Since starting Love Not Fear, I’ve made a point of saying that this isn’t something I sought out or asked for but an idea that found me. And while it feels like we’ve been idling for a while, the night after my last post, I was awakened by another one of those ideas that comes from outside yourself and nudges you forward. So here it is.
From January 24-February 9, we’re going to host Disrupt Despair, an event that combines interfaith exchange, artistic play and a hackathon of sorts to address the root cause beneath a lot of the social pathologies of our time. Whether it manifests in mass shootings, extremism, gang violence, suicide, addiction, criminality or other forms of despair, what we’re seeing, I posit, is a lack of healthy human