The Real Epidemic In America
So many sources of media seem to be flooded with problems. It’s a fair assumption that [some] media thrives on fear and that [some] people, even the best of us, thrive on gossip. I can’t keep up with all the problems; the who’s, the what’s, the levels of offence, defense, and the personal opinions from the ever evolving facts. I do however see a common core problem, like a bad apple buried deep in the barrel, slowing rotting all the other fruit. There’s major epidemic in America, and it’s not obesity, or anti-vaxers, racism, or gun ownership. THE epidemic, with the toxicity to be even the root cause of other epidemics, is the loss of community.
I grew up in a major city in Connecticut on a busy street with lots of close-together homes. Yet when I left for college at 18, I knew the name of only one neighbor on that street. Assuming location was to blame for the lack of “friendliness,” I moved to an urban town in Maryland to a new townhome development. Despite our homes physically touching, when I left 5 years later I still did not know the family two doors down. I realized then, that there was a very big difference between a “community” and a “development,” “village,” “estate,” or any other name that “neighborhoods” call themselves to invoke a feeling of “belonging”. You need more than a name to create a community. Sometimes I think I may still be too far north, or too far east, but the media and politics imply that this epidemic is widespread.
America was once called the melting pot, because we were all different. This diversity once made us stronger. Different skills were appreciated, and teamwork and community were vital to the success of that community and of the younger generation. Today, while modern conveniences and technology are amazing, they have made it unnecessary to reach out to those immediately around you for help and communicate face-to-face. Every skill, task, and sense of teamwork can be outsourced. Instead of trading say auto mechanic skills for baking skills, we find it more convenient to our busy lives to just pay someone we may never even see, to complete the task. Why would you even ask someone a question, when google is faster? I literally have no reason to ever speak to my neighbors. Relationships suffer, the unknown grows, and with it grows fear.
The imagination is an excellent incubator for fear. If the content focus of media and gossip is on the negative (more violence and sadness after this commercial break!) consistently giving examples that [choice subject] is bad, then it always must be bad, right? No flip side, or exceptions…a whole family, town, race, country, terrible. Behold the power of suggestion aided by the perfect combination of imagination, fear, and doubt. Suggestion becomes familiar, and familiarity becomes comfortable. Therefore the unfamiliar makes you uncomfortable. This conditioning can become more pronounced as people seek out human interaction by finding a common interest: car clubs, sports teams, income brackets, skin colors. These types of communities aren’t bad, after-all they create friendships, but there’s a fine line where they can harbor negativity if they make no room for different. I don’t believe a true, strong community is built on sameness, but you could say that an attempt at sameness is built from and gives fuel to fear.
Now let’s apply all this to the would-be foundation of a community, or as some would say, THE reason for a community: children. We’ve all heard the saying “it takes a village to raise a child”. I really wish that mentality was still exercised today. Despite the fierce arguments that revolve around raising and protecting children, few people seem to actually be face-to-face involved with kids (immediate parents aside). I have both witnessed and read examples where a child playing outside isn’t greeted by a neighbor’s genuinely caring watchful eye, or even a mature discussion with their parents. Instead if it’s a young child, officials are called, or if the child is older than gossip is rampant and HOA complaints are filed. Now “it takes a village” to show children talking to people isn’t OK. It “takes a village” to make parents feel like failures. It “takes a village” to imply that isolation is great, object possession is at the forefront, and community isn’t even a known concept. I will be sad the day my kids become self-conscious about smiling and waving madly to every stranger they see because adults aren’t brave or sincere enough to give each other same warm greeting. Children learn, grow and live by example. We were all once children, and look at the distances between us and prejudices that exist now?
[Some] people seem to be so quick to complain and find fault. Even if no one is blaming them, there seems to be a knee-jerk reaction to declare that their complaint is “not their problem”. “The state really ought to fill that pot hole…that town snow plow missed a spot…what an eye sore that house down the road is with that over-grown yard…” The concept of coming together as a community and pitching in, helping out, performing acts of good for no material reward, seem to be lost on people. Lately I’ve come across articles (like this one) claiming that most of the now common mass shootings were done by a person on anti-depressants. Consider the fact for a moment that a simple smile can increase positive thoughts and the fact that interacting with a stranger can boost your mood. So aside from the the side-effects of depression medication, maybe, just MAYBE could the mental illness of those individuals not have manifested that far with a little more community? Or could they have been helped if they felt like they belonged somewhere? If they had first hand experience with acts of good, like neighborhood that rallies to help each other clean up a yard, fill a pot-hole, throw a BBQ, or just pause long enough to where “how are you” isn’t synonymous with a robotic “hi” ? I get where some people want to roll their eyes and call that “vision” a childish fairy-tale. Yet LOTS of people struggle with feelings of depression, doubt, stress, irritation, anxiety, loneliness, and/or fear. From children, to teens, to adults, the number of people living with negative emotions like stress, anxiety, depression, has been increasing over the years (source, source). People try to cure themselves with medication, therapists, and vacations, yet genuine friendships have the power to prolong your life, promote brain health, ward off depression and illness, speed up recovery times, and boost optimism (source). In fact, a 75 and counting year study done by Harvard, cites strong relationships as THE key to happiness and life satisfaction (source & source). It’s ironic that despite having the technology to talk to someone across the globe in a second, people could still feel so isolated, some even more than ever before.
I am not without blame. This December I told myself everyday in the two weeks leading to Christmas, that I would bring Christmas cookies to every close neighbor and introduce myself. The holiday came and went, I have a lot of reasons, but the real truth is, it was easier to do nothing. It’s easy to pretend you didn’t see your neighbor outside as you get in your car. It’s easy to angrily flip off a distracted driver without knowing what kind of day they might be having. It’s easy to judge anything about someone when you know nothing about them, not even their name.
It’s hard to be brave. It’s hard to be friendly. To offer help. To accept help. To have patience. To make new friends. To parent without a break. To feel different. To feel unwelcome. To live in fear. To surround yourself with so much “stuff”, and yet still feel alone.
What kind of community do you want to be a part of? What kind of community do you want your children to grow up in? Community doesn’t start by taking away guns, rights, laws, and money so that we are all “the same”. A community starts with a wave, then maybe a smile, a handshake, a conversation face-to-face, a respectful discussion of differences, learning, experiences, friendships.
Countries were founded on the decision to be different, not the same. America in particular knew that if we let the differences divide us, if we lost the sense of belonging, the glue of community, that divided we would fall. When I read the news it seems over-stuffed with negative topics. I can’t help but feel as if that content choice is all a desperate and failing attempt to try and hold us together without any of the glue.