My article “Models of Social Healing”

My article “Models of Social Healing” to be published soon in my upcoming monthly column in Monadnock.


Moving towards societal healing may be just what some of us are yearning for these days in our own community and state. I know that is how I have been feeling of late, considering the recent self-immolation, stabbing death and more that have taken place in the downtown Keene area in the last few months. Add to this the rise of heavy drug use and trafficking, the apparent “take over” of spaces downtown by young people who seem to have no other place to belong, bank robberies and more. A distressing tale! And this does not include the overall state and national economic situation, and its impact upon each and every one of us.

Sometimes I wish I could just “wave a magic wand,” as in fairy tales, and it would all be better. Or delegate total authority to the “authorities” to somehow “take care of it.” But somehow some of us sense that the crisis our community (and beyond) currently faces is of a different ilk; it is deeper and more pervasive than other situations we may have dealt with in the past. Perhaps we need to find new models to bring about societal and community healing.

I have had the great pleasure of witnessing first-hand several countries that have managed to transition away from abusive governments and societal structures. Abuse? You may be wondering what I am talking about in relation to Keene and the Monadnock region. We don’t have an abusive government…aren’t we the land of the “free and the brave”?

Martín Prechtel, an author and shaman who lived for many years in Guatemala as an initiated Mayan, describes the United States as a “heavily depressed nation.” Being part of an indigenous community for many years where the word and concept of “I” barely existed and where there were no doors keeping any community member out of their neighbors house, he talked about the excruciating pain and loneliness so many of us feel here in this nation that is so individually focused, at times to the point of societal narcissism.

Let’s look at the symptoms of “narcissistic personality disorder.” (1) Has a grandiose sense of self-importance; (2) Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love; (3) Believes that he or she is “special” and unique; (4) Requires excessive admiration; (5) Is exploitative of others; (6) Lacks empathy; (7) Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him; (8) Regularly shows arrogant, haughty behavior. These symptoms seem to capture many of the attributes and characteristics of how our society is functioning of late, and many individuals as well.

As I speak with people on all sides of the political spectrum, they tell me of their concerns that certain people, “other people” on the “other side” are abusing the system. For my law-and-order type friends, it is the “lazy” people taking advantage of disability and welfare so they don’t have to work. For my more liberal friends, it is the “filthy rich” who have accumulated lots of money and are selfishly keeping it without circulating it back into the system again.

Drawing from some of the lessons of societal healing in other countries I alluded to at the start of this article; three clear steps need to happen to promote positive change. First of all, the truth – without illusion – needs to be acknowledged and accepted. In our case, this might include (among other things) openly discussing the serious drug and substance abuse problem; recognizing that even New Hampshire is still part of a country that has the most unequal income distribution of any developed country and where one in six people are now below the poverty line; asking ourselves if the high incarceration rate is symptomatic of other structural factors in our country; and acknowledging that the US may not have all the answers for the rest of the world. In fact, various quality of life measurements place numerous countries higher than the United States these days. Perhaps we should try to learn some things from them.
Secondly, we have to find a way to come together without hatred and polarization of the “other.” Compromise, while neither glamorous nor what our highly competitive society teaches us, is nonetheless absolutely necessary to promote society healing.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we have to actively dream the next phase of life in Keene and the Monadnock region to be like. Without an invigorated vision towards which to move, we become a community without a rudder or compass. Next month I will share an example from Ecuador of how the indigenous communities and nations of that Andean nation united to demand a new vision of their government and society. This will be on the eve of Rector Sarango of the indigenous university visiting Keene from October 27-November 5, 2011.


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