Dear Everybody,

Today I am going to share two emails I received which are critical of what I have written. I have no problem with criticism as it can help polish my mirror. The first is titled “Badly Interpreted Advice: Some of your response is valid in a broad context, but I maintain that telling people that it’s OK to defy the authorities in an emergency situation is totally irresponsible. Their (and others) lives may depend on it.” He is referring to this sentence in my column: Above all, if someone in some alleged position of authority is telling you to do something that is stupid, don’t do it.

I am saying that it is okay to defy authority when the authority is wrong. If the advice is genuinely stupid why follow the advice? Sometimes we are wiser than the “authority” because of our experience. Think of all the plane crashes, boating disasters, automobile accidents and more because an authority used poor judgment or was drunk.

Recent newspaper articles discussed hospital errors occurring while caring for patients. Deaths due to medical errors are one of the top ten causes of death. So should you be a submissive suffering patient or speak up and question authority and refuse to follow their decisions until the situation is clarified to your satisfaction. If you think someone’s advice is stupid why follow it? If it is because they are a Medical Deity or other form of Diety you may die for the wrong reasons. Remember I said they are giving stupid advice and not advice you are unfamiliar with. Our twins were considered difficult and disturbing at school until my wife insisted their hearing be tested. All the doctors and therapists blamed them for being distracted. Well the truth is they were hearing impaired and hearing aids solved all their problems.

Here are further comments: “Your column in the recent Milford-Orange Bulletin finally jumped the shark. ‘Celestial visits’ aside, telling your readers that they should ignore the instructions of ‘someone in some alleged position of authority’ is irresponsible. Would you do that as a passenger on an airplane? What if you thought the flight crew’s instructions were ‘stupid’? How about ignoring the ‘stupid’ instructions of a police officer? That act might get you or others hurt/killed. Did Malik Jones think that? How about ignoring the instructions of your doctor because you thought they were stupid. Lose weight, exercise, take your meds, etc. might sound stupid to some … but it’s the right thing to do. Would you encourage a child to ignore the instructions of a teacher in a fire (drill) because his/her directions were ‘stupid’?”

“Is it possible that following their teachers’ instructions saved lives in Newtown? I’d be willing to bet that the answer is YES. Running children might have presented the shooter with extra targets! I’m sure that I could come up with plenty of additional examples … but I’m sure that you get my point. Ignoring properly designated authority inevitably leads to confusion, panic, and anarchy. I would be willing to wager that your law enforcement son is unhappy with the advice that you espoused. I think you need to retract your statements.”

First let me say that the comments you are discussing came from our son and not me. He is an FBI agent and is an authority figure trained to deal with disasters. He didn’t say to defy authority he said if someone tells you to do what doesn’t make sense to you don’t do it. You can be a responsible participant and not a submissive sufferer. He didn’t say to ignore authority but maybe you are smarter than the so-called authority and they are not truly an authority giving you the best advice from their experience and training. If they haven’t lived the experience their advice may be coming from a place you cannot rely on. You have to make the decision. It is your life not theirs. Was listening to Hitler a good choice? Did John Newton, the songwriter of Amazing Grace, do the right thing when he made a bargain with God, defied authority and turned his slave ship around?

Hundreds of thousands of patients die in the hospital every year due to medical errors. There are times we intuitively know what is right and it is our life and our right to question and choose what we do. It isn’t about trying not to die but doing what is right for you. What if you were a pilot, doctor or teacher and thought the advice being given by your associate sucked, what would you do? It is not about creating false authority but following your heart and feelings and not being angry at yourself for your choice either.

I think what it all boils down to is how you define stupid. Doctors have a terribly high accident and mortality rate as pilots of their own planes. Ask the insurance companies. Why? Because they see themselves as immortal and so fly when the weather is bad or other issues occur and they believe nothing will happen to them. That is stupid and you should refuse to get on the plane when the weather is bad even when the doctor pilot reassures you. So I think we use the word stupid with different interpretations. My comments are about bad advice and decisions and not confronting authority figures but realizing they are human too and make mistakes.

The next email to me follows and again shows how we often interpret things and see things that are not there because of our personal views and issues.

“You wrote an article some time ago about a teen who shot his grandfather and referenced that it was because he wasn’t loved. I wanted to write you then but I lead an exceptionally busy life and I decided to just “swallow it” and move on. But this most recent article convinced me that I needed to sit down and write.” I have no memory of writing about a teen who shot his grandfather. Sometimes we see and read what isn’t written but is within us. That is what much of this is about.

“I don’t know what kind of Dr. you are but what happened in Newtown had nothing to do with not loving a person and everything to do with mental illness. Over and over again, in multiple articles, it stated that Adam Lanza’s mother was a doting mother and that she loved him so much she was willing to move to whatever college he decided to attend. ‘He was her life’ as one person stated. What then, ever would lead you to believe that he wasn’t loved? I am so appalled that I am forced to write you.”

