Sunday, December 16, 2012

Some Thoughts On Newtown

In seeing the varied reactions of many of my friends to the horrific tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, I've seen some focus on the problem of gun violence being so pervasive in our culture far and above almost anywhere else on earth. And others have focused on the chronic problem of the lack of treatment for the seriously mentally ill, and their easy access, in many cases, to high powered firearms.

Then some of my friends have, rightly to my mind, decried the way the mainstream media reports these tragic events, in effect giving so much attention to the perpetrators that they end up glorifying them even while condemning them. But in any event, these sick and evil individuals end up getting most if not all of the attention, when their victims typically remain anonymous in the long run. Others, in contrast, wish we would simply take the time to mourn the tragic deaths of those violently taken from us without immediately jumping on whatever bandwagon we're particularly incensed about. I have a lot of sympathy for that perspective myself, since it's far too easy to turn these little children and adults, loved as individuals by individuals who loved them in particular, being turned into symbols for some great and abstract cause, meanwhile leaving them as real people behind.

I agree with each of these concerns. They're ALL valid expressions in reaction to the horror we all experienced on Friday when we heard the awful news. And, in time, we MUST begin addressing all of these aspects of what has happened; not only in Connecticut, but in Aurora,Co., in Portland, Or., in Tuscon, Az., and on and on and on... We MUST deal with the constant deadly problem of a nation awash in guns causing our country to have one of the highest death rates due to handguns on earth. We have 300 MILLION guns in this nation! And 30,000 people are killed by them EVERY year here in the U.S.! And yes, the NRA and it's lobbying and control of politicians MUST be confronted for what it is, a straight out subverting of the democratic process, a subversion which directly threatens the lives of thousands of Americans every year!

And the long term issue of how we treat the seriously mentally ill is, to my mind as someone who has worked in the mental health field, a national disgrace. I cut my professional teeth in the mid to late 80's when big cities like NYC were hit with waves of seriously mentally ill adults who had been "de-institutionalized" but without ANY subsequent services provided, just homeless shelters and abandoned buildings and public terminals. We still haven't recovered from that turn of events from over a quarter of a century ago.

And related to that is the problem of treating and caring for the seriously mentally ill before they become so destabilized that these kinds of tragedies occur. Our schools, our churches, our synagogues, our mosques, our police departments, our social service agencies ALL need to be brought up to date on EARLY detection and treatment options! And yes, this needs to be seen as a BASIC healthcare issue as well. When we consider the sheer number of deaths and injuries sustained by this epidemic of gun violence, how could we possibly NOT see it as a national health emergency??? Early mental health screening and treatment MUST be a basic part of covered healthcare!

And of course our sick media culture of never ending images of death and carnage flashing across every cable "news" screen in an endless loop of visual bloodlust has not helped us one bit! The old adage "if it bleeds it leads" has never been more true and more dangerous to our nation's well being. The major news outlets MUST come to terms with how it has become complicit with this culture of glamorizing death and destruction, so that those most sick in their minds watch others being made famous and fantasize about their own names going down in the history books for some act of infamy. I'm not asking for any kind of governmental censorship of this, but only for a true accounting to be made by those in authority at the heads of our media empires for how their short term profit cultures have played into and even exacerbated violent tendencies in the larger culture.

And lastly, as mentioned above, we MUST remember the victims of these tragic massacres. The children who will never grow up, the parents who will never see them grow up. The adults whose lives were cut short as they were living out their dreams. The many family members and friends left behind, grieving, desperately trying to live lives forever changed by "one" day, one evil day they all, we all, wish could be erased from the history books. Because, after all, each one of these victims was a beautiful life, a promising life, a life deeply loved by everyone around them, and we are ALL made poorer by their absence. But let us, in remembrance of them, no matter how young or how old, be ENRICHED because of the time we've had with them. That will honor their memory and keep the love alive which they all so inspired in us.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Space Invaders: Or What Tribes Do You Belong To?

Recently I've been thinking about how many "tribes" I belong to. Tribes as in discreet associations with others whom I share a common interest or identity with. And as I thought about it I began to realize that the tribal structure expands to, quite literally, the cosmic level, but also back down to the incredibly detailed level of very specific commonalities (or more accurately uncommonalities). In other words, how do we identify ourselves? For instance, I'm a Christian, and an evangelical one at that. Though certainly not your typical one if you ask my closer friends. So that's ONE tribe I associate with. But I'm also Christian in the larger sense, so I would associate myself with other Christians of the great traditions which are historically considered to be Christian, such as Catholics, the Eastern Orthodox, and Protestants. So in one sense, while I align with a particular subset withing a tribe, I still associate myself with a larger tribe which encompasses the smaller tribe. Let's consider other tribes I belong to by default. For instance, I'm a white heterosexual male, distinct tribes in their own right, each with their own assumptions and privileges which go with their identities. I'm also a human, one species among millions of others on this little planet we call home. But have any of you watched a good science fiction movie with invading space aliens? What tribe do you suddenly find yourself to be a part? You suddenly see yourself as being an "earthling" over and against "those outsiders" invading "our" space. Sounds eerily familiar, doesn't it? So being an earthling is the definition in this case. But what if even that's not adequate? Try being a carbon based life form. At this point we start to (or already have traveled down the long road) lose what "tribe" even means. And yet we can't help but be tribal. I love my team. And because of that I hate your team. When I see a game turn out "wrong" I have a visceral reaction. My pulse races, my instincts kick in. And there's a reason for that. Are you in any way different than me? Can I accept that?