Thursday, March 15, 2018

We're in a Multiplayer Game

“Societies can easily talk themselves into conflict and misery.
But they can also talk, and act, their way out.” 

- Geoff Mulgan, author of Big Mind

It’s the day after the big school walk-outs. Time to reflect.

This week, I read Fred Guttenberg’s raw story, I Am Dedicating the Rest of My Life to Fighting Gun Violence—For Jaime,  about his daughter’s life and her death as a victim of the Parkland shootings, as told to Rachel Epstein of Marie Claire. I also read several articles, including one by Dakin Andone and Tina Burnside of CNN, relating to the shooting death on March 7 of 17-year old high school senior, and would-be nursing school student, Courtlin Arrington, in Alabama.

In total, there have been 20 high school student shooting deaths in the United States this year. In addition to these deaths, we must remember there are many other children and adults with physical and/or mental injuries as a result of these incidents, too.

We’re all asking why. There are piles of responses. The walkouts, the student-led advocacies, and the many March For Our Lives marches planned on the 24th are a few. Why all the shootings and what can we do?

I’m going to toss out a single word that might explain much of it: misery.

One Merriam-Webster definition of misery is “a state of great unhappiness and emotional distress”. Another is “a state of suffering and want that is the result of poverty or affliction”. I’m talking about GREAT unhappiness. GREAT distress. GREAT affliction.

Can you imagine this many deaths in a world where most people are happy and hopeful? Where most people feel like they have a place and aren’t lost? Where most people feel valued? I can’t. Just as I wrote about suicide in Regret: A Look Back, people don’t kill when they are happy.

Misery is a single word, but reducing it, let along removing it, will take many approaches.

Misery is a tool for the people within organizations like the NRA. Their messages rely on the cultivation of fear and hostility between people. They paint pictures that guns are sexy and necessary. They argue that the world is a place of “us” versus “them” and it’s critical to “defend yourself”. That all breeds misery.

We can address it.

We can read today what Fred Guttenberg, as the dad of a shooting victim, plans to do in order to stop gun violence. The students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are building extensive social media presences and have been interviewed and featured on many news reports. We only have bits and pieces of Courtlin Arrington’s story, and this is from the efforts of a few reporters. There’s a big difference in how our society responds to different shooting deaths. MSD students are noticing this in their own tweets. Courtlin’s death is no less horrific or tragic than those at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. That fact and our responses, which must be clearly declared as racist, are another cause for misery.

We can address them.

There are a number of other things our citizens experience on a daily basis that breed misery. How about the stress of getting treatment for and paying for chronic diseases? Or the stigma about and difficulties in obtaining treatment for mental illnesses? These conditions and our responses to them as a nation are also causes of misery.

We can address them.

There are more sources of misery. How about the growing understanding that our rules don’t apply equally across genders, ethnicities and economic levels and that those differences are getting bigger as time goes by, and not smaller? The ways our laws are being manipulated and interpreted are causing huge amounts of misery.

We can address them.

My WoW Rogue. Great DPS but needed others.
That’s quite a list, and there are probably more. It seems overwhelming. For an individual, it is. However, we have a fact in our favor: life’s a multiplayer game. A massively multiplayer game. If you’ve ever played a game like World of Warcraft, you understand the power (and difficulties) of group work. As Chief Executive of the UK’s National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts (NESTA) Geoff Mulgan points out in the above quote, we can get ourselves out of tight spots by working together in new and creative ways.

Throughout history, people have come together in times of need. Today, the multiple causes themselves need to come together. No one person can fix any of it, but by linking and networking efforts, we can move the proverbial mountains.

If you’re interested in a cause to help a specific group, whether it’s gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, criminal law, corporate law, healthcare, gun violence, etc, go for it. Look at it in terms of misery- don’t just scream in outrage. How could things be changed to lighten that misery currently experienced by those within that group? Focus and campaign for that. My guess is, those changes, if they truly relieve misery, would benefit others as well.

While you follow that passion, reach out to other interests, too. If we stay in isolated bubbles, we lose opportunities and strength. Show in concrete terms that you see others. Build alliances. Look for common ground. Respect each other. Collaborate. Build trust.

If we play this multiplayer game together, we can battle misery. Big or small, let’s do something.


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