(Information for this essay comes from the following sources: the books “The Gift of Giving” by Michael Lynberg and “The Lessons of St. Francis” by John Michael Talbot with Steve Rabey)
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We read about them in newspapers. We see their names on the TV news. Those individuals who fall through the cracks. They are marginalized. They are the hurting. They suffer from some form of mental illness.
Like a ship bouncing around aimlessly in rough seas without a rudder, they have no direction. And no sense of belonging.
And how do we hear about them? Some have been charged and convicted of horrific crimes that make the headlines. Some have been found criminally not responsible for the crimes that they have committed.
They are the ones when 24 hour TV news stations interrupt their broadcasts for “Breaking News”.
We don’t understand what goes through these peoples’ minds. We don’t understand their frustration, their anger, their self hate.
Maybe, just maybe, if we had genuine community, these incidents would not have happened.
So, what is genuine community?
According to Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arch, a network of homes where the mentally challenged live “community is a place of belonging, a place where people are earthed and find their identity.”
The cornerstone of genuine community is a sense of connectiveness among its members. There is an interdependence among the members. Each member has a responsibility to each other’s welfare. Each has a duty to help members reach their full potential.
Sadly, community is rare.
It’s been said that it takes a village to raise a child. And it takes a caring community to care for the marginalized and the hurting.
For starters, we must acknowledge that the mental health system is broken and in need of repair.
Doctors can give patients medications which may reduce their symptoms. But they need to treat the entire person and not just his/her illness.
But, as a society, could we be doing more?
One of the most profound statements that I came across comes from French writer Victor Hugo in his play “Les Miserables”. “If the soul is left in darkness, sins will be committed. The guilty one is not he who commits the sin but the one who causes the darkness.”
And we, as a society, are guilty of creating that darkness. Our weapon is our silence motivated by apathy. We exchange pleasantries but we don’t show a real concern for the hurting.
Some questions to ponder:
Are we creating an environment that encourages the hurting to wallow in self hate? Are we creating an environment that builds walls and, therefore, stops the isolated from having a sense of belonging?
Do we create surroundings that don’t challenge the hurting to reach their full potential? But more importantly, are we willing to help them reach their full potential?
Are we listening, empathizing to the cries of the hurting? Are we walking in their shoes, feeling their pain?
If we do not understand, we are more handicapped than those who suffer. And if we refuse to understand, we are even more handicapped.
Are we practising the principles of the Golden Rule “treat others as you like to be treated?” Or my favourite — Taoism’s interpretation: “Treat your neighbour’s gain as your gain; your neighbour’s loss as your loss.”
Community should echo the words in practice of English poet John Donne: “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the maine. Any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind.”
Or the philosophy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when he said that he could never be what he ought to be until those around him could be what they ought to be.
Or the wisdom of Albert Schweitzer: “As long as there was a man in the world who was hungry, sick, lonely or living in fear, he was his (Schweitzer’s) responsibility.”
If we refuse to correct the sources of the problems that these vulnerable must face, the next shooting, the next horrific crime is with our blessing.