What separates us as people? I mean really separates us?
There must be something after all, the media, especially advertisers, spend boatloads of money selling stuff to us as individuals. They count on us relishing, loving and living out our supposed distinctiveness. Oh sure, if there is a buck to be made they will capitalize on relationships like marriage and dating and other togetherness behaviors, but essentially we are individuals lobbying and jockeying for position on the grid, looking for ways to advance in the great game of life.
Playing the game, competing with one another and watching others play is the American way. For the most part we go about our days as individuals and participate in life in various roles with diverse talents and skill levels. What many of us miss in our rush for success are the people who, for many reasons, don’t play the game or at least don’t play it very well.
We all recognize those with disabilities and sickness and, of course, excuse them to the bench until they get better. If someone has self-inflicted disabilities, like addictions, we have less sympathy and even attack them as unworthy of participating in the game. Then we have the people who suffer from mental illness, far more than we realize, and since we don’t understand brain illness we also relegate these folks to the bench and try to avoid this section of the population.
This misunderstanding of mental illness makes it difficult for many of these folks to participate in life in meaningful ways, and it makes it easier for the government to cut benefits and programs for them. Mental illness accounts for much of the suicide in this country as well as a large percentage of the homelessness.
The game is rigged to benefit the people that can play the game well and those that have skills, if you have problems with addictive behavior or mental illness the rules simply leave you behind. The game goes on and they have to sit back and watch. The separation between you and your neighbor who has a disability of some kind is probably a matter of genetics or simply bad luck. The people who suffer on the sidelines usually do so quietly, making it easy on us who are out on the court playing the game, earning our living and advancing our lives. All they can hope is that those who play have a little compassion and willingness to share with those who can’t, not just financial sharing but relational sharing, volunteering to give some of the precious time and talent to help out a brother or sister who is in need.
We, who play the game well, need to call a time out in the game of life every so often and make a place for those on the sidelines to be heard and to give them an opportunity to make a contribution. We need to end the stigma against mental illness and make a concerted effort to actually care for those around us who are on the margins. Talk is cheap, action is what is needed, we all know someone who is out of the game for some reason, find out why and then do the right thing.
The Rev. Alan B. Eschenbacher serves as pastor of All Saints Lutheran Church.
Nice post Alan.