A few days ago we heard news of yet another senseless shooting.
But this one was different.
It wasn't a kid, tormented to irrational action by bullying. It wasn't street violence. It wasn't drug or gang-related. It was a man in his 70s, who freaked out in a movie theater because another man was texting during the trailers. And as my wife and I listened to the description, we both thought to ourselves, "We know this man."
No, we don't know this particular individual. But we know people just like him.
Average people. Normal people. Good neighbors, good citizens. People who have always played by the rules and seemed to have their life under control. But then they reach a certain stage of life and they begin to realize they are losing control. Losing control of their career, their children, their health. Even the culture. Where once it all made sense to them, now it feels like it is all slipping away. More than that, it feels like it is being taken away.
And this leads to a sense of despair. And every issue, every event, every incident, is one more drop in the bucket of this feeling of losing control of life. Perceived slights, folks not following the accepted rules of polite society - real or imaginary - become symbols of the loss of control. And this can be fueled by the constant narrative presented by certain elements within the media who feed the despair by presenting every issue as "us" vs. "them" in an all-encompassing culture war, and the resulting war will bring the end of life as we know it. The future is dark and full of suffering, and there is nothing we can do to stop it.
And as the bucket gets full, for certain people, people who are not used to the passivity despair entails - that despair can give way to anger. And anger turns to rage, and rage responds not in proportion to the situation. When someone doesn't follow the rules: not using their turn signal, not yielding, jumping in line, texting in the theater - rage responds all at once, to every drop in the bucket. After all, this is war.
Since my wife and I know people like this, we have been paying attention to the research concerning how people can guard against this overwhelming sense of despair as they (okay, we) get older.
And two things we have learned:
1. The need for connection
As folks get older, there is the need for more purposeful relational connection with others. Where once our jobs and our families provided this connection, retirement and other life circumstances may remove these daily interactions. Health issues may make it more difficult to stay connected. And the most direct antidote to a sense of despair concerning the future is healthy, mutually encouraging relationships across generations. This requires effort, but it is worth it. And the church can play a significant role in providing an environment for these healthy relationships. Unfortunately, sometimes the church purposely disconnects generations from one another, as well as sending the message that those of a certain age are no longer valued.
2. The need for disconnection
Just as there is the need for connection with others, there is the need to disconnect from the constant barrage of news and commentary that fuels the negative perspective on life and the future. When 24-hour news and commentary is allowed to be the soundtrack for life, constantly in the background via TV and radio, we may begin to believe the partisan hype and hyperbole.
Often, we see senior adults do exactly the opposite of what is healthy. Rather than investing time and energy into connecting in healthy, intergenerational relationships and disconnecting from a constant diet of negative news and commentary by turning off the TV, they drift away from relationships and eat an unhealthy diet of media. It is understandable how this happens, and it is not always the result of purposeful decisions on their part. But they can do something about it - with the help of their family and their church.
Does this resonate with what you observe? Do you have any recommendations based upon your experience. Let's talk.