When we think of healing, most of us tend to think of physical, mental and/or spiritual aspects of healing.  Another very important type of healing not as often discussed is healing around issues of employment and monetary well-being.  As this long recession drags on, there are millions of people in the United States who truly want to find gainful employment and – against their best intentions – cannot.

The stress this puts on individuals and their family members can be tremendous and multifaceted.  Some even break under the weight, as evidenced clearly in at least three high profile incidents that have taken place in our region recently. The man who set himself on fire in downtown Keene, the Brattleboro Coop employee who shot and killed the person who had recently dismissed him, and the still unknown individual who threatened to bring “big fireworks” to the recent Firework Show in Jaffrey all share one characteristic:  they had been dismissed from their jobs, were unemployed, depressed and desperate.

We are a society that places great emphasis both on personal achievement and our job.  Unlike many cultures where emphasis is placed on family affiliation, philosophy, hobbies, etc, in the United States the typical opening line among adults who don’t each other is: “My name is X and I work at X company/institution/school/etc.”  Our social status is often tied to our employment status and type of profession.

This is compounded by the often unstated but strongly held conviction of our mainstream cultural values (and reflected in much of the discourse in the media) that everyone in the United States has the opportunity to be successful, materially speaking, and if you are not it is somehow your fault.  This national myth continues even in the light of recent research that clearly indicates that it is less likely for a poor person from the United States to advance to the middle class than for a citizen of any other developed nation.  Horatio Alger still rings true here, despite hard evidence to the contrary.

So let’s get back to healing.  How can we, in the Monadnock region, help heal some of the crippling wounds being caused by long term unemployment that is impacting people we interact with every day?

While most of us do not have the power or ability to “create jobs” for unemployed individuals, perhaps we can begin by simply reaching out to those without work, or the underemployed, kindly and without judgment and ask them how they are doing.  What is their story?  How are they surviving?  What are they feeling?  What support do they have?

I would like to share a personal story with you.  There is a local man who I worked with closely a few months ago in a joint project.  We were on the Steering Committee, and often discussed issues of peace, society and shared interests.  I knew he was not employed at the time, despite experience in the health sector.  It was only several months later, at a Fundraiser of the Hundred Nights Shelter, where I saw him and learned that he was homeless.  He had not been able to afford rent since he was summarily dismissed by a local social service agency.

At that same fundraiser, the man who began Hundred Nights commented that he was inspired to do so when a local politician commented that there was no homeless problem in Keene.

I wish that there were no homeless people in Keene, or in our region.  But we must be truthful to reality.

Brazil has been one of the most successful nations in the recent decade in lifting people out of poverty and into dignity, as they put it.  This has been a centerpiece of both the outgoing and current Brazilian Presidents.  A key program launched early on and now highly successful is called “Operation Hunger.”  In this program, the President asked every employed Brazilian citizen to invite someone who was hungry and/or homeless to their home for a meal.  Brazilian President Lula clearly stated that it was in the invitation itself where the power of this program resided and that the program was about more than donating money or providing a meal.  It was about learning the story of the person in poverty, and treating him or her with respect and dignity.

Some may say this is too political a column, but the truth is that politics and economics have a tremendous impact upon our individual and societal health and well-being.

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