Take a hand…..be a friend

Published 9:42 am Monday, November 5, 2018

Another week, another assault weapon, and another pile of bodies.

It doesn’t matter anymore if it’s a church, a synagogue, a nightclub, or even a school.

We see the same pictures across our television screens, our computer screens, cellphone screens, not to mention our magazines: bodies covered in sheets then the camera cuts away to frightened, weeping survivors, clutching one another for strength and resolve.

And there’s always one other thing: a lonely person, usually a man.

You know how they’re always defined: someone who fell through the cracks of society, who lived a disappointing life, and who one day decided to try to make a leap from insignificance to infamy, draping themselves in death.

News reports say the Pittsburgh synagogue attacker Robert Bowers didn’t have many friends in high school and was, at best, a solitary ghost as an adult, spending evenings sitting in his car smoking, listening to the radio, and living, as one acquaintance put it, “in his own little world.”

Mass killings are about more than guns, demagoguery, or anything else that defies rational thinking.  But they’re also about social isolation and the spreading derangement of the American mind.

“I can be in a crowded room, and still feel alone; or I could be isolated and feel like I’m in a crowd of trusted family and friends,” a friend once said to me.  Think about it: killing sprees just manifest the fact that there are millions out there who find themselves isolated and alone. But there are other manifestations of their isolation.

One is suicide, where the rate in this country has jumped by 30 percent in the last century, and between the ages of 10 and 17, it’s risen by more than 70 percent between 2006 and 2016.

The rising levels of depression and mental health issues are yet another manifestation. But these mental health issues are at least as much about loneliness, loss of meaningful work, and feeling pressure and stress in the absence of community.

The chief struggle these days is sociological and psychological, not ideological or economic. Our relationships and trust that everyone used to rely on – so much so that we became comfortable in its dependence – are failing.

Look at the two sides: on one side are factors that sow division, discord and isolation, and on the other side ones that nurture attachment, connection and solidarity.

And here’s the hard part: It’s not about good or bad people on either side, but something that rings right down the middle. Most of us are part of the problem we complain about.

Most of us celebrate American individualism. We buy into a workaholic ethic that leaves us with little time for community. We’re too busy with our secluded selves.

But just like we’re part of the problem, most of us are also part of the solution. To do that we have to want to reach out, to mentor, and to serve other people who aren’t like ourselves.

It’s easier to destroy trust than to build it, so those who rip at the fabric of civil society have an advantage. But America contains many threads, so there are actually many more “weavers” – people who yearn to live in loving relationships and so too want to live in trusting communities. The weavers just need what any side in a conflict needs, and that’s basic training; training so that we know how to fight what we’re up against. We need strategies so we know how to win it and somebody to sound the trumpet of a call to arms so we know why we’re in it to win it in the first place.

Gene Motley is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at gene.motley@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7211.