I have to question his feelings of being loved because of his behavior. Why guns in the house? Why kill someone you love? Why kill at all if you have a reverence for life? I agree that mental illness can be a factor but not every psychotic patient chooses to kill other people. Why not just commit suicide? Which he did after killing others. So there is an element of guilt involved.

“Do you or have you had a child with a mental illness? It’s an awful thing that steals your child away; it creeps up and leaves you wondering what is happening. You take the child to therapy, you go to therapy searching for answers, you shed many, many tears and your heart breaks over and over again. Is it drugs? Is it the friends? You question the kind of parent you were. You know you rode bikes with them, roller bladed, took vacations, read them books — loved every inch of them. But you never truly know the answer until one day it rears its ugly head and the diagnosis comes, the medication is prescribed and then the child won’t take it. Terrible things happen and you feel your safety is at risk. The now young adult is hospitalized and yet another diagnosis. And once again, the medication is taken but then stopped. Do you know how a person acts when the diagnosis is bi-polar? When the diagnosis is schizophrenia? I do. Do you know how easy it is for someone with that diagnosis to get a gun? Do you think for one moment that Adam Lanza’s mother would have let him have access to those guns if she thought for one moment that he would harm anyone? I know that she wouldn’t have. She didn’t know what her son was capable of. The doctors didn’t know what her son was capable of. No one knew what Adam Lanza was capable of. Unless you live in the mind of someone with mental illness you don’t know what goes on in their mind and you never will.”

Yes, some of our five children and eight grandchildren have or have had genetic, emotional and mental problems and been hospitalized and suicidal. I did feel guilt wishing I were a wiser and better parent and knew more so I could have been more helpful. I have learned to let these experiences be my teachers. I feel that you are dealing with a great deal of guilt by saying they didn’t know. But it should have occurred to them that it was a possibility. It isn’t about blaming anyone or yourself it is about loving them and I have. One of our children, who was a suicidal and despised us years ago, just sent us a card; “Thank you for being my Mom & Dad, I love you always and forever. Thank you for your love and generosity. God Bless You Mom & Dad.” Years ago I told him to be patient with his son because our relationship shows that we can heal and find love. His mother had guns in the house while we had pets. There are healthier forms of aggression like sports.

“I know a family who believes that their adult child has a neuropsychiatric disorder and are so desperate to have the son that they once knew back, they will believe anything. Meanwhile as he goes through the blood transfusions, he goes home and destroys their house. Punches holes in the walls and doors, throws things through windows, breaks the toilet and basically holds them hostage in their own home. They come home from work and lock themselves in their bedroom until they go to work the next day. Is this abuse? Yes, their son is abusing them. Is it indifference? Yes, their son is indifferent. Do they love their son? You tell me. I don’t know what kind of mental illness Adam had.”

Survival behavior is about asking for help not blaming anyone.. Why is the boy at home? Why don’t they have help? We had one of our children go to Grove School in Madison so they could educate him and provide therapy and we could love him on weekends and be free of the conflicts which occurred when we were responsible for everything. We had neighbors and teenagers come and help us too. My patients stayed at our house so my wife and I could get away for a rest. When our kids punched holes in doors I didn’t repair them so they had to deal with people seeing them and asking about them. But we always loved them and as studies show love heals, promotes growth and brain development and for me is the answer to every problem.

“There was mention of autism but I think he had others as well. You can have more than one at a time. This is the real issue. It wasn’t indifference, abuse or rejection, it was mental illness and how the thoughts in Adam’s mind controlled him. Years ago, institutions that housed those who were severely mentally ill closed. Those people were let out to live with relatives, roam the streets or go on SSDI and live in elderly housing. Who insures that they take their medication? There is no one. They don’t have to take their medication. Without medication, some of these people cannot control what they do and that is very, very scary. Some of these people even end up in jail and that’s not the place where they will get the help they need. The people of Newtown want answers but they will never get them. It’s time to not only look at gun control which is a small percentage of the issue but to look at the role that mental illness has played in a lot of these shootings and what can be done about it. Sincerely, Someone who wants answers.”

I hope we can turn this curse into a blessing and improve our gun control laws and practices and also diagnosing, treating and caring for the mentally ill and troubled youth. We are all capable of reparenting these children especially as parents, teachers, clergy, doctors and when we are the authority figures in their lives. Thank you all and please keep up the dialog. And believe me I know the power of love from what I saw in my self-destructive patients and our children who began to care for and about themselves when they realized I truly cared about them. Show people you care, particularly those who don’t have self-esteem. I always offer myself as a CD, or Chosen Dad; a name given to me by a suicidal teenager.

Peace, Love & Healing,

Bernie Siegel, MD

“Home is a place that when you go there they have to take you in.”

— Robert Frost

“There’s no place like home, and I for one, am glad of it.”

— Henny Youngman

We now have a mind, heart & health matters monthly support group in Woodbridge the first Wednesday evening of every month and a cancer support group the second and fourth Tuesday evenings of the month at Coachman’s Square on Bradley Road. If interested contact Lucille Ranciato at or 203-288-2839; or myself for details.