I sat around the table at a discernment group (which is a group that helps you discover your vocation) I attend. To be honest, I only attend these groups for the human interaction and the advice I may get from others. The religiousness of the groups is purely a secondary characteristic to me that I would rather go without. Regardless, on this particular day, a member of the group shared something that made me reflect.
A young woman, who I would guess is in her late 20’s, opened up about her recent struggles. Her employer declined to renew her contract and she was getting blamed by her own family. The woman had been attempting to reach out to others, including her spiritual director. She started to cry as she told the group about the responses she was getting from other people. Those she had reached out to all gave similar responses along the lines of: “Just pray on it.” While her emotions spilled out, the woman was not only visibly upset, but also angry.
This young woman’s experience is not unique or uncommon. I hear people all the time give these generic responses to others dealing with difficulties. The numbers of similar phrases are endless. Personally, I’ve heard the phrase “just be happy” in response to my own depression. It’s frustrating to hear people say that over and over again. Responding like this to people who are opening up to you, is honestly a sign of either laziness or unwillingness to do more than the bare minimum. This issue is not a small one, it’s universal to Western society. The motto seems to be: Do the bare minimum for the least amount of money.
Look at the state of the VA. In recent years, the department has been accused “callous indifference.” There is story after story of the VA abandoning those who’ve protected our nation. The history of mental health in America is also quite gruesome. From the historical dominance of occupational therapy in our treatment methods, to our past habit of hospitalizing the mentally ill forever. Another overlooked issue is that over time, schooling has begun at a younger and younger age. Parents willingly throw their kids off to someone else to deal with.
I can’t help but think of the Coen Brother’s film, “A Serious Man.” In the movie, a seemingly normal college professor’s life is falling apart. His wife wants a divorce, he may not get tenure, and his brother is having legal trouble. The stress of his situation leads him to reach out for help, so he encounters three rabbis. The first rabbi tells him that his problem is perspective. The second rabbi tells the professor a story of a dentist whose ending has no resolution. The third rabbi refuses to even talk to the professor. The professor is left to deal with everything on his own. That seems to be the state of a lot of people, as they are left by themselves to deal with everything the world throws at them. Maybe this is the banality of life. I’m not saying we must drag people along a life path, but we should be there for them if they ask for some guidance. It will help them to overcome their adversities, and also open our eyes to the perspectives of others. All of this is a crucial step in improving ourselves as individuals, and creating a more virtuous society as a whole.