I have had an amazingly blessed life. But as with any life, it has come with its challenges, its setbacks, and its heartache and despair. Looking back, I cannot imagine how I would have made it through some of those times without friends. There have been other periods of life that I have felt alone and suffered longer than I should have because I was not connected to a group of friends I could reach out to. There have been many times when I have leaned on a friend when things started to get hard, and that turned out to make all the difference in the world. And still there are countless more periods of life that have been rich with meaning because I have had friends to share them with.
As our country mourns more mass shootings, as we struggle to come to terms with the rise of hatred, racism, and domestic terrorism, I think about friends and how much of a difference they make in my life. And I wonder how differently things may have turned out if people who turn to violence or extremism had friends. The philosopher Hannah Arendt called loneliness “the common ground of terror.” Cut off from a sense of belonging and connection, people become vulnerable to delusions, resentment, and a sense of victim-hood that needs a simple, often violent, reckoning. When looking for explanations for mass violence or why a person joined a hate group, it is rare that authorities are able to find out anything about a motive from a person’s close friends simply because they don’t have any close friends.
In a world of seemingly ever greater “connectedness,” we have to realize it is the deep connections that matter, and it is the absence of deep connections that get us and others into emotional trouble. We need each other. We have a deep need for belonging. It is often those that find it hard to fit in that need to belong the most. In the wake of tragedy and a feeling of helplessness, we can take political action. But we can also take a look around right where we are and build connections, build community, and build relationships with people different than us, people on the margins, people that, like all of us, need to belong.
Nathan Dickson is an attorney with Jinks, Crow & Dickson, P.C.