Man’’s Mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimension. Oliver Wendell Holmes

It is well documented among those who know me that I owe everything I have in life to my wife: a career, a wonderful family, a home, etc. all flow from our growth and changes together. Still, there have always been differences between us. One of those dichotomies involves reading vs. watching. My lovely wife, the former English teacher, is the most avid reader I know. While I do not consider myself to be functionally illiterate, I can’t keep up with her when it comes to book counting. And, of course, there is no argument against the age-old cliché, “”The movie wasn’t as good as the book.” I’m at the other end of conversation as an avid movie fan and TV watcher.

But, thanks to our wonderful daughter, my side of the discussion gained some traction recently. My ”leg up” took the form of the wonderful NBC TV series, “This is Us.” Christina, at the age of 36 and with three children, recommended the aforementioned family show. The story involves a family with three children as well, with all the adult characters being age 36. The merit and value of “This is Us” cannot be overstated, and I won’t minimize its contribution by trying to describe the plot, its characters and, most importantly, its overall message..

But back to my wife and me and “written word vs. human performance.” It could be argued that the first form of artistic representation of meaningful thought was the theatre. The Greeks took meaningful expression of a fictional tragedy to a level of insight and emotional catharsis through human performance. In the 21st century, most electronic entertainment functions at a comic book level. At best, there are a few laughs of a spine tingling moment or two. That’s it.

But at its best, great electronic (or human performance) art transcends the written word. The beauty of well-crafted dialogue is meaningfully enhanced by talented actors. Visual media has the ability to move us on a multi-dimensional manner. Words, facial expression, vocal tonality and images of set and design combine to have a powerful impact on us.

Back to “This is Us.” Obviously, I am recommending this series to my readers. But aside from its artistic quality, the plot, characters, and emotions force its viewers to s-t-r-e-t-c-h. What do I mean by “stretching?”

I believe that all great art, irrespective of the media used, forces its audience to introspect, to “look inside.” Anita and I binged on the first ten episodes of “This is Us.” While we both appreciated its quality, I suspect that each of us was stretched in different ways. Issues of race, sex, addiction, values (see the last newsletter on this topic), family, sibling rivalry, self esteem, and many others are all presented for the viewer’s consideration self-reflection.

We found ourselves asking, “What do you think our kids will remember that we said or did as parents?” Do they quote us word for word? Is it because they thought it was sound advice or are they mocking us? Would the memories we worked so hard to create be the ones they recall? What might they say? (We both quaked at that idea but wondered just the same.) It will be an interesting holiday discussion at Christmas dinner this year.

What are some other examples of “stretching experiences?” Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird was published in 1960. Scores of students over the past decades were moved and “stretched” by the narration. Two years later, the movie by the same title engaged us as Gregory Peck, in the persona of Atticus Finch did the same, but differently. The same was achieved for those who viewed the interplay between client Will Hunting and clinician Sean Maguire as performed by Matt Damon and Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting. My wife’s top-rated novels for really S-T-R-E-T-C-H-I-N-G are Grapes of Wrath & Moby Dick . Of course, there are virtually endless numbers of soul-moving artistic renderings of both the written and performed word. Consider your favorites? Did they stretch you in any way?

As a practicing clinician, I understand that art and counseling share a goal of self-understanding. My suggestion is to check out “This is Us. Or, as my wife Anita would suggest, read a great book. Either will work.

And feel the s-t-r-e-t-c-h. It’s good for us.

By stretching yourself beyond your perceived level of confidence, you accelerate your development of competence. Michael J. Gelb