Poverty of the Soul: Time to Address the Real Issue

Matthew Dowd

By Matthew Dowd

Sep 18, 2013 6:00am

Analysis

Another tragic mass killing and we each search for answers. The horrendous recent day at the Washington Navy Yard is another wake-up call that as a society and a nation we need to face reality. And as we know from any positive change in our own lives, the first step in transformation is accepting the truth and seeing clearly what reality really is. Something is terribly askew in our culture today.

Yes, some form of extensive background checks on guns would be helpful. Yes, more attention and resources dedicated to mental illness are needed. And of course limits on the violence available through video games, online entertainment, and television and movies is well overdue.

But the real core problem — and it surfaces in many ways — is spiritual and of the heart. Today in America the most profound level of poverty is poverty of the soul.

Poverty of the soul is a national crisis. It affects us at so many levels. In the aftermath of the loss of faith and trust in nearly every institution from government to political to established churches to sports to you name it, so many folks are searching for for a place to call home and for a life of meaning. And when they can’t find it, they act out in totally inappropriate and dangerous ways.

It is not only bright young men picking up lethal weapons and ending the beautiful lives of innocent victims. It is young women with body image difficulties willing to tolerate abusive relationships. It is older people in their last few years of their lives having lost connection and times of joy. It is people going on another run of retail therapy and wondering if this is all there is. It is young people in our inner cities and rural towns in dire need of mothering and fathering. It is people with more connections than ever before because of the Internet but feeling totally disconnected from themselves and would-be friends. It is folks talking in numerous chat rooms but without a community.

People feel a longing deep down within their hearts and souls for something more, and are not finding leaders who can help them make the transition to a fulfilled and meaningful life. It is not more things that people need, or a new political candidate to believe in, but a belief within themselves that they are enough. And that there are like-minded and like-hearted folks wandering in their own neighborhoods who feel the same.

It is a tremendous opportunity for all of use to create new institutions that meet these spiritual needs. It is not the sole responsibility of preachers and pastors to address this (and they could actually do a much better job) hunger, but political and business leaders, and each one of us. We could each do a better job being aware of needs in our neighborhood, of the desire of connection, of the troubled angst of our citizens next door, and of the cries for help that sometimes are barely a whisper. We can hear all this if we pause for a bit from our hectic striving, and just listen. And once we hear it, I am confident enough of us will respond.

I suggested in a column nearly a year ago, right before election day, that whomever was elected president needed to establish a Domestic Peace Accord and initiate a Camp David summit (as we have done in the past related to the Middle East) of leaders from all walks of life to bridge the divides that exist in this country, and create a new vision for our country.

If we talked to each other more, let go of the old mantras and institutions, we could create a more peaceful and compassionate society. President Obama is a good man, but he along with Republican and Democratic leaders seem trapped in an old language and a desire to make decrepit and broken institutions respond inefficiently to new problems.

None of us want to see another tragedy like the Washington Navy Yard killings, but these kind of things will keep happening until we face the core problem in America. Our country, which we each love, faces a poverty of the soul, and it is time we act. Not with a War on Poverty, which is a language that only exacerbates the divides, and creates an “us vs. them” dynamic, but a Pathway to Peace. A peace that starts within our own hearts and then extends like ripples in a pond across the great expanse of every town in America. It is worth it, because each one of us is.

There you have it.

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