If you read my book Not to Spoil the Ending… but everything is going to be ok, you might recall David. He came into my life shortly after Adam died in a professional situation, and through a courageous act of compassion that he made on behalf of a friend, he inspired me to be more deliberate in my kindness. David and I have yet to meet in person (although he was on the zoom for my book launch), but we caught up last week over the phone. Though our conversations typically tend to be upbeat and inspiring for both of us, we found ourselves bemoaning the state of things, especially for youth. I shared worries about young males, examples of young men I’ve worked with or been connected to who are lacking direction, depressed, unmotivated, and feel fear about the future, or addicted to their phones; as well my concerns about increased local gang violence and even a recent teenage murder in my community. David spoke about families he knew impacted by suicide, both young women connected to social media. “Wow. Suicide in girls, and homicide for boys. What a mess. Yikes.” Since we both tend to be positive and goal driven, we moved on to brainstorming. But it’s a big nut. …
The small print title for this blog is “connecting to what’s real under the noise.” Every post connects to it, and I got thinking about it this week in relation to my conversation with David, the state of things, and a lack of hope and disconnect, even disregard, for life in too many young people. Why is it all so meaningless and disposable?
If you’re around my age (early 50’s) you’ve lived through a gradually subtle but dramatic change in our world, a shift from a person to systems driven culture. As an example, your memories of going to the doctor growing up are likely more personal than your children’s. In first grade I almost died of a ruptured appendix. My mom rushed me to Dr. Whitten, who brought us right in, knew me well enough to see from my black-circled eyes and green pallor how sick I was, and called the hospital so they would be ready when I arrived. My godfather, Dr. Mannix, was the surgeon who saved my life, and a week later took my stitches out on his back porch, cajoling my allegiance from the Met’s to the Red Sox. The individual connection and attention was so impactful that I wore a Boston hat for the next several years, despite my strong family loyalty to the NY underdogs of the day. How many of our kids have grown up that way? Would the pediatrician recognize your child if they bumped into each other in a store? Today’s decisions about care seem to be determined less by a doctor’s expertise, intuition, and observation of the individual present, than an insurance industry’s compilation of data. How have we gotten to a place where numbers and dollar signs in an electronic cloud are considered more real than the two lives in an examining room?
Education has experienced a similar shift. I know so many excellent teachers, talented experts connected with the individual kids at the desks in front of them, but burnt by system-driven mandates, one-size-fits-all lesson “modules”, a data-based assessment system completely disconnected from the real individual lives in their classrooms, etc. And what do we have to show for all that the system has piled on in the name of accountability and outcomes? Despite data trend lines slope upwards, is there anyone who’d argue that education today is better?
Even in my non-profit experience, a career supporting a vulnerable population of individuals with disabilities, more and more attention and effort gets sucked from the services we provide, the individuals that we serve and their outcomes, towards institutional system processes and procedures. …
So, perhaps you’re here this morning bleary-eyed from the lost “spring ahead” hour, looking for some hopeful inspiration, and feel let down after last week’s island sunshine… ¡Lo siento! … But, maybe there’s some hope to be found in the ideas of that post about “real.” Because underneath the bulky weight of all of that noise and distraction of data, systems, and protocols, there are, of course, real doctors, real teachers, and real people serving individuals with disabilities, or any other vulnerable persons who need their support, real people striving to balance the conflicting priorities, and stay connected to the real human lives in front of them.
The answers are bigger than me or any wisdom that my limited time on this planet would enable, despite my own very “real” experiences. But something very important, that I only learned in the darkest depths, was an awareness of light, something very real within me, that facilitated my own recovery and inner peace. Perhaps in society’s efforts to become more efficient and profitable, that shift from the actual people to the data supposedly representing them had more of impact on a generation who’s grown up in it than we realized. But, maybe in a similar way, as things continue to feel heavy, seemingly unsolvable, and dark, what’s real – the individual lights of the persons doing the helping and those being helped – will percolate, bringing meaning, and life, back to our world, and (hopefully quickly) to our young people.
And to help prod it along, we might make a point of being attentive, to notice the actual real people who we encounter or pass in the midst of our daily distraction, and to connect with what’s real under the noise!