someone whose sole lingo is Hindi. Not only is there no semantic congruity between the two, but the foundations of the two etymologies are highly disparate.

Cultural relativism remains too exclusive of a point of view to simultaneously illuminate disproportionate ways of existing (Mothershead, 107). Humankind’s wide-reaching reliance on this convention is unsatisfactory for understanding societies with differing metaknowledge, e.g. Israel specifically, and Jewish culture, in general, and for empathizing with authentically psychologically well persons. Inimitably, it’s only when all of us move beyond such adjudication that we can correctly determine if an ethnicity’s or an individual’s inner space is ethically operative or not. To clarify, it’s abhorrent to allow our planet’s antisemites to discount Jews just because there are more of them than us.

Ruminate, by way of a further illustration, a state of affairs in which a communications professor lectures on tolerance while suggesting that his class refer to their disabled members as “physically challenged.” After he gives over his words, his disabled students remain silent. Conversely, an able-bodied student, upon visiting that professor’s office, explains that, in modern parlance, “physically challenged” is considered a patronizing phrase. That student essentially posits that social trustworthiness is not necessarily linked to echelon, i.e., a “professor” might act morally incorrectly whereas a “student” might not. Said plainly, might doesn’t make right. Weigh that just because the UN mandates a behavior does not make that directive correct. Viz., no Israeli children being held hostage by Hamas were referenced during a recent World Children’s Day.

Consider, too, the case of an incest survivor, who broke all ties with his family. During holidays, he felt alone and alienated, so he shared those feelings with his closest friends. However, those “pals” trivialized his memories of childhood abuse and belittled his ongoing pain. They also minimalized his struggle to regain his dignity. Whereas that survivor was objectively more introspectively whole then his buddies, and whereas their limited lens impaired their ability to grasp his high level of self-control, that dissimilarity prevented them from helping him maintain his well-being and, in fact, worked to undermine it. Moreso, relativistic approaches to saneness might frame him as ill-adjusted to his peer group, his social milieu. Analogously, relativistic approaches to international politics frame Israel as not “wanting to get along” with her neighbors.

Another incident showcasing the misplaced assessment of deep wellness is that of a student, who disclosed to her teacher that her classmate cheated on a test, and who was scoffed at by that teacher. Mistakenly, the witness estimated that the cheater acted inappropriately; “some professors consider giving your notes to a classmate academic cheating” (Asselta). Nonetheless, since other institutional powers don’t prohibit “group efforts,” the teacher felt justified in scorning the observer. Correspondingly, modern civilization readily faults Israel for not accepting the vicious cycle of hostage taking-criminal release-more hostage taking, etc. Empires espouse that Israel should “know better,” should realize that when her enemies disobey the Geneva Conventions, theirs is “fair” behavior.

One more example of the aforementioned type of confounding was the mistreatment of Martha Mitchell, the wife of John N. Mitchell, the United States’ Attorney General under President Richard Nixon. Her testimony about Watergate was discredited by persons in power, including by doctors. She was labeled as “crazy,” drugged, and committed. “Portraying Martha Mitchell as crazy or an alcoholic therefore served two purposes: nobody would believe what she said, and Watergate could be laid at the feet of John Mitchell” (Freitas). Additionally, [t]here is a process whereby a mental health professional mistakenly diagnoses a patient’s accurate perception of improbable events as delusional, even if the patient has no history of delusion. This happens when the health care professional fails to verify whether the events actually took place (Freitas).

So, either by dint of intention or “accident,” Mrs. Mitchell became an unwarranted detainee. In the same way, Israel has been blamed for nonexistent crimes concurrent with global bodies trying to disempower her. Most recently, she was blamed for Golan Arabs’ resource shortages (Second Committee Approves Three Resolutions) at the same time as nothing was said about Hezbollah’s, by extension, Iran’s, thievery of humanitarian aid.

It’s more than necessary to examine paradoxes arising from language’s ability to simultaneously point to manifold references. What might appear to be psychological dysfunction is often a courageous presentation of Truth. Despite many realms’ readiness to label Jews, as people, or as a nation, “crazy,” we hold fast to Torah dictates and reject doctrines that castoff Hashem’s sanctity or Am Yisrael’s worth.

Placating dominions by integrating their systems of scruples might not only cost us our freedoms but also, has v’shalom, our lives. Our interior health is sound. Their derision is not.


Asselta, Richard. “Is sharing notes academic cheating? A college student defense lawyer answers” [sic]. Asselta Law, P.A. 13 Feb. 2018. Accessed 23 Mar. 2022.

Bhandari, Dr. Smitha. “What is Emotional Dysregulation?” WebMD. 19 Jul. 2023. Accessed 5 Dec. 2023.

“Cultural Relativism.” IResearchNet. Accessed 28 Nov. 2023.

Foucault, Michel. Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews. Ed. Donald F. Bouchard. Trans. Donald F. Bouchard and Sherry Simon. Cornell UP, 1977.

Freitas, Shirley. “The Silencing of Martha Mitchell.” Necessary Storms. 22 Dec. 2019. Accessed 28 Nov. 2023.

Grigg, Ray. The Tao of Relationships: A Guide to Love and Friendship for the New Age. Bantam. 1988.

Headland, Thomas N., Kenneth L. Pike, and Marvin Harris. Eds. Emics and Etics: The Insider/Outsider Debate. Frontiers of Anthropology Vol. 7, Sage, 1990.

Lamm, Norman. “The Ways of Esau.” The Lamm Archive. Yeshiva University. Dec. 1960.*1wvch7w*_ga*MTMyNzg1MzM5My4xNjk3OTE0ODUy*_ga_X8H8T80YF3*MTcwMTU5OTk2MC4zLjEuMTcwMTU5OTk3Ni40NC4wLjA. Accessed 3 Dec. 2023.

Landauer, Jeff, and Joseph Rowlands. “Misbegotten Notions.” The Importance of Philosophy. 2001. Accessed 4 May 2004.

Mothershead, John L. Ethics: Modern Conceptions of the Principles of Right. Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1967.

“Qualitative Methods in Monitoring and Evaluation: The Emic and the Etic: Their Importance to Qualitative Evaluators.” American University. 28 Nov. 2023.

“Second Committee Approves Three Resolutions, Including Text Demanding Israel Cease Exploitation of Natural Resources in Occupied Palestinian Territory, Syrian Golan.” United Nations Meet Coverage and Press Releases. 9 Nov. 2023. Accessed 3 Dec. 2023.

About the Author
KJ Hannah Greenberg has been playing with words for an awfully long time. Initially a rhetoric professor and a National Endowment for the Humanities Scholar, she shed her academic laurels to romp around with a prickle of imaginary hedgehogs. Thereafter, her writing has been nominated once for The Best of the Net in poetry, three times for the Pushcart Prize in Literature for poetry, once for the Pushcart Prize in Literature for fiction, once for the Million Writers Award for fiction, and once for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay. To boot, Hannah’s had more than forty books published and has served as an editor for several literary journals.
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