(Mental) State Of The Nation

I’ve spent an unusual amount of time on Facebook the past three days. I wish I could say it has been an enjoyable experience, but the only thing I can liken it to is standing by and watching a train wreck. Everyone was just crashing into each other. There was no good end to anything. It just felt like … death.

taylor-swift-pressurizes-apple-to-reverse-apple-music-dealOf course, there is no shortage of things to talk about on social media these days. The Confederate flag. Gay marriage. Taylor Swift and Apple. (Okay, that last one, not so much, but there is some stuff going down there.) Instead of talking, though, most people just snipe at each other. Proponents of homosexual marriage love how the “haters” got it stuck to them. Southerners try to play up the heritage aspect of the Confederate flag. Everyone is convinced they’re correct. No one allows that they might be wrong. It’s an online shouting match.

I have my share of personal beliefs, just like anyone else, and I can certainly understand passion in people regarding the issues of the day. Everyone wants to leave this earth believing they made a difference, and being a part of a social movement is something everyone dreams of. They can say they helped, literally, change the world. Occasionally, passion may trump logic, but it is undeniable that the force of a public tidal wave of opinion is something people not only can be caught up in, but also want to be caught up in.

I am concerned about our nation, though, and it has nothing to do with what flags are flying where or who is marrying whom. I am concerned because there is a growing cloud of darkness over the American psyche today which threatens to plunge our culture into a new age of violence, hate, and depression.

Several years ago, I stopped listening to conservative talk radio. It wasn’t that I necessarily disagreed with the opinions being expressed there; rather, it was the tone of everything. Conservatives had all the right ideas, and liberals wanted to submerge the country in darkness forever. That was pretty much the basis of every discussion I heard. And I got mad at liberals. I would get to work after listening to one of these shows and not want to talk to anyone. That’s when I realized I had gone beyond anger, maybe even beyond hate. I had fallen into some type of abyss, and there was nothing good there at all.

I feel us all sliding into that abyss today, and for those already predisposed to darker moods, there may not be any Peacecamp&downhillestatejuly21st012-1way back. I have been down this weekend, and I feel heavy inside. That heaviness then begins to spread into the doubts and fears and anxieties I wrestle with on a daily basis. My mood begins to be colored in a different way, and soon I begin to let hopelessness creep in. For me, this means a deepening depression. For those disposed to violence, though, or those who possess great anger, where does it lead them? And do the hopeful become bitter? Where are we going?

I was reading an interesting article this weekend about the suicide rate in Belgium. Doctors are permitted to assist with suicides for all different types of reasons in Belgium, including non-terminal conditions such as bipolar disorder, anorexia, and chronic fatigue syndrome. According to the World Health Organization, Belgium ranks 17th internationally on the list of suicides per 100,000 people per year. By contrast, the United States ranks 50th. My theory is this: When a nation expresses a willingness to condone taking one’s own life, its citizens follow suit. Therefore, if a nation projects depression and conflict, it stands to reason its citizens will feel the darkening mood.

Maybe I should get away from social media, television, everything where an opinion might be expressed. Then again, this is America, and those opinions have a right to be heard. I just wish it could be done in a way where sides are not so starkly chosen and battle lines are not so plainly drawn. The thought of us hacking each other to pieces is a depressing one indeed.

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The Dark Side

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

– Martin Niemöller

Even before I worked as a newspaper report several years ago, I had a real dislike of people who did not at least make an attempt to follow the news. The most common excuse I heard for this was “The news is so depressing.” There’s really no arguing with that statement; the news is depressing. Countries are at war with one another, people are shooting each other, companies are scamming their customers, politicians are caught stealing and lying… Yeah, watching the nightly news is not usually a yuckfest.

Just for a moment, though, stop and think about all the “real” things that happen in life every day. Think about the events in your own life that have had a profound impact on you. Maybe someone close to you passed away. Maybe you were involved in an accident of some sort. Maybe you were abused verbally or physically by someone. Maybe someone dealt dishonestly with you.

Sounds like some pretty depressing stuff to me.

There is a great emphasis being placed these days on “positivity” and “encouragement.” There’s nothing particularly yinyangwrong with that. This week, I’m supposed to be keeping a self-esteem journal, recording positive things that happen to me each day. This is in an effort to keep my mind off of the negative aspects of myself and my daily experiences. Avoiding negativity and depressing subject matter is often a wise course of action, most definitely.

The sum experience of “real” life, however, is not always positive or encouraging. People lose their jobs. Earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, and typhoons lay waste to entire cities. Children are sold into modern-day slavery. Dictators carry out atrocities on their own people. And money… Good Lord, we never seem to have enough money, do we?

Why we should watch the news, though, is not so we can drown ourselves in the miseries of the world. We should watch the news because the news is part of the world we live in, and, occasionally, as with the Nazi Germany Martin Niemöller described in the opening quote of this post, that world comes knocking our front doors. For instance, the local city council may be talking about raising your taxes, but if you don’t know that, you’re not going to show up at their next meeting to oppose it. On a larger scale, if you oppose abortion, for instance, and legislation is proposed to make the procedure easier to have performed, you won’t be able to write or call your elected representatives to voice your opinion on the matter.

I am the world’s worst about listening to depressing music, reading depressing literature, and watching depressing movies and television shows which just feed into my melancholy, but I don’t put watching or reading the news into the same category as those things. Listening to talk radio, yes, but not watching or reading the news. I suppose I subscribe to the philosophy of the yin and the yang when it comes to this; there’s a little darkness in the light and a little light in the darkness. That’s life … and that’s the news.