Many of the living species live in community. It is necessary for the health and well being of humans, we are not designed to live alone and when community is dysfunctional our whole social structure begins to fail. When trust among individuals deteriorates community begins to disintegrate. This is where we are today, readers.
One of the earliest examples of this is the rescue of the Israelites from bondage in Egypt. They willingly and excitedly followed Moses into the desert eager to reach the comfort of the promised land. They were tired of living in slavery under the Pharaoh and being on the fringes of society. They were eager for their own place and a community of their own where they felt they belonged. Why did they feel excluded in Egypt? Even though they were bound to the Pharaoh they were otherwise free to conduct their lives in public but a sense of exclusion and a lack of sharing values and beliefs kept them separate from the mainstream. Instead of recognizing their commonalities such as family, basic living needs, caring for one another, they chose to focus on their differences as we do today and which keeps us divided and separate even now over 2000 years later.
The greatest number of wars between countries and within them among heterogenous people has occurred in the 20th and continues into the 21st centuries. The death of Trayvon Martin in Florida recently is an example of ho far we have gone. A self proclaimed vigilante followed him and ultimately shot and killed him because he was the wrong color to be in the place he was in and his killer was suspicious and fearful of someone different. Law enforcement has failed to take any action so far. Clearly the killer is disturbed and should be removed from mainstream society. Depending on your gender, color or whatever makes him feel threatened, you are all at risk.
In my city the police have shot and killed two young men this week who were “disturbed”, one failed to effect a reconciliation with his wife and the other also was suffering from some relationship problem. Neither were directly a threat to the police officers but potentially could have been and the expedient way to deal with the problem from the officers perspective was to eliminate the potential. Do you see anything wrong with this picture? I certainly do, I can see myself or a family member inadvertently in a similar situation given the wrong set of circumstances, the “perfect storm”.
Recently a young mother was sentenced for the horrific crime of suffocating her 3 year old son and burying him the sand in a playground in a park in my neighborhood. She was distraught, homeless and on the street, had begged family members to take care of him, called the police to ask for help for him, no one took responsibility or had compassion for her problem. They all sent her elsewhere and in a moment of hopelessness and helplessness she destroyed his life and hers forever.
We have failed these people as a community. We are unwilling to give of our time and resources to others and we (at least some of us) are unwilling to allow government agencies to do it for us. In my city there is no reasonably available mental health care for the depressed, or the addicted when they medicate their depression with drugs or alcohol. The best you can do is get locked up in the mental health center until you detox or be allowed a handful of visits to a therapist. Wholly inadequate.
The community has failed these people from childhood by ignoring their basic needs for a safe home environment, an opportunity for an education and a network of people to ensure they get these needs met. Many of these families have been destroyed by the loss of a parent to drugs or in combat in the continuous round of wars being fought. Years ago small towns and churches filled this need and people were their “brother’s keeper” Today we look for someone else to handle it, we don’t have time, it’s inconvenient, it’s messy!
I volunteer in prison ministry to assist women making the transition from incarceration to living in the community. Recently we celebrated the anniversary of the graduation of a man who had spent most of the past 30 years in prison starting when he was 17. He would be released and be unable to find work, had no support for education or basic living needs and re-offend time and time again until he finally connected with a mentor who volunteered his time for the first year he was out to helping him find work, a place to live, skills to interact effectively with family and society and all the other bumps in the road including the social stigma and prejudice he encountered frequently. His mother was there and tearfully thanked his mentors and was so grateful to finally have her sone back.
Hillary Clinton once said it takes a village to raise a child and whatever your politics are we are all responsible for each other and in caring for those in need we better the quality of our own lives.