The vision itself is understandably popular. It promises to make a lot more of us buck up, shut up and tow the line. It outlines an active coercive strategy for intercepting, suppressing and removing from common view the obvious indicators – actual human distress and breakdown - that modern society is not working for many, many people. If a tree shows signs of break down, how about we pull it from the forest so no one has to hear the sound?
The loss I feel is moral as much as practical. Two thousand years ago, Jesus described the love of God in human, parental terms: If your child asks you for bread, who among you would give him a snake?
It’s a remarkably simple recipe for love. Someone expresses a basic human need – like hunger. You listen, hear what they are asking for, and give them something that meets that need.
A sad fact of modern times is that – despite massive material advances - we have not come very far in our collective capacity of offer each other basic love. To the contrary, our most powerful institutions -the modern healthcare industry, corporate America and, of course, Big Pharma – have made a fortune from selling us fancy, highly touted snake oils – pills, injections, operations, machines, wearable devices, residential units. For the most part, as a society, we have not even tried the far more simple (unpatentable) bread of human kindness, caring, understanding, legal protection for person and property. Nor have we checked to first to see whether the so-called problem people were able to access the bread of basic resources (secure shelter, food, water, employment) that every human being needs to live and be well. Even worse, the powerful institutional snake-oil-sellers are now using our Government to make snake-oil-selling ‘the law’ and getting our Government to pay for their wares with the hard-earned tax dollars of the American people.
If this is your life – or if it troubles you - take heart. Those of us who have been constructively disabled by mental health othering and psychiatric labeling are hardly alone. We are a part of long line of human history. We are not here because we deserve it, but rather because humanity has many, many lessons still to learn.
Truly, there is nothing new under the sun. The pattern is archetypal: The self-justification of self-interest. Cain killed Able to gain what he saw as a desirable advantage. Practically, every culture, everywhere has their own moral equivalent. Thus slavery, thus genocide, thus war. Thus seizing, thus appropriating what you have because of what I need or want.
Standing naked in the light of day, it's looks obvious and ugly. But cloak it in an bit of dominant culture ideology or rationalization and it becomes downright attractive to the uncritical eye: Savages, infidels, hoarders, crazy. Whatever is inconvenient, blocks progress or profit – from the majority/ power point of view - gets a label, a prescription and ‘the treatment.’
Today the dominant culture is all about markets, profits and business efficiency. Those of us who don’t, can’t or won’t meet those standards are singled out for moral – and sometimes literal - re-education, enslavement or extinction. The language and packaging shifts from era to era.
But don’t let anyone tell you that it’s progress. It’s been going on for ages. It looks pretty and attractive today because it is cloaked in the best marketing and PR that unbridled opulence, power and self-interest can buy. At core, however, it is just the modern rendition of the same old tired, time-worn, ugly dynamic of predator-prey, law of the wild, survival of the fittest, self-interested, loveless, master-servant, my way or the highway. Your existence is a means to my ends, nothing more, so forget about ever being anything more...
It’s the very blight on the human condition that has diseased our kind for ages. It has caused untold suffering and trauma.
It hurts because it should. Something inside us, deep down, knows this kind of behavior – whether in ourselves or others – is not worthy of the human spirit. Something in the nature of what makes us alive grieves – is grieving deeply, collectively – that we have not found a better way.
So yes, we are wounded. Yes, we are discouraged. Yes, we have been segregated, separated, beaten down. Yes, we have been systematically stripped of the respect, dignity and material resources that every human being needs to live and be well.
But don’t even begin to accept that our current level of social or emotional suffering is inevitable. That would be like saying syphilis is inevitable. It would be like giving up on trying to find a cure for cancer or infectious disease simply because human beings been afflicted by these things since time began.
So take heart: We are not just longing, individually, collectively, for physical well being. We are also longing individually, collectively for emotional and social well-being. This longing, while less quantifiable, is no less real or meaningful. By all appearances, it has preoccupied human hearts and minds since the beginning of conscious awareness. The search for effective responses to our collective social and emotional pain has been ongoing, continual, persistent and inspired countless religions, philosophies, movements, innovations, migrations and relocations.
Even better news, the answer may not be as far away as we think. No matter how publicly vilified or privately down-trodden, everyone of us has our own personal, private source of power. According to the great sages of all time, we have not even begun to tap it.
Yes, I get it. You like me, feel alone, weak, frail, compared to the massive obstacles we face. Understandably then, you, like me, may often think that the solution is in seeking and finding greater external power and control. So the advice goes, we need more resources, sway, votes, better positions, publicity or allies. We need to plan better, organize better, develop more tools to take back what is rightly ours. Everything about conventional thinking says such things are essential and we simply have to have them.
But think about it. Conventional thinking about these issues is what got us here in the first place. Moreover, these same old thugs of power and privilege are what got us the pain we’re in right now as a human race.
According to the sages of all time, there is a far better, far more reliable, trustworthy, accessible means at our disposal. It is a birth-right of our humanity - available, universally, to all of us at all times. Ask and we receive. Call and we get answered. The room of requirement whenever need arises. Ours to cultivate without limit, privately, relationally, communally, in whatever capacities inspire or choose us.
Gandhi called it soul-force. Dr. King called it strength to love. Jesus called it abba, father. Buddha called it taking refuge. Suffice it to say, it has many names, and many followers, across the human family, across all peoples, all generations.
In a word, our fundamental power is not to dominate, force or coerce. It is not about our ability to wrest from others the means of survival, comfort or outright opulence. Those things might allow us to live. Certainly, they gain us access to resources that enable our continued bodily existence.
But they are not what we actually live for.
The stuff we live for is soft and vulnerable. It’s nothing you can make happen or compel. It’s the stuff that real family is made of, whether biological or families of choice. It’s the stuff that’s inherent in every gift of life. Even the tiniest baby has it.
Think about it. Think about the power of a baby in distress. The baby has nothing – virtually no capacity to help itself. All it can do is cry and send out a distress signal that lets others of good will know there is a need.
I remember years back, hearing on the news that a baby had fallen deep into the earth. I remember how the world stopped. Rescue teams were organized. Hundreds volunteered. The biggest, the brightest, the most fit, most astute all came together. Everyone was riveted to radios to hear of the progress.
Of course, there was still self-interest. Anyone who was so positioned wanted to be the one to get there first. But more than anything else, we all wanted that baby out alive.
The only power that baby had was inspiration. It could compel nothing. Yet, it touched something in all of our hearts that made us pay attention. The same thing Buddha, Jesus, Gandhi, Dr. King, Black Elk, Brother Francis, sages of all times have touched.
It’s the stuff that comes up, naturally, when authentic, meaningful contact is made – one living creature to another. When I see you and you see me, when we see ourselves in each other and care for each other – not just because we are strong and gifted, not just because I see you and need you as a means to my end.
It is the stuff of kindness, caring, love and real, true meaningful belonging. It says I see something in you, believe in something about you, that has value apart from me. It says I recognize that you, like me, know what it is like to feel fragile, vulnerable and weak. It says I have your back, you have my back. There are bonds between us that hold us together, that somehow, some way, our fates are bound up together. We are part of part of the same living, breathing being called life on earth.
These kinds of connections are life-changing and transformative. They don’t take fancy technology, pills, formulas, techniques or procedures. In fact, most often, those things just get in the way. The stuff that really matters you can’t patent or sell. It only works when you give it freely – a priceless offering from one human heart to another. Anything else degrades, devalues, denatures the gift.
So if we really want to help each other out of this mess, if we really want enduring solutions – not just billable bandaids - for our shared pain as a human family, we need to look not to outside experts, but deep within.
Yes, as always, it’s darkest before the dawn. As always, the underground railroad is live and well for all who care to ride. As always, the most powerful force in the universe is hiding in plain sight.
Seek and we shall find. Ask and we shall receive. The best of we have to offer each other is free. It cannot be stolen or coerced. It must be inspired and freely given.
This, to me, is peerly human. It is the best any of us can offer and the most powerful, transformative force on earth.
Unlike Congress, corporate America, the healthcare industry, Big Pharma, and the dozens of so-called mental health organizations that say they represent me, care for my welfare and are only out to protect my 'best interests', I'll won't be casting my vote for more experts, bigger better hospitals, more money, research, treatment or drugs. My vote is with the honest truth of your soul, my soul and what we can do together. One person to another. Peerly human.