Yesterday I learned that a friend’s twenty-nine year old grandson committed suicide.
This sad news piggy backed on the horrendous massacre of fifty-eight people in Las Vegas this week, and though, not the same as my friend’s grandson’s suicide, made me ask myself WHY? Why is it that so many people today are lashing out by either killing themselves or others?
Former US Representative, now University of Michigan professor Harold Ford said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe when analyzing the Las Vegas killings, that he believes we are having a public health crisis. Something is taking place in society that is making masses of numbers of people “sick.” I prefer this analysis to coming up with all sorts of new gun legislation or pouring billions of dollars into mental health programs or providing revenue to address the opiod crisis. This country has a serious problem that is affecting exorbitant numbers of the population and it can’t be solved by stopping up holes to keep the water from pouring through. We need a civil engineering project for our country that seriously addresses the inordinate amount of self destruction taking place.
I wish I were smart enough to come up with a comprehensive solution. In my modest way I’ve thought that requiring everyone to take on the responsibility of citizenship such as the public service requirement that Israel requires for their eighteen year olds or that the UK “Gap” law requires of their citizens might result in an understanding and create a sense of pride in why we are Americans. It used to be the public education system provided an avenue for that identity. We all said the pledge each day, studied the constitution, believed in the same history of our country. That no longer is in play because so many people have their own conflicting ideas on how to educate our youngsters.
We are all seeking to be part of some sort of a community today. People are anxious to be members of all kinds of group that reaffirm their beliefs and help them bond together. Whether, it is joining the NRA or Planned Parenthood, Moveon.org or the KKK, everyone wants to belong some place. It used to be that our family and our home town bound us together, but the definition of family today may not be the traditional mom and dad and two kids all of the same race. And the town today may just be a sprawling development of homes with no Main Street where everybody knows your name.
We need something that will unite us rather than divide us, some thing that gives us a reason to be American. I’m not against technology or big concerts or eating out every night or watching dystopian movies. I guess that’s some sort of progress.
What I object to is that we seem to have lost the core principles of what makes our country great, a collective idea of what it means to be an American. To me being an American means creating laws that allow all the citizens of the country the opportunity to have a productive life and that gives them the tools to have that productive life and maybe even sets the bar for what is a productive life. It means drawing on our past history to do this to better ourselves where we have made mistakes. It means accepting that we can’t go back to those idyllic Eisenhower years when I grew up, but it also means that those who weren’t lucky enough to grow up that way may in the future have a chance to do so as well as those who have already been so fortunate. It means being able to be all kinds of people with all kinds of professions. We don’t all have to be rich or famous or pious or edgy. But we all need to be appreciative that our country offers this opportunity to be free to be you and me. I always think of Henry Drummond (the fictitious version of the lawyer Clarence Darrow) who says in the play “Inherit the Wind,” about the Scopes Monkey trial on evolution, something to the effect of, “Mister, you can have your new airplanes, but the sky will lose their wonder and the air will smell of gasoline.”
We all need to move forward and really, right now especially it means, we all need to actively work towards this goal. The public health crisis is imminent. And we better find the right medicine.