The year 1790. The scenario: A large asylum (as they were then called) outside Paris. Inhuman unhealthy conditions prevailed with many inmates kept physically restrained by various devices. Each afternoon the asylum was opened to the public who, for a small fee, were let in to be entertained by the antics of the ‘mad’ people. It was a zoo for humans.
That was until a remarkable French physician came on the scene: Philippe Pinel. In 1792 Pinel was appointed to take charge of the asylum. He and a colleague were determined to pioneer a humanitarian approach to mental distress. Against a lot of opposition they introduced better conditions for the inmates who for the first time were treated with respect and kindness and given purposeful tasks to do. Most of all Pinel established friendly contact with the inmates and discussed with them their personal difficulties. The result? After a while a good many of the inmates started to get better, to the extent they eventually became well enough to leave the asylum.
One such inmate had been an officer in the French Army. He had been incarcerated in the asylum for 40 years, mostly being kept shackled. Pinel spent a lot of time with him, talking and, more importantly, listening to him. After a while Pinel asked the man if he would give his word that he would not harm anyone if Pinel released him from his restraints. The man gave his word and sure enough, when released, showed no violence. Pinel then took the man outside the asylum for the first time in all those years. The man gazed up at the sky and exclaimed “Comme c’est beau la lumière!” – “How beautiful is the light!”
From then on the man took on a job of helping to care for the other inmates. His mental and physical health improved, so much so that after two years he was well enough to leave the asylum, which he did, a free man.
No-one knows why he was incarcerated in the first place or what became of him after he left the asylum. But a transformation had been wrought.
Respect, being listened to, human contact, being valued. If we can provide these for others and work to gain these for ourselves, respecting ourselves, listening to the different parts of ourselves, basically treating ourselves with compassion, it seems to me freedom to flourish is there for us too. There is life outside the asylum or the prison of our beliefs if we can give to ourselves what was given to an ex-Army officer over 200 years ago.
What do you think of this true story? I welcome your comments below. For personal transformation of your own check out our e-book ‘I Just Want To Be Happy – An Insider’s Guide To Positive Transformation’. Paperback on Amazon.