We live in a society intolerant of difference, of error, of being less than whole. And yet, our society is populated by human beings, who are by definition imperfect, frequently wrong, and broken.
Many organized religions attribute this circumstance to our separation from the sacred center of the universe or whatever name for the oversoul one prefers. A strictly scientific view simply recognizes the biological reality that organisms suffer from natural diseases, mutations, and variations within ecosystems filled with challenges to our survival. A third view is that our historic ancestors angered god who subsequently punished us with imperfection for our failures.
Sadly, humanity has killed itself by the millions arguing over whose story is correct, rather than focusing on fixing the brokenness. Whether we are broken because we lack enlightenment, good enough science, or strong enough faith, the fact is that these are not mutually exclusive concerns. A Buddhist can still agree that scientific research has great value reducing human suffering and that Abraham, Jesus, Mohammad were great bodhisattvas. An atheist, humanist scientist can still find worth in the calming practice of meditation and the soothing ritual of devotion and commitment to religious community. And a believer in Original Sin can find solace in the notion that we will eventually achieve the gnosis to attain salvation and that reason can ease our path along the way.
Our brokenness is not the problem. How we cope, or fail to cope, with our brokenness is the problem. Mental illness is not the problem. Stigmatizing the mentally ill and providing inadequate care for sufferers is. Addiction is not the problem. Failing to provide treatment and support for the addict is. Domestic violence is not the problem. Continuing to promote the objectification of women in our rape culture is. Poverty is not the problem. But failing to dismantle institutionalized systems of social, economic, and political oppression is.
There is a parable told in many ways about a village next to a river. One day a villager noticed someone drowning in the river. The villager quickly swims out to save the person from drowning. The next day, the villagers save two drowning people. The following day, four people are caught in the rushing current. The villagers organize themselves quickly, setting up watchtowers and training teams of swimmers who can resist the swift waters. Rescue squads are soon working 24 hours a day. But each day the number of drowning people increases, reaching the point where the villagers cannot save all of the drowning people. Finally, someone asks the question, “Where are all these people coming from? Let’s organize a team to head upstream to find out who’s throwing all of these people into the river in the first place!”
America is drowning. All the watchtowers, lifeguards, and band-aid solutions will never solve the problem. We must venture upriver to stop those who are throwing people into the river. We must stop those who love power and money more than people. We must stop the lunatics who believe that we can bomb enemies to freedom. And we must stop electing willfully ignorant politicians who cater to the wealthy to the detriment of the People.