Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Why We Must Feel Responsible for Each Other

This quote from the late Amitai Etzioni has become my new mantra: "...we are not merely rights-bearing individuals, but also community members who are responsible for each other."

While these words sound good on paper, are they realized in practice? 

The answer to that is quite simply: no. 

This, from Joseph Longley in Governing:

In 2023, for the third consecutive year, drug overdose deaths robbed more than 100,000 Americans of their lives, according to recently released data. The scale of this loss — a fivefold increase from the early 2000s — is shocking: Overdose deaths today outnumber fatalities from gun violence and car accidents combined.

Would a nation of people who truly felt "responsible for each other" stand idly by as over 100,000 of their brothers and sisters suffered such miserable and premature deaths? I would think not. 

Longley presents us with some disturbing data:

Despite the crisis we are in, 85.1 percent of people with a substance use disorder didn’t receive any addiction treatment in the past year. Meanwhile, only 43 percent of local jails provide medications for opioid use disorder — basic health care required by federal law. As a result, individuals returning from incarceration are up to 129 times more likely than the general population to die of an overdose.

Rather than offering these people the medication that they so desperately need, many states have doubled down on regressive punitive measures:

This legislative session... at least three states — GeorgiaIdaho and South Dakota — have enacted laws that make providing a deadly dose of fentanyl a homicide, despite evidence showing this does nothing to decrease overdose deaths. Arizona is among states that increased mandatory minimum sentences for drug trafficking, despite the evidence that mandatory minimums do not deter crime.

Humans require human-centric solutions, not neglect and punitive-posturing from states eager to win political points. 


While legislators may be tempted by the political sugar rush of passing tough-on-crime legislation, actually ameliorating this crisis requires patience, persistence and funding. With record federal funding and $50 billion in opioid settlement funds hitting state and local coffers, states and local jurisdictions can absolutely afford to make robust, game-changing investments in the entire continuum of care for substance use disorder: prevention, harm reduction, treatment and recovery services.

This, though, requires a shifting of temperament from policy makers. They must understand that addicts are people, too. They, probably more than anything, just need someone to walk with them. 

Marvin Olasky - in his seminal work, The Tragedy of American Compassion - emphasizes the importance of suffering with the needy, as opposed to helping them from a distance. 

It seems to me that, to truly help someone in need, you need to suffer with them. 

These states, however, appear to be legislating their way out of an issue that requires real human connection and understanding. 

To be sure, I could never understand what people suffering from addiction are going through. Not the faintest clue. But I do know this: a society that wishes to flourish and endure, must never let their people die such deaths of despair. 

Friday, June 7, 2024

Sorry, What Was Your Name Again?

Dale Carnegie - in his 1936 book, How to Win Friends and Influence People - wrote that "a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language." 

Too often, though, I find myself forgetting people's names at various functions and gatherings. This is not only embarrassing for me, but insulting to the person on the receiving end of my lapsed memory. 

Your name is your identity. 

As Alan Ehrenhalt once told me, "At the pharmacy that I go to, I know the names of all of the technicians, and they know my name, and I actually find that rather comforting." 

One thing that can help facilitate name-to-name, weak-tie relationships are name badges. This is something that Starbucks understands. 

Sherry Turkle, in her book, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, writes:

When Starbucks got into financial trouble, it rebuilt its brand with seemingly small changes, some of which highlighted the importance of conversations between customers and baristas. Every employee wore a name badge, and counters were lowered so that it was easier to strike up a conversation. 

But name badges, while useful in some settings, are unlikely to become quotidian. I can't imagine walking down the streets of Midtown Manhattan with a sticker reading, "HELLO, my name is Frank." 

What might be more practical, is to just ask. And when someone tells you their name, do your best to try and remember it. 

Jazz guitarist Jimmy Raney, during a 1993 master class at the University of Louisville, made an interesting parallel between remembering chords and "licks," and remembering people's names:

Take what you like and play it on your instrument. There's some kind of a connection there. I find that if I can't remember someone's name, if I write it down, I'll never forget it. If you have a friend, and you've met their wife forty times, but every time you call him you can't remember his wife's name... All I have to do is write it down, and I'll never have to look at it. 

This is a neat trick. 

I also find it helpful, when someone introduces themselves to you, to repeat their name at least ten times in your head. In fact, it helps if you say it aloud. Though, that may make you seem a bit... unstable.


Jim: Hello, my name is Jim. 

Bill: Nice to meet you, Jim! Jim, Jim, Jim, Jim, Jim, Jim, Jim, Jim, Jim. Jim. Got it!

Anyway, just some food for thought!

I have much growth to do here. Tips/suggestions are welcome!