This is a dangerous combination…for our personal safety and for our society’s well-being. Unfortunately, more and more of our neighbors seem to be sensing they are both powerless and frustrated. Of course, this isn’t a particularly new observation…but it’s perhaps becoming a more urgent problem. Three different strands of news and commentary have contributed to these thoughts this evening…all coming together today in a tragic serendipity. Sometimes it’s possible to connect the dots for a greater meaning…and sometimes the dots are so random the connections are misleading. My feeling is that these dots have been connected before…and they will be connected again and again. Our challenge…if we choose to see it…is to help our neighbors as they transform their powerlessness and frustration into active participation and fulfillment.
Tuesday’s Op-Ed by David Brooks in the New York Times was a change-of-pace…a deeply introspective thought piece about the meaning of life. The link is included below…and I highly recommend a thorough and careful reading of it. Brooks proposes a well-reasoned middle ground approach…a blending of two ways many of us use to explain how things happen…and why. On the one hand…we should plan and prepare and learn, so we can make our lives mean something in the purposefulness we show the world. On the other hand…we should respond to each situation that arises in our path with creativity and grace, adding meaning through our capacity for resilience. Yes, Brooks make the case effectively that meaning can be found in both practices…but he doesn’t approach the really big problem. When neither planning nor resilience works, we realize we are powerless and our frustration grows.
An email exchange today focused my attention on some statements that have become too familiar: “It’s already been decided.” I’ve been moderating a series of community conversations on California water priorities across the five Delta counties. Several people have voiced the same opinion…“It’s already been decided.” And the email writer today…she seemed at first to be totally beside herself as an angry and frustrated and powerless citizen. When important civic issues are technically still open for public conversation and input…but it’s obvious to the participants that the decisions have already been made, no one can plan well, nor can they respond well. All they can do is watch in horror as decisions that totally change their lives move closer and closer.
And in Connecticut…another workplace shooting claimed the lives of eight people…with the shooter killing himself as well. Of course, we’ll never know for sure what snapped in such a tragic way. Sadly, the warning signs weren’t visible enough for anyone to know how this man would react to the loss of his job…even though it appears he was treated fairly by the employer and union representative. It may be a stretch to connect this dot with the others…but I can’t help feeling that the sense of powerlessness and frustration that is overtaking more and more people is a contributing factor in this murder-suicide.
So…what are we to do? The remedy to this demoralizing trap is simple and very difficult…engage people one-by-one in conversations about the issues that confound them. No, friends…this cannot be planned and implemented in a national or state program. These conversations have to be local…neighbors talking to neighbors…peers facing the same scary problems and the same grim prospects of anyone in power hearing or heeding the public’s desires. What if…deliberative conversations on a variety of topics broke out like an epidemic? In addition to these conversations, however…action plans must be created in literally thousands of communities to restore the public’s desire and need for meaning in life and participation in decisions. There’s a lot at stake for our neighbors and for our democratic republic as we decide whether or not to organize another small group conversation in our community.