We're hearing it again this week: we have a "gun problem" in America. And no matter how many times they say it, it's still not true.
We have a human problem in America.
The problem is that we've stopped teaching persons, encouraging persons, to live in community. What we've taught them instead is to build their own communities, which doesn't quite work. Instead of trying to get two parties to work out their grievances with one another, which was a staple of conflict resolution in the past, we now tell them to just avoid one another. If someone bothers you? Don't be around that person. Just ignore them.
And so individuals are building a wall between themselves and others. Regardless of how "well" this seems to work, there's a certain pain in it that never goes away. There's a certain feeling of being "trapped." If you're avoiding someone, you think about that person every time you think about doing anything - will you accidentally run into them? Will they be there, too? What if they speak to you? What if they don't know that you're ignoring them? And so on and so on. Pretty soon, you feel even more trapped, and you wonder why they don't seem to be bothered in the same way you are. They seem so free.
Then we tell persons that if someone doesn't agree with them, they can cut that person out, too. There's no point in dialogue, no point in trying to share your point of view. Just cut those who disagree with you out of your life. You don't need them, we say. And so another wall goes up. Because every time you look at someone who disagrees with you, no matter how much you may want to love them, you see only their disagreement. And that's dangerous, so you turn away.
Then we tell persons that other persons tend to have sinister motives, that you just can never trust who you're dealing with because everyone is just out for himself. Or for some other cause. We tell them that this world is just going to use them up and spit them out and that they'd better be careful about who they associate with and what the ulterior motives might be. So yet another wall goes up, just a little more distance between one person and another, so that nobody ever has to get "hurt."
Meanwhile, everyone's hurting.
All these walls we teach persons to build around themselves, and it's not very long before we start feeling like caged animals. Our world gets smaller and smaller until one day, we realize we're just pacing the length of our cell, our cage, and it doesn't look to us like other persons are in the same imprisonment. (They are. It just never looks that way from inside the cage.) And with each man in his own little cage, that's where we feed him.
We feed his ego and tell him that he's in the right, that he had to cut himself off from others in this way because they'd just be toxic to him. We feed his ego and tell him that he's better than all of those who are outside his cage. We feed his ego and tell him that he never did have to compromise with any of those other persons, that he was right to demand that they concede to him. We feed his ego and build him up until he's sure that he's the only right individual in all the world. And in his own little world, in his tiny little cage, maybe he is.
And then, most heinous of all, after we have convinced him to build his cage and we have fed his ego, we bait him to fight. It used to be that we all knew that life simply isn't fair. That's not true any more. Now, when someone complains that life isn't fair, we tell him to go out and make it fair. We tell him to fight for fair, as if fair is anything at all. We tell him that he has every right to every single thing that every single other person in all the world has, and that this is fair. And we tell him that if he wants fair, he has to go after it. Hard. Viciously. Venomously. He has to go out and fight for it.
For what it's worth, there is no such thing as fair. Equality isn't equal. Each and every one of us is special and unique in our own way, and what is fair for one may not be fair for another. That's just the way it works. We could learn, we could teach other, to rejoice in our differences, to champion those that are different from us. But we don't. We tell them to fight for every little thing they can get, out of the fear that someone may end up with something that you don't have. Regardless, of course, of whether you need it or would even know what to do with it if you had it.
So we have all these caged animals, all these men that we've taught to build up walls around themselves because teaching them to live in community is just too hard. And we've fed them well. We've kept telling them that they're right about everything, and that this world is just backward and wrong. And then we've baited them to fight, holding out the proverbial carrot of fair and equal, of entitlement to all things.
And then we're troubled by the bloodshed. Like it's some mysterious thing that we can't possibly understand, like we don't know how it happened. Really?
There's a reason this is happening more often now than it was fifty years ago. Fifty years ago, we taught persons how to reconcile, how to make up with one another. We made them apologize; we taught them forgiveness. Now, we advise them simply to avoid each other. Fifty years ago, we taught persons how to listen to the other side of the story, how to respectfully disagree, how to have a civil conversation. Now, we tell every man that he's right and that the only voice that matters is his own. Fifty years ago, we weren't afraid to discipline, to correct, to chastise. Now, we comfort, we assuage, we pacify. Fifty years ago, we knew that life wasn't fair. Now, we argue that it has to be, even though we're keenly aware that fair isn't even fair.
We're caged animals, and humanity is a zoo. Every once in awhile, and more and more these days, someone's going to break his cage and come storming out of it. That's what we're seeing. And that's what's going to continue to happen until we come to our senses and realize that men weren't made for cages. They were made for community.
And that means learning how to live together again.