The American Problem

Let me level with you. I have no idea whether this is a uniquely American problem. In fact, I’m not sure I could pinpoint any given demographic which embodies this problem more than others.

While I would venture a guess that this problem is less prevalent in cultures where extended families still live together under one roof, I might be wrong. I haven’t done the research. For the most part, I speak from experience.

And I am fairly confident that this problem plagues the vast majority of people. I’m calling it the American problem simply because it lies at the heart of what is wrong with us as a nation, as a people, as a continent. We fail to recognize how much we have in common with our fellow humanity because we’re too busy creating our own false realities to realize what’s happening right in front of us.

You see, the problem is not so much that we lie (which, by the way, we do) as that we aren’t honest – at least, we aren’t honest enough.

It’s not that we aren’t capable of being honest, necessarily, but we, generally speaking, are just not comfortable putting ourselves out there. I don’t know if it’s because honesty isn’t modeled for us or because honesty is deemed unflattering or unattractive. I don’t know if it’s because we only want to paint ourselves in a positive light or present the appearance that we’re okay all the time.

I do know that it’s hindering our ability to form lasting, meaningful relationships. The basis of all relationships is trust, and it’s difficult to maintain trust with people who have trouble being truthful and presenting an honest portrayal of themselves.

But consider what we’re up against.

When’s the last time you can remember thinking that a politician was a truly honest human being?
The people that you read about in magazines, watch on television, or gaze at on the big screen – are they an accurate representation of reality?
Your social media persona – is that a factual and accurate presentation of who you are, or is it a tainted, filtered image masked by rose colored glasses meant to paint you in a certain light?

Who among us turns to a public forum when faced with the hard times of life? Now I’m not just talking about tragedy. We seem to understand that cancer, invasive surgery, and death are stomachable, perhaps even necessary, parts of life to be shared with others. This allows for prayers, mojo, and good juju to be shared all around.

But think about all the things we don’t talk about.

How many of us have had to face a terrible circumstance or come through the fire before someone else was willing to speak up about his/her own experience with the same issue?

Miscarriages happen.
Postpartum depression is real.
Homelessness is what, three paychecks away for many of us?
Chances are good that you or someone you love are affected by:
Addiction – Think about it. Drugs, Alcohol, Food, Sex, Porn, Masturbation, Gambling, Technology, Social Media, Work, Fitness, Smoking, and the list goes on…
Suicidal Ideation
Feelings of Inadequacy

But we never talk about it. We never talk about it because it doesn’t feel safe. A safe space to talk about who we really are doesn’t exist. Well if I say this I might lose my job. If so and so heard about that they’d never talk to me again or they might not see me in the same light.

What’s the point? Why are we here if not to live together – if not to live in community – if not to learn from one another, help one another, support one another?

And you know why we don’t talk about these things? We don’t talk about them because nobody else talks about them. We don’t talk about them because we’re scared that someone might judge us or their might be consequences.

We don’t talk about them because we’re afraid.
Of something.

We choose not to be open and honest because we’re allowing fear to run our lives.
We’re allowing fear to ruin our lives.

Fear – that is the root of the American problem.

More often than not what we are afraid of is the unknown. What we are afraid of is that which is different because that which is different is inherently unknown.

Why don’t you like people who are a different color than you?
Why don’t you like people of a different sexual orientation from you?
Why don’t you like people whose gender identity is not your own?
Why don’t you like people affiliated with ‘that’ political party?
Why don’t you like people?
Why don’t you like yourself?

I’d say chances are pretty good that the people you don’t like are also people you don’t know. They are people you don’t understand. They are people who, on some level, you’re afraid of.

And that’s where recovery steps in. It forces us to tear down the walls that separate us from others and come to a place where we can’t help but realize what we have in common. When others tell their stories, it’s impossible not to see some piece of ourselves in the experiences of others.

Part of the reason we are capable of relating to others who are honestly telling their story is because we share a common problem. We all struggle with the same spiritual disease. We’re all afflicted with a sin nature which hinders our ability to enter into genuine relationship with God, others, and self.

But when we’re honest we can enter into authentic relationship. When we’re honest we can be our true selves and allow others the opportunity to accept or reject us for who we are rather than make a decision based on biased on incomplete information. When we’re honest our honesty encourages others to step into the light and share their authentic selves, too. When we’re honest about who we are, we bring that honesty into all of our relationships.

We can be more comfortable in our own skin. We can better understand who we are and how we tick. We can know that our friends are real. They love us for who we are.

But the God thing is different. We don’t have to know ourselves to enter into relationship with God. We don’t have to be completely honest to be loved, accepted and forgiven by Jesus. But when we do become honest in our relationship with God, the depth of that relationship will reach bounds we couldn’t possibly imagine.

I think the goal we need to have collectively should be desiring honest relationships. If we could get to a place where we don’t have to be false or sugar coat who we are or what we’re going through, I truly believe that we could have a better nation, be a better people, interact better as a continent, and become a better world.

There’s a saying in recovery that we’re only as sick as our secrets. The problem many of us have is that we don’t even recognize our secrets. We don’t know what we’ve been hiding because we’ve been hiding it for so long. Or for some of us, we just don’t want to admit that we are holding onto feelings of fear, bitterness, resentment or ingrained prejudices toward people or places or organizations.

But we also fail to recognize that so many of those insecurities are learned. And the thing about what we’ve learned is that other information is out there. What we know or believe to be true may not actually be the truth.

Seek truth.

That’s the first step toward entering into right relationship – figuring out what is true about people as opposed to what we believe to be true about people. And I can’t think of a better place to start than with me.

If we are going to expect others to be honest with us, we must first figure out how to be honest with (and about) ourselves.

So let’s share our emotions and struggles. Let’s tell other people how difficult it is to raise children. Let’s tell high school students that college isn’t for everyone. Let’s explain that choices have consequences by sharing the consequences that we’ve experienced with others before they have to experience them, too.

The American problem is (dis)honesty.

The solution is truth.

Jesus told [Thomas], “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” – John 14:6

– Alex Walker

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