There is always a pull to solve a problem. To figure it out is a lesser drive, to stop it is paramount. We want the bad, the painful, the heartbreaking to be done. We want our comfort back and to be left alone to enjoy it. It’s interesting that in our Western culture we would think or feel something like this, “leave me alone to enjoy my comfort.” Yes, we feel a sense of compassion for those who are affected by suicidal thoughts or substance abuse. We want the test scores of our educational institutions to be high so that we feel good about ourselves ensconced in our comfortable community. We want the blight of homelessness dealt with and hungry people to be fed. But we need to pay attention to what’s pushing us. It’s ironic that the concept of being left alone is associated with comfort. It’s not that it isn’t true though - the presence of others always interrupts our comfort. They bring their problems, agendas, annoying characteristics, and challenges to our status quo. They require us to consider our alikeness and our responsibility to each other. But they also bring wholeness.
It is not really comfort we want. We want meaning. We are meaning makers. Comfort wears thin really quickly. If we ignore our narcissistic boredom it can get pretty ugly. Our tolerance for simple comfort rises and requires more and more until our comfort becomes another addiction that we must feed to maintain. Eventually, we are no longer trying to be comfortable, we are trying to stave off the meaninglessness that is brightly lit by our purposelessness.
Our meaning cannot be fully understood outside the context of our relationships. Not just our like-minded, like-lived friends and family who we complain, joke, and criticize with. Also the ones who we are connected to because they are other humans in our community. Even though they are different than us and their pain makes us uncomfortable. Maybe even though they align themselves against us in an opposing tribe. We can only find meaning in the context of all the annoying people who share our stories and create the space for us to discover our identity and value. The people who collectively meet our needs when our version of community is operating at homeostasis. We can’t have meaning if our goal is to be left alone.
We will also have a difficult time finding it if our focus is on making a problem go away. Every single problem is a byproduct of ignoring the strength, beauty, gifts, and value of people. Suicide is outside a person. It is a separate, disconnected act from a person. So is homelessness. Neither of these, nor any of the other desperately heartbreaking problems that exist are the person that is suffering from them.
Imagine that every problem is a monster. Each monster has characteristics unique to them as a problem.
The suicide monster is dark and hollow and consumes hope like a black hole. You feel yourself whither in its sinister, grasping presence. It is masterfully and persuasively convincing. It looms and leans above and toward you and seems to expand as you look upon it, threatening to surround you on all sides. It reeks of acid and charcoal and sulfur and makes you feel terribly tired, too weak to sustain yourself and sick to your stomach.
The monster has it’s own identity, separate from the person it haunts.
Academic failure is green and chalky and screeches in a frequency that is just barely above the threshold of your conscious awareness and makes your skin crawl with a panicky, goose-bumpy coldness. You feel its eyes on you judging, and you want to compare yourself to lesser thans to stand up straighter. Criticism of your unfocused efforts on irrelevant learning and your distracted intent to please are like shots from a bean bag gun that come from too many directions to dodge.
The howling is from the monster, not the person.
Drug addiction is irresistibly beautiful and full of mingled, radiant color. Transparent and impossible to define. It beckons with allure and promise but brings painful attention to the empty places in your soul.
The monster tries to merge but it is not human enough.
Homelessness is dirty and smells of urine and feces and rotten trash. It leaves empty boxes and bottles with clinging remnants behind to rattle, whisper and roll in it’s wake like the fading melody of a hopeless, cynical song. It is used up and tattered and its frayed edges flap in the wind like an old tarp in harmony with the leftover’s tune.
Homeless is not a human identity descriptor.
Each monster’s purpose is to distract you from the person it haunts. The more you focus on it, the less you see the person under its spell. Like in many stories, the monsters are evil and they gain their strength by stealing the energy we focus on their destruction. The more we rail against them, create weapons to defeat them, and think about, talk about, strategize against, and hate, the stronger and more influential they become. The monsters are not the battle and our weapons are not better, more destructive versions of their weapons.
Our weapons are gratitude, love, generosity, patience, humility, compassion, and hospitality in more radical forms and proportions than we have imagined. We will not be able to imagine them until we shift our focus from the monsters to the people the monsters are killing. If the problem (monster) is fed by our attention, and so is the person, then when we focus our attention on the person, the monster will be weakened and the person will be strengthened.
There is enough of us for each other. We are our most powerful, most precious resource and there is enough to go around.
I write about belonging, storytelling, community building, prevention, trauma, resilience, neuroscience, and epigenetics.