Thoughts From Dr. Joe: He's just got to be himself

A few weeks ago I wrote thoughts regarding the heightened sensibilities that prevail among us.

My thesis was, “Society has become overly sensitive.” I stressed that it’s demeaning to portray ourselves as victims, with tender sensibilities, easily offended. We might be free if we were not held prisoner by every chance word that we find offensive.

I mentioned Brother Cyprian, a taskmaster whose visceral, verbal and physical reprimands made me a better person and a good student. He was the master of tough love. He hired me as a gang counselor because he thought I had the mettle to make a difference.

My perspectives are evident to me. They are part of the clay that has defined the image of who I am. For me, believing is a process of astute observation, analysis and listening. Believing is likewise the alchemy of philosophy, history, psychology and my own gut instincts. So my conclusions do not come lightly.

Believing and truth are not mutually inclusive. I don’t own the truth and never said I did. So how do we believe what we believe? Epistemology is the study of belief and knowledge. We travel a path between the intuited world of idealism and the logical world of realism. The relationship between belief and knowledge is that a belief is knowledge — if the belief is true. Most often the precepts that we rigidly hold are subjective. Differences in subjectivity often sway toward the loudest bidder.

My contentions regarding the hyper-sensitivities of people relative to the alleged racial slur that divided this community hit an emotional chord with Anita Brenner, a fellow Valley Sun columnist. I totally understand and respect her opinions.

Anita countered my contentions regarding heightened sensibilities in an excellent piece in which she revealed a wrenching story about General Victor Krulak, the Marine commander in Vietnam. I never knew that he hid his Jewish ancestry because he feared he would be judged not as a Marine, but as Jew.

In Vietnam, I thought General Krulak was the bravest man alive. But now I know he wasn’t. It’s not courageous to deny who you are. Bravery is not inclusive of a frontal assault. Bravery is also having the courage to be who you are.

Throughout the weeks that followed, Anita encouraged me to reply in kind. She even wrote a follow-up column. She said that my absence from the debate “is like shooting fish in a barrel.” I assumed I was the fish.

I received numerous emails from readers. “Dr. Joe, when are you going to answer Anita?” they inquired. “I’m not,” I replied. Some readers thought that my sensibilities were ruffled by Anita’s remarks. They weren’t.

I have a philosophy that I’ve tried to follow throughout my life. It’s a line from “Hamlet,” by William Shakespeare: “This above all: To thine own self be true.” It’s worthy of your scrutiny.

As long as I’m true to myself, I don’t begrudge others their opinions, neither do I care if others begrudge me mine. There’s no need to overwhelm another with my views. Subsequently, I don’t need to be right. Oscar Wilde said, “The need to be right makes one old,” and Shakespeare has given me the freedom to be who I am, regardless of the naysayers, or those who want to change me for my own good.

I often channel Shakespeare and pull from his wisdom. I have found the admonition of his character Polonius, about being true to oneself, foundational toward having center. You walk with grace when you have center. I may never get there, but I’m on the right path.

Well, that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. There are no rebuttals, no ruffled feathers. So, to quote poet John Greenleaf Whittier’s poem “Barbara Frietchie,” “Shoot, if you must, this old gray head....” But I’ve got to be me.

JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a professor of education at Glendale Community College and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at

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