Let us be healers

I cannot help but think that much of the populist upheaval across this globe of late has at its heart psychological wounds large and small. Some are large, devastating, and in some cases unspeakable wounds. Other wounds come about bit by bit, but have deleterious effects too. Whatever the cause, these wounds matter. The wounds if unattended can grow into other things like fear, hatred, anger, and a desire for vengeance. These wounds compounded over millions of people can have huge implications, like the chaos theory notion of the batting of butterfly wings causing a hurricane. As I step back from momentous events of 2016 (Brexit, Colombia, US Elections), my mind goes to a piece written by David Brooks in the New York Times on emotional healers.

In, A Nation of Healers, David Brooks shares anecdotes about the pain he witnessed as he toured the most economically depressed areas in the US, where, as he puts it, he saw “tears in the social fabric.” But, the encouraging thing that Brooks noted was “…everywhere it seems healers are rising up to repair their small piece of it [the social fabric].” We have to have more healers. We start small. We are present with those that mourn. We show solidarity, concern, and empathy.

At a very fundamental level, I think we all want to feel respected. I think we all believe that while there are differences in our experiences and resources, we are all, at our core, equal and of consequence in this great big world. That said, so much of our experience teaches us the exact opposite. Sometimes the message we receive from the world is that we don’t matter and that we are inconsequential. We feel perhaps that we are consigned to drudgery in a rigged world that plots against us. It is those feelings that then drive us to despair. Despair breeds a variety of feelings including sadness and anger. This despair is what fuels many movements that do not have productive ends, which is my view of where we are today.

Brooks says that these emotional healers go into “hollow places.” What an interesting and instructive phrase. Nature abhors a vacuum we are told. We humans seem to heed this as we fill those hollowed out parts of our souls with things that just don’t fill us. Healers can help fill the voids with love. Love, after all, is what reliably fills those painful empty spaces. Love crowds out the despair, hate, and fear.

I am reminded of a character in a Murakami novel named Sumire. Sumire’s mother passed away when she was young. As she tries to process her mother’s passing, she reaches out to her father for help to process her grief and to give this event meaning, to get something to remember her mother by. So, she asks about her mother. But, her father instead of filling the void with something that could sustain Sumire says that her mother “was good at remembering things” and “she had nice handwriting.” Here’s how Murakami describes this scene:

“A strange way of describing a person. Sumire was waiting expectantly, snow-white first page of her notebook open, for nourishing words that could have been a source of warmth and comfort–a pillar, an axis, to help prop up her uncertain life here on this third planet from the sun. Her father should have said something that his young daughter could have held on to. But Sumire’s handsome father wasn’t going to speak those words, the very words she needed most.”

As I read those words, I thought I can utter the words that people need to hear. What a simple thing. Why would we withhold such sustaining words? I can be there for someone in need, even if only to hear, to listen. I am troubled by a world that seems to be so shrill, so angry, so filled with schadenfreude that how could negative populist movements not arise. But, there is a simple recipe to reverse the trend. Be kind. Be a friend. Be there. Be a good listener. Be the hand that reaches out to the fallen. In short, be a healer. Be a restorer of dignity and respect. The world in its orbit and we humans seem capable enough of destruction and entropy, let us be the opposing force. Let us be healers.


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