There is a boy who lives in my neighborhood, probably around 12, who talks to himself. Every day, I see him pacing our one-cul-de-sac isolation, sometimes murmuring, sometimes shouting, sometimes casually conversing. Much of the time he has a stick held under his arm like an assault rifle, selectively firing invisible rounds at imagined enemies. He’ll even call for back up, but no one ever comes. From what I can tell, this boy is not mentally handicapped, nor does he seem to have any excessive case of social awkwardness. He is simply lonely.
I live in a part of the country where the biggest buildings are shopping centers, and the tallest spires cap Protestant churches. Neighborhoods are separated by miles, and sidewalks are almost nonexistent. People out here like their space, and they get more of it than they know what to do with. This little housing development is basically cut off. We are one dead end street connected to one 2-lane “highway” miles from the nearest community center. To get anywhere on foot requires traipsing through the grass along the highway or cutting through the thick underbrush of the forest. Neither are particularly enjoyable or safe.
This, however, is the embodiment of the American dream. We’re far enough away from the tyrannical government to live our stagnant, miserable lives in peace, and our kids will grow up to perpetuate this insanity. I don’t think the boy is psychotic, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he ended up that way. For children growing up in this area, there is no relief. I believe there are 4 people in this neighborhood under the age of 16, and three of them are rarely home. This leaves our little friend to become his own company.
I am just now starting a MOOC (massive online open course) on positive psychology. I haven’t had any formal training on the issue, but what I have learned is that most people need social interaction for mental well-being and proper childhood development. I pity this young man who, until he is old enough to drive, will have only occasional opportunities to have interactions with kids his age. Given that his parents (if they’re home) probably don’t give him much attention, he may be going long periods of time without any significant social interaction.
This, I believe, is what is wrong with America. We are so sick, tired, and afraid of each other, we build our lives around getting as far away from the community as possible. Yes, living in society is stressful. Yes, the myriad of differing opinions necessarily causes conflict. But, it is the way we handle this stress and overcome this conflict that makes us successfully human. It is easy to live in my own little world with my own ignorant thoughts, but to challenge that world is to grow. These Americans do not want to grow. They want to stagnate. They want to simmer in the glory of their successes and watch their days drift away while the world suffers on somewhere else.