Modern humankind feels homeless in the deepest meaning of the word: not in the transient sense of having no place to sleep for the night, not even in the wider sense of poverty’s homelessness, but in a monstrous, universal sense of having no place wherein we fit. [It] thus comes full circle; those broken within, also cut off from what is without, find themselves fundamentally estranged — not at home with self, not at home with family, not at home with the world.
This is a terrible feeling, a terrible be-ing — this dukkha (Sanskrit for “suffering”) sense of a bone ripped out of its socket. The experience is of lost souls circling endlessly, seeking the place where they “fit”. For only in finding that “fit” is the bone re-healed into its socket, and only thus does one find a place to rest, a place to hide, a place to be one’s-self… a home.
– From The Spirituality of Imperfection: Storytelling and the Journey to Wholeness, Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham
We must have compassion for those who have no compassion.
– Gary Zukav, author of The Seat of the Soul
When the bombing happened at the Boston Marathon last week, I found myself not fascinated, but repelled… perhaps even jaded. It was easy to tune out a lot of the coverage, especially since I don’t routinely watch the news. I read enough about it online to get the basic facts. I checked Facebook to make sure my Boston and runner friends were safe. And I prayed. I prayed for the victims, for the observers, for all the families, and for whoever committed this crime. (I prayed for the victims and survivors of the disaster in West, TX as well… but it seems that was due to corporate neglect and greed, not violence. More on that subject later.)
It wasn’t difficult to figure out why I was feeling so jaded… it seems like weekly there’s an act of mass violence in this country. And it’s almost boring to find out that they are largely carried out by disaffected young males… most of them white, nearly all of them acting on their own. The press falls all over itself publicizing their family history and psychological details, seeking to establish motive and blame long before anyone goes to court, upping the fear factor whenever it can.
All of this desensitizes us just as much as violent movies, TV shows, and video games… not to mention endless coverage of events like these. Even one of the photos from the bombing last week passed around Facebook showed a graphic image of a man in a wheelchair with his legs blown off. Once you see that, you don’t forget it.
As a teacher of teens in my church (see Being youthful), I talk to young people a lot about difficult subjects. Well, at least they’re difficult for adults — love, relationships, and sexuality. The youth don’t really have any problem with it, once they trust you and know you’re not expecting true confessions. And sometimes other subjects come up, too — like violence, addiction, religion, and alienation. I hear stuff about these that make my toes curl just as much as what they have to say about love and sex.
What I’ve observed is that it’s all too easy to disconnect youth from society today. They are encouraged to be independent and largely unsupervised, or supervised in ever-dwindling ratios of adults to teens. Latchkey kids are the rule rather than the exception, and after-school programs that aren’t sports are just about non-existent. Youth are encouraged to work, yet job opportunities often come with 20-hour-plus requirements, which wreaks havoc on schoolwork, family life, and social activities — key to teens being connected.
Adults largely don’t want to be bothered with youth. I do not say this lightly. I’ve heard way too many adults say to me, “I don’t know how you can work with them… I can’t stand teenagers.” And these are often their own parents! What are you doing, raising a kid you don’t like? What were you expecting… another adult just popping into bloom at age 12? And just how did you manage to expect that in the face of reality? Teens have to develop and grow, just like the rest of us. And to do that, they have to experiment, experience, and make mistakes, just like we did. Who needs to grow up here, really?
Adults are the ones who are ultimately responsible for teens’ well-being. We brought them into this world, after all, even if what we really wanted at the time was a baby. We need to stay responsible for our children, no matter what their ages, and even if they’re rebelling against us to establish their own identities. While they might not like you at the moment and your involvement in their lives, they know loving — true loving — when they see it. (See this YouTube video for a great demonstration of how you put loving back in your relationship.)
One of the more interesting pieces of brain research of the last couple of decades is that as teens age, the center of decision making migrates from a region that governs emotion to a region that governs logic. So teens biologically are less capable (not incapable, just less) of making logical, well-thought-out decisions, especially in the absence of guidance. If you mix in trauma, you add in a whole lot of static to the decision-making process. Hormonal cycles make it more complex yet.
But one of the deciding factors in developing a random assassin (let’s call these acts for what they are — acts of random killing) seems to be lack of connection. If you don’t feel love, if you don’t feel empathy, and if you don’t even like anything, or have convinced yourself you don’t, then you’re enough removed from others to make massive violence possible. There are scores of studies that prove emotional distance makes it easier to inflict pain, such as the famous studies where test subjects who were assigned the role of prison guards and told to inflict “electric shocks” on prisoners — who were really actors faking pain reactions. It took a shockingly low amount of time before the guards were giving massive doses of “juice” to their victims.
We specialize as a society these days in disconnection. Many of us have lost the values of community. Many more adults are disconnected from others, especially the elderly. We have learned to disempower and debase others, if not ourselves. We have revered the independent outsider, the loner, and held it up as an ideal in movies, TV, and music. And we are paying the price for it.
One of the interesting things I have observed at the hardware store where I work is the number of young men with tattoos. I freaking hate tattoos because they’re an emotional trigger for me (personal history), but I’m working on accepting inked skin. Might as well, I’m not going to get rid of it… and I don’t have to have one. Thank God. Anyway, I’ve noticed a lot of guys who are tattooed all over — at least what I can see — and almost without exception, they are sweet, polite, and mild-mannered. Not one of them has been rude or abusive to me… and I’m just the cashier around there, not somebody in power. It’s almost as if these tats are protective coloring, ways to shout out, “I’m a MAN, dammit! Don’t mess with me! I’ve got ink!” So why does anyone have to show this so graphically? Could it be that we encourage feasting on each other… that bullying extends further than anyone guesses?
So how can we connect with one another? And how can we hold space for our truths? How can we begin to open up our society so we can all be exactly who we are without having to display colorful symbols that we think might protect us from the threat of each other? We are seeing the pushback from the GLBT community, in fighting for marriage equality. We are seeing the pushback from the 99% of us who aren’t super-rich or members of Congress (often one and the same). And yes, we are seeing the pushback from those who feel threatened by change. While all of this is healthy, because all views must be heard, it doesn’t build community.
It is the community of shared humanity that will save us. Community based on shared values (as different as they may be), on tolerance, on recognition of our humanness. We don’t have to all believe as one, but we do have to believe in the worth of all. We do have to reach out to all and maintain connection — even if that connection is rejected, it is our responsibility as humans to attempt connection. It doesn’t mean we have to accept all attempts or force others to accept ours; it simply means we must smile, greet peacefully, ask about welfare, and reach out to help as we can.
This is how we prevent violence. More guns, more prisons, tougher sentencing, less tolerance only breeds more disaffection and despair. Community and connection brings understanding, love, and tolerance for all. We only have one world, folks — we can’t keep it if we disconnect our young people until they reach a certain age. Disconnection does feel as if a bone’s been ripped from its socket. And the next time a bomb or a gun is seen as the solution to that pain, it just might be in the mind of the teen on the next street from you.
Somewhere somebody must have some sense. Men must see that force begets force, hate begets hate, toughness begets toughness. And it is all a descending spiral, ultimately ending in destruction for all and everybody. Somebody must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate and the chain of evil in the universe. And you do that by love.
– Martin Luther King, Jr.
Why the faith of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects doesn’t matter, but yours does
What motivated Boston bombing suspects? Looking for their ACEs might provide some answers
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