When talk is just talk

We live in a violent world.

Might as well state the obvious up front.

Yet, one of the great mysteries of humanity is that when violence erupts and someone, anyone, goes on the warpath and begins to kill other people, those who know or at least thought they knew the killer will then express surprise. “I didn’t see this one coming.” Or, “he seemed like a nice enough guy.” Or, “he never really bothered anyone, and mostly just kept to himself.”

Or, “he said different things, and he would talk about crazy stuff, but I thought it was just talk.”

It was just talk, so I didn’t really take it all that seriously or really do anything about it.

Just talk.

I’ve heard over my 40+ years of professional service a number of post-violence laments along these lines. Words overheard but then dismissed. A neighbor who killed his wife, but “I would hear him saying all kinds of things to her and calling her all kinds of names, but I never imagined he would actual do something like that.” Or, “I heard our daughter say several times she wanted to just die, but I never thought she would actually kill herself.”

Just talk. Only it was more than just talk. A lot more.

Which brings up this question in my own mind in recent days, and perhaps in yours as well, of whether the Donald Trump vs. Kim Jong Un verbal threats and name calling is just talk. Or more than just talk? A lot more?

I’ve had to ask myself, are these just two guys who are pampered bullies accustomed to getting their own way, no matter what, who are standing up to each other as one is advised to do with other bullies? Or are these two guys who are predictably out to again get their own way, no matter what?

It’s the “no matter what” part of that question that has me worried these days.

I’ve seen it too often before. Husbands who, having bullied their wives with talk, went on to one day commit actual murder. Or we’ve all seen it if paying attention to school shootings where the kid being bullied became the even bigger bully in the fight by taking a gun to school and then………..

And no one saw this coming. A behavioral pattern as old as human history, and no one saw it coming? Figured it was just talk?

Okay, deep breath time.

I’m not suggesting here that all talk leads to violence. But I am suggesting all violence begins with talk. Shootings. Bombings. All acts of violence begin with violent thoughts and then words. And then?

Well, two things can then happen.

We humans can either listen and take words seriously and seek deeper understanding of the thoughts and feelings underneath those words. We can seriously engage and intervene. Which is what happens much of the time in family, community, and even world history.

Or we can try to just ignore the words, assume they’re just talk, and…………after all the violence is then committed, all the death and destruction witnessed and reported………..tell whoever is then listening to us that we sure didn’t see this one coming.

And if we say this, THAT is when talk is just talk.


The problem with problem-solving

It’s been a bit more than 40 years since receiving my MSW from the Ohio State U. I was there so long ago that no one ever bothered to say or even write the “the” in their name. But there are a few things I received in my two years of study there that managed to stick somewhere in mind. I’ll share one of those things today.

Social Work is more than a mish-mash of Psychology and Sociology aimed at helping folks with their psycho-social problems in life. Granted, it is something of a step-child profession started by a few brilliant women back in the day when America’s industrial revolution was stirring great social problems oblivious to the solutions of, well, non-males. It combines the art and science of what at least some now regard as female genius. It is a profession that has long understood that human social problems are not really intractable. They just seem that way because we spend all our time, treasure, and talent solving the wrong problem instead of the right one.

I suppose you’ll expect examples from me at this point. Flood problems that are actually unsolved infrastructure problems comes instantly to mind post Harvey and Houston. War and military problems that are actually unsolved diplomatic problems is a close second. Poverty problems that are actually unsolved education problems. Disease problems that are actually unsolved wellness problems. Need I go on?

Well, I will go on and name you one more unsolved problem. It’s not an intractable problem, but it just seems that way.

Unsolved social problems are usually caused by our failure to identify the actual problem, instead falling for a pseudo-problem that cannot then be solved. Hence, our failure to solve the problems of war, flooding, poverty and disease. And one such unsolved problem is now often misidentified as “hate.”

We have a hate problem in our world. And it’s seemingly intractable (unsolvable).

Or do we? And is it?

Social Workers are, if you’ll pardon what some call psychobabble, inclined to reframe the problem as instead a “fear problem.” Far as we are concerned, that makes the problem more solvable. It matches our human resources with actual needs instead of wasting them on matters of superficial desire. That turns out to be important for the same reason firefighters aim their water hoses at the fire rather than wasting it trying to eliminate the smoke.

Hate is to fear like smoke is to fire. Hate can kill, and so can smoke. Yet, as commonly as we can recognize that a burning house does not have a smoke problem but rather a fire problem, we uncommonly seek to solve our interpersonal hate or anger problems rather than their underlying fear problems that produce all of that hate and anger. We then wonder why the problem never seems to get solved. And we wonder why we are short of resources after wasting them on trying to solve the wrong problem.

So what might happen if instead of throwing money and effort into fighting the wrong social problems, we as Americans would use our creative genius to solve the right ones?

What if, for example, we took a deeper look at our fear problem the way professional firefighters are trained to investigate our fire problems. What if we looked for our fear triggers? Our fire starters, our sparks? What if we looked at our underlying hurts and unmet expectations that produce our traumas that trigger our fears? What if we engaged each other in actual face to face, eye to eye conversation? What if we did the hard work of empathy and understanding?

Is it possible that placing our time, treasure and talents in solving our fear problems in this way might actually work? Might actual solve something for a change?

As I continue the work of my forthcoming book, “Love’s Resurrection: its power to roll away fear’s heaviest stone,” I’ve reached this point in my own life’s journey. I believe we all as humans, and perhaps other animals like dogs and dolphins, live by faith. And we all have this mind capacity to choose: we can place our faith in fear, which is rooted in our desire to receive, or else we can place our faith in love, which is rooted in our need to give.

Better read that one again: we can place our faith in fear, which is rooted in our desire to receive, or else we can place our faith in love, which is rooted in our need to give.

We then go through our lives internally conflicted about this choice. Our desires conflict with our needs. We fear that our desires will go unmet, that we will not receive enough. Yet, our love of giving meets the need of our souls that gratifies us so abundantly that our fear is, at some deeper level, cast out. Or solved.

I believe love is the solution to the universal problem of fear. That’s where my own mind now chooses to place my faith after 71 years of arguing back and forth internally between my body’s fear and my soul’s love.

And that’s why I believe in Jesus.

Jesus was the master of love. When it came to casting out fear, or rolling away fear’s heaviest stone, his power to give love met a need I call “resurrection.” It’s a universal need we all have. And while it may not be perfectly met this side of heaven, it is God’s purpose in our world to resurrect / restore / re-story us here and now. On earth as it is in heaven. If we will but place our greater faith in love rather than in fear. If we will but trust in love to solve our fear problems, we will actually solve our problems for a change. We will quench the fires of our own hell by fighting not the smoke or the hate or the anger in our world, but the underlying fear of not receiving our deepest desires. Our. Real. Solvable. Problem.

If you, too, can read and actually believe this, thank a Social Worker. Thank Jesus.