This is going to sound like a political post, but I promise you that it is not. Please don't try to make it into one.
One of the more curious things I've seen in this election season is the result of a series of polls that were done fairly recently. The news mentioned these results, briefly, a couple of weeks ago, and to be honest, I haven't stopped thinking about them since. As presented where I saw it, the poll consisted of two questions.
The first question asked whether the country was better off now than it was four years ago. In other words, has the current administration made changes that benefit the nation, that secure its foundations, that help to cement its place in the world, that facilitate the kind of living that make America a good place to be. The results? The majority of respondents in the poll said yes - the country is better off now than it was four years ago.
The second question, asked to the same group of respondents, asked whether they, personally, were better off now than they were four years ago. The results? The majority of respondents (actually, about the same majority, percentage-wise) said no - they are not personally better off now than they were four years ago.
This is an incredible disconnect. Don't you think? The majority of persons acknowledged that the structures around them were stronger, more stable, more fruitful than they were four years ago, but they also professed that in those same four years, they had become weaker, less stable, and less fruitful than they used to be. The nation is better off, but the people feel worse off for it.
And I think that what this speaks to is how individualistic our society has become. We can look at the whole and say that it is good and in the same breath, ask what it's doing for us. We can say that something is fair and right and just and in the same breath, claim that we are being somehow mistreated. We have so disconnected our lives from the collective that even where there is goodness and prosperity and security around us, we don't know any more how to tap into that. We just sort of trudge along in our own misery and wonder when we're going to get our turn.
The thing is, this isn't just a problem for America as a nation. It's a problem in the church, too. We have all kinds of persons in our churches who can recognize the good that the church is doing and still claim that they are going unfulfilled. They can love their church and at the same time, feel completely slighted by it. They can praise their community's name and also wonder when that community is going to do anything for them.
Over time, we become a people who feel isolated. We become a people who feel ostracized. By our country or by our church. We become a people who increasingly sense our place on the outside because we see all the good that is happening, but we don't feel it in our own lives.
Is it any wonder, then, the problems that we are seeing with mental health all around us? Isolation and loneliness and outsiderness are real issues, issues that we're facing more and more and more every day. And it's because of precisely this - it's because we can see that the world around us is a better place than we're experiencing of it. It's because we can see all the good things going on and not feel them having an impact on our own struggle. It's because we have become a people so disconnected from one another, so apart from the collective, that it feels almost natural to say, sure, the world is better off right now, but I'm not. There's a lot of good going on around me, but I'm not gaining from it. The structures are strong and stable, but I am weak and faltering.
Part of this is definitely an issue with how we relate to the collective, the community, with how we see ourselves as members of the group. Part of it definitely has ties to our own individuality and how it's been driven into us that we are on our own, even when we belong to things (like the church, like the country) that should never leave us to ourselves. And one of the questions that we need to ask is how we re-connect ourselves. How we get back into the fold. How we become part of something bigger than ourselves again and restore those connections that will tap us into the goodness that we objectively say exists all around us.
That's one of the questions, and it's an important question. It's a necessary question.
But it's not the only question. (Stay tuned.)