Who stole the soul of our young and brightest?
He is a mathematician and an amateur philosopher, the spirit of the Queen of sciences personified in a young and attractive guy. But he is telling me that he sees no purpose in living. He half challenges half begs me to give him a logical reason for existence. He is asking me for the rope of hope that will pull him out of the sea of annihilistic thoughts and lugubrious life scenarios.
And then there is the medical student and the gifted artist both steeped in the same pessimism. The same pleading eyes looking at me expectantly and I get scared that I may be their last recourse, terrified really that neither my affinity for philosophy nor my training in psychology will measure up to the challenge. I have visions of all the high school students who in the past 5 years walked in front of trains in Spring Lake and Manasquan believing…what really? That death is the ticket to immortality? That their death publicized and romanticized will be the ultimate punishment for all those who ignored them and hurt them? That life at 16 and 17 and 20 has nothing to offer worth living for? Who stole the souls of these young and promising people?
I have been hearing over and over again from adolescents that they feel alienated that their parents or teachers can not understand them that faced with serious problems they would not turn to their parents for help. How did we lose track of our kids?
When did chasing the mighty dollar chase our kids away? When did the Coach bag or the new car become the substitute for real connection? When did teachers become afraid to talk or touch our kids less they are accused of one impropriety or another?
I remember my Grammar and High school teachers with deep fondness, unwavering admiration and endless gratitude. None of them were geniuses, what the memorable ones had in common was the desire and willingness to reach out to us empathically and understand the angst and tribulations of our youth and gently without criticizing direct us and inspire us to search for and discover the meaning and beauty of life. I do not believe that the youth of today needs anything less or more than just that.
I see the spark of hope ignite in the eyes of my young patients when I am willing to suspend my objections to their young and often immature reasoning, shut up and just listen. It is only when they know that I have understood their world that they invite me to be their guide, direct and inspire them and I discover again and again that their thirst for guidance their desire to connect and need for role models that are more substantial and meaningful than the empty faces in People magazine are as strong today as they were in my school years as they were with the young people that flocked to Socrates and Plato.
So, here is the challenge to both parents and teachers and yes, therapists too: Let’s not confuse indulgence with understanding, love with reckless abandonment, and dogmatism with teaching. We don’t need to be perfect just willing to get off the mouse wheel and listen.
Let’s retrieve the souls of our kids.