This weekend during my search for a great deal on Craigslist I encountered a family selling the belongings of their son who had taken his own life less than three weeks ago. He was a veteran of Afghanistan who returned to find he was a different person trying to survive in a world that was no longer familiar to him. As I listened to this story my mind kept wondering how individualistic our society has become, where a brave soldier of war comes home to find himself alone and unable to reach out to seek the help he needed.
I had to think about how many other people in our society are lost and looking for guidance but do not know how or where to seek assistance. These are everyday people; these are your neighbors and your family. There are people in recovery, there are people overwhelmed with raising children alone, and they are people just trying to get through the day.
Having interdependent relationships provides the support and accountability we need as individuals to successfully navigate life. Too often these days, people are focused on independence and lack of accountability. We are able to hide behind technology and the internet, finding anonymity makes us feel free to express ourselves and make our true selves be heard. But reality is in the end we are isolating ourselves. We don’t have genuine interactions, we don’t feel the friendly touch of a friend, and we don’t have a shoulder to cry on when we are upset. In our frantic attempts to stay connected and plugged in, we find ourselves more alone than ever. This extends beyond social media. Think about the big businesses that cut overheard by allowing telecommuting. This cost cutting deal sounds great for the tired commuter, but in the end it knocks the commuter down another notch on his level of social interactions. How many people do you know who have reliable relationships with their neighbors?
Decades ago, families in a neighborhood had BBQ’s together. Their children played in the streets together where everyone understood it took a village to raise a child. They borrowed tools from each other, and knew someone would be there to shovel their driveway if they were unable. It was safe to sleep with your doors unlocked, and everyone knew your name. These statements may sound like reminiscing of a time long gone but they are not. They exist in other countries where collective societies and values still reign high. However, our culture has moved away from these values instead focusing on personal success and individualism.
So how do we cope in the chaos once we understand it? It’s all about balance. We need to focus on our career so we can provide for our family, but we need to remember we are working because we love our family. We can’t spend all our time and energy on career development, forgetting about the things we love. Everyone says this but most people don’t actually understand it. Take this example, reverse the situation. You spend all your time and energy on your family very quickly you will realize that you can’t survive on love alone and at some point an income is going to be a necessity. We are so quick these days to write off our relationships and support systems in favor of a career and work commitments.
This ideology has made the U.S. what it is today. Hard work and dedicated drive has propelled us into a prosperous nation. However, have you seen images of the French laying in the park reading books, couples kissing on the bridge, families holding hands while walking down the street? How about Italians who can slowly eat a meal guilt free, who enjoy an espresso at a sidewalk café sitting at an outdoor table watching the world go by. One of the keys to a happy life is developing strong supportive relationships, balancing careers and pleasure, and taking time to enjoy the simple pleasures in life. Achieving this level of peace is within all of us.
Till then, continue “Discovering Your Own Way”…
– Dr. Brennan