When I was suicidal, the social worker yanked me out of my self-imposed isolation by placing me into a boarding house with young people my own age where we all sat around the same table for dinner, and my relationship dis-ease began to relax. I had contracted this malaise earlier in my life, terrified of my father’s physical abuse, nuclear bombs, and the selective service board that wanted me to submit to a duty to kill. I had become an angry, alienated, and apathetic young man.
I had a self-righteous belief in the ultimate selfishness and separateness of human beings. I was cynical to the extreme. I became locked into a self-destructive cycle, and eventually I was forced to ask as so many of us have asked, what am I living for? It wasn’t until I had been in recovery for 20 years that I saw my lifestyle decision to abuse those in positions of power and authority such as teachers, police, or the entire federal government because of my history with my father. I would focus on listing their faults and attempt to steal or subvert their power.
Self-isolation, the fear of connection and loss of individuality, a false and temporary kind of strength, is the acting-out of a belief that we are alone, abandoned. We make abandonment real by not talking, not trusting, and not feeling, which are ways of keeping ourselves numb. Those practices lead to the most violent forms of self-abuse and other-abuse we know: suicide on the installment plan.
I regard “global warming” and “nuclear deterrence” as euphemisms for the reality of the human-caused mass extinction event — suicide — that has been in progress for many years already. We are now attempting to re-program an entire operating system that has vast inertia, requiring that we hold down the ON button of the new operating system with all the resources of our care and attention. The homo sapiens who survive will be the ones who overcome their isolation and develop the skills of cooperation and trust.
It’s a paradoxical process, somewhat “irrational,” to become strong by letting go of power, to become decisive by letting go of analysis, to build community by looking at oneself. Yet, as we practice giving away our compassion to each other around the issues that we share in common, we become internally balanced and secure. We find strengths and courage we never knew we had. The fear and depression resulting from isolation are very addictive alterations of our mood and brain chemistry, and once we are free of those cycles, we will see and hear things as they really are. We are not alone. We are part of a much larger flow of evolutionary change that moves at a speed that is relative to our willingness to participate in it.
While acknowledging our anger, frustration, and confusion over why it’s taking so long, let us not demonize anyone in the process. It’s important to arouse both curiosity about and respect for the human beings, just like us, who have different life histories that led them to where they are today, i.e., to hate the inaction and not the in-actor. Always allow for the possibility that what we see as “apathy” is really something else, something very human, such as confusion, isolation, and fear. Think of the times when WE have been apathetic. I’ve felt it. It’s hell. What was underneath that sense of being frozen, not involved, not passionate, not alive? In my own experience, when dealing with corporations and government institutions that appear totally screwed up, if I can get past the automated menus of their answering system to a real person, then quietly, gently press my case patiently and without ceasing, appeal to their higher sense of values without threatening their fragile ego — shazzam! I get the results I was seeking, and I thank them profusely. Our anger is only a signal that we are very much alive, sensitive, and raw like an open wound in need of healing. Feel it… and don’t wound others in the process! The crisis we face together is both dangerous and a beautiful, awesome opportunity to leap the chasm. Breathe deep, and take a run at it. Do that much, and you cannot fail.
The US is like a late-stage alcoholic in denial, who needs to hit bottom in order to find which way is up. When our hearts are broken open repeatedly, they begin to stay open. America does not need to be a superpower/superpoliceman any longer, America does not need to be number one, arrogant beyond belief. America needs humility. Hey, we could become a leader in humility! I suppose that would be a form of popularity, but only because other nations are already there, and America is finally coming around at the tail end of the transformation. It would be a great sense of relief for Iceland and Sweden, that the adolescent delinquent nation has finally decided to grow up and not destroy us all.
However, the response-ability is OURS, the grassroots — not the government — to invent and create the joy, wonder and power of people working together in harmonious community. WE can overcome the obstacles of privilege and power to create an evolutionary, inclusive culture at the fringes of humanity, where cultural mutations are possible and where all true survival strategies originate.