We see terrible things and we have good hearts and empathize with the awful pain of the victims and their friends and families and there’s an undeniable problem that surely we can solve. Surely.
The thing is that we all see the malaise of our ill society, but we can’t name it. We try to blame it on things though– smart phones, the internet, Republicans, Democrats, religion, lack of religion, extremism, apathy, big houses, busy lifestyles, central planning, the pride cycle, guns, not enough guns, not enough freedom, not enough regulation, entropy.. and whatever the villain in your world is.
But it might be nice to, for once, just name the malaise. Diagnosing the problem is the beginning of effective treatment. Anything else is just symptom treatment– far too often with placebos.
The malaise is lack of connection.
Think about the people you hold dear. That list probably begins with your family. If it doesn’t, I’m sincerely sorry and I hope that changes one day. For most, the list of the people we hold dear begins with our family. After family, our list tends to include friends from high school or university, and people from work. We feel connections with them.
Why is that? What qualifies individuals to be on the list of people we hold dear? What gives us tender feelings toward others? What makes us love them on at least some level? Because if we can figure out why we feel connections with people and how, through doing that, love for them builds in our heart, maybe we can find a way to spread that and maybe start to fix the malaise.
Think about the last connection you made. The last time someone went from stranger to human person and perhaps even from human person to acquaintance or friend. Was it on the bus with the driver who seemed like he couldn’t find the brake pedal until the last moment? Was it on the commuter train that got stuck behind a freight train, delaying you and your co-passengers something like a half hour? Did you happen to meet somebody’s eyes and make a wry comment that got a smile or laugh? Did you strike up a conversation about the shared unpleasant experience?
A few days ago, I got to my train station with about two minutes to spare. My normally packed platform was empty– but the usually empty platform across the tracks was full. Crap. I had to get across the tracks to get my train, since it was immediately obvious the train was on a different track this morning. I started walking fast to the crosswalk.
A young woman with dark eyes caught up to me. “Sorry, excuse me. Where does the train going north come?”
I smiled at her. “Normally on this side, but not this morning apparently.” I explained what was happening and she kept pace with me to get across the tracks before the train came. And we chatted a bit as we got down to where I was going to wait for the oncoming train to stop. In my head, my internal jackwagon was telling me I had planned on listening to my book so I should end the conversation. But it was nice to talk to someone during what was usually the bizarre ‘civilization’ experience of being packed closely with other people, but not connecting to any of them.
And so we chatted. I asked her what she did for work. After thirty minutes, I saw Griz (short for Grizelda) for who she was. Not a stranger at all. She was very familiar: really driven, really smart, totally determined to improve her life, disappointed in guys of her age and their passive and lame approach to dating, and a big reader. I’ve got nieces like her.
I gave her my writer business card. We went our separate ways, a connection made. Nothing weird or awkward or disloyal was involved. Just two people talking and becoming, if not friends, familiar to each other– opening the world a little more for each other.
I’m so disappointed in myself that this is the only time I’ve ever made a connection like that during a year of commuting on this train. At least 200 trips– probably 400– made and I only told my inner jackwagon off and talked to someone one time.
I’m part of the malaise of lack of connection. But that day last week, I got to be a part of fixing it, just a bit.
Some people will say this isn’t an ‘actionable’ approach to solving tragedy and gun violence and worse.
Those people are flat wrong. It’s not about the tools used to do evil, it’s about conquering evil. Love conquers evil and making connections with people is how we love them. We’re having shared experiences all the time– so the opportunity to make connections is always there.
I’ll commit to talking to people, even though it is so very hard for me and even typing these words has me in a bit of a cold sweat. I’m going to see if I can have the courage to say hello to the person across the way when I sit on the train home. And maybe I can’t fix the big problem, but I’ll fix my heart on others and maybe help them feel connected to people around them. And maybe that will help fix it.