Morgan constantly flits from one thing to another, and has never been able to settle on a single path in life.
"That Morgan is crazy!" someone comments. Ha ha ha!
Morgan is bipolar, and has been suicidal in the past.
* * *
Leslie is schizophrenic.
Someone elaborates, "Or in the words of those in the industry, cuckoo!" while drawing circles in the air next to his ear. Ha ha ha!
* * *
As a listener in those conversations, I was shocked. I should not have been.
"Crazy" is one of the first words I reach for when I want to dismiss someone, when I can't be bothered to understand them (for example, Glenn Beck). I know that "crazy" is a joke. It's Homer Simpson in the Treehouse of Horror segment "The Shinning". "Crazy" is not to be taken seriously.
And the way we use "crazy" cannot be separated from the way we understand mental illness as a serious subject.
* * *
On his Monday show, Stephen Colbert addressed the shooting that occured in Tucson Arizona this past weekend, saying, "We may never know what motivated this clearly troubled individual". Earlier, on The Daily Show, Jon Stewart had said that while Americans should work to improve their political discourse, it's impossible to say whether the current political climate was a contributing factor to the attack, commenting that no matter what the political climate is like, "crazy will always find a way."
While finger-pointing may not be the most helpful or productive reaction to the recent shooting, I don't believe that the Stewart/Colbert approach is much better. The fact is that we do know what motivated Jared Laughner. He shared his thoughts and concerns with the world via YouTube. While often incoherent, what he had to say was not incomprehensible. It is possible to understand where he is coming from. Saying that "we may never know what motivated" Laughner does a disservice to all people with mental illness. It puts them in the category of Those Who Cannot Be Understood, premptively dismissing everything they have to say. And one wonders, if people with mental illness cannot be understood, then how can they be helped? The comment that "crazy will always find a way" does the same thing. It casts mental illness as a wild, elemental force. But mental illness can be understood, mitigated, and controlled.
Calling someone "crazy" is a way to dismiss them without seriously considering their perspective. Really, it's a cop-out; it's intellectual laziness. Pointing out that Laughner is mentally unstable is likewise a cop out. It doesn't explain anything. There are many, many people living with serious mental illness who have not resorted to political violence. Jared Laughner is not just a crazy person. He is a person, with reasons for behaving the way he has.
* * *
We call people "crazy" when we don't want to try to understand them, because we don't think people with mental illness are worth trying to understand. The fact that someone is living with mental illness is enough reason to dismiss their perspective, because "crazy" is something that should be dismissed.
"Crazy" hurts people. It hurts the people that it is used against by implying that their inner lives are nonsensical and meaningless, by generalizing about the unique psychological burdens that they have to deal with, and by refusing to take them seriously as individuals. And it hurts those who wield it against others, by inhibiting empathy and limiting our understanding of our fellow human beings.
It's a word that I'm going to try very hard to stop using.