Mark Zuckerberg speaks for many when he says the opioid crisis in USA is something we have failed to understand beyond the obvious problem of addiction. It is not just the worry of loss of control, though that is serious enough. The crisis is about more than opioids. It is a crisis of seeking something to hang onto in a time of instability. People drink and take drugs to relieve their inhibitions – that means ‘to numb their consciences’. Relieved of the rules drummed into them as children, they feel a right to exercise their opinions, whatever they are. The results can be catastrophic – a mass shooting, a war, despair.
At a less dramatic level addiction causes people to behave irresponsibly in other ways – at the voting booth, for example, or in their personal relationships. They forget that freedom is a gift hard won by ancestors, and abuse what they see as an entitlement toy whose impact will be most successful when it is so shocking that they receive a Media Grotesque Award. There are no accolades for the moderate, the peaceful, the sensible, nor for joy.
The instabilities of our time are not going away; they will likely get even more destabilising. You do not hazard your ship in a storm by flouting the laws of the sea. You batten down the hatches and face the swell on a steady course, confident that you can ride out the tempest. Those who teach or preach extremes are doing permanent and serious damage to humankind. In the smallest micro version of that, I am told of a religious group that demands payments from very poor people if they don’t turn up on Sunday. Yes, I did use the word ‘religious’. And you may legitimately be as gobsmacked as I was.
There are no panaceas to mitigate the effects of technological advance. What makes life easier for some will undoubtedly make it more difficult for many others. Unless we identify individual and collective purpose and set about achieving it we will see the end of our species on this planet. Recent discussions with educators have made the prospect of even looking for, let alone finding, that purpose seem more remote than ever. “We are here to equip people to get jobs” was the blunt but honest statement of one. She added “It is what is demanded of us”. Understandable but profoundly shocking.
I write this on the day we commemorate those who have died in war. Not just the two world wars, one of which was incomprehensibly labelled ‘Great’, but in all armed conflicts where many died that others might live in the freedom I spoke of earlier. At the break of day at Kranji War Memorial, at the eleventh hour at the London Cenotaph we will remember them. But our remembrance will count the more if we see the future they were never to have and try to make it something they could be proud of.
We are justifiably proud of what we do right.
The heavy weight of progress causes many to lose hope. Those who don’t do so have an opportunity, and a duty, to help those less able to cope. Call it friendship, call it mentoring, I see little difference between the two. A kindness is a kindness and something we should be willing to apply wherever the need is visible.
Mother Teresa called that visibility “the one in my arms”. We all have someone who qualifies by her definition.
May they see the kindness that will get them through the storm.