Henrietta Silverman Bench Dedication

Empathy, Relationship and Generativity

By Dr. Nicholas Covino August 10, 2016

Henrietta Silverman Bench Dedication, June 18, 2016

I want to welcome you today to William James College and to the dedication of this bench in memory of Henrietta Silverman. As a family member myself, I appreciate that events like these are an invitation, a request and, sometimes a command performance so I will say “Thank You” for being present and I promise that my remarks will be brief. 

Three words: Empathy, Relationship and Generativity.

On our front lawn is a bench; the bench has a name (Henrietta Silverman); and the bench sits at William James College.

The bench is here for several reasons.

On a concrete level: it is here because on a day that Mr. Silverman came to a meeting at William James College he needed to wait for his ride to come. He was uncomfortable and the wait was going to be a longer time than expected. Some people would have asked that someone get him a chair on which to wait. Mr. Silverman used his discomfort empathically. ‘What about the other people who would be in a similar situation?” he thought. “They will be uncomfortable too, I think that I can help them”

This kind of empathy and generativity was not new to Irving. I remember an early meeting when he told me of his grief after the loss of Henrietta. He had a lot of responsibility to assume in the raising of two young children. He needed advice, support and some helpful relationships. In the same fashion, he undertook a similar process of reaching out to others from his pain. “Wouldn’t other people need to meet people who are in a similar situation to get support and help with their kids, and maybe even find another relationship?” When I was a young therapist, I made great use of the Parents without Partners organization for my divorced and widowed clients. This is a group that Irving Silverman and some colleagues began. It became a national organization that offered information and advice to single parents, but it was an invaluable support for those who needed to feel safe and secure in the midst of a very difficult life adjustment. From his need, Irving moved to see the need of others and began this organization that has served thousands of people.

As Irving has aged, he has, of course, been aware of his physical changes; eyesight, strength, hearing. That isn’t surprising. What is unusual is his way of dealing with it.

In a world where people over 65 will rise from 900M to 2 Billion in 30 years.

In a world where 20% of older adults will experience anxiety, depression and treatable cognitive problems.

In a world where only 4% of psychologists identify themselves as interested in caring for the older population.

In this world there are only 10-12 psychology programs in the country that educate mental health professionals to work with this population.

Mr. Silverman, again, reasoned beyond his experience to see the need for others and he has built on a relationship that his daughter Ellen and her husband Don have with William James College to become a partner in developing a formal training program in Geropsychology.

We now have a fellow, a director in Dr. Rosowsky and in September we will have a full-time clinical research professor join us to create a specialty program in Geropsychology here. “What about other people in my situation? I can help them.” This is an important addition to an evolving College of Psychology that has the responsibility to respond to many needs. The help form Mr. Silverman in this area allows an important initiative to be moved forward, which recently received a companion grant from the Foundation for Metrowest to advance our work with elders in that community.

In a minute you will hear from Dr. Erlene Rosowsky who directs our Geropsychology program at William James.

Every major religion values empathy, relationships and generativity and they raise these virtues to the highest level.

The Holy Prophet Muhammad said “None among you is a true believer unless he loves for others what he loves for himself.”

The Dalai Lama describes the fundamental message of Buddhism as: “Be helpful to others. If you can’t help, at least don’t harm them.”

Jesus said the greatest commandment: “‘Love God and: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.

Asked to summarize the meaning of the Torah, the revered Rabbi Hillel said “I will tell you while standing on one foot: ‘What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation of this–go and study it’” We are partners in perfecting the world and we are partners in perfecting each other. Irving Silverman has had those relationships: That is why the bench is named Henrietta.

"A good marriage gets under your skin whether you are male or female," says Rochester psychology professor Harry Reis, PhD. Marital satisfaction is "every bit as important to survival after bypass surgery as more traditional risk factors like tobacco use, obesity and high blood pressure. Fifteen years after bypass surgery, 83% of happily married wives and husbands were still alive, compared to 28% of single women and 36% of single men.

Good relationships contribute significantly to recovery from surgery, lower blood pressure, less severe and less frequent depression and anxiety and longer life. There is growing research that is appealing to psychologists that the social support contained in a good relationship is as impactful if it is perceived.

A good relationship helps people to feel affirmed, respected, valued and supported and to stay on track, even if the other person is not physically present.

As ET leaves Elliott, the little boy is understandably distraught. In an effort to both comfort and to educate, the creature’s index finger starts to glow and he points it to his head and says: “In here.” The caring and the exciting relationship that the two enjoyed would not disappear with the end of their physical connection; it would endure in heart and mind.

Psychoanalysts talk about object relations. We believe that people are highly influenced by the experiences that we have with significant others and that these relationships continue to be present to us in our mental life. Like the creature, they live” “in here.”

The long life that Mr. Silverman is to celebrate again tomorrow at 96 is influenced by the care and love that he receives from his family, the support that he receives from friends, the sense of satisfaction that he gets from his writing and social projects for others AND in no small way by the relationships that he has had with his Three Queens: Bubby Pearl, Henrietta and Nancy whose love and compassion live in his memory and live in his heart. 

Let me ask others to speak about Henrietta, her husband Irving, the work in Geropsychology at William James College while we continue to consider these important values of Empathy, Relationship and Generativity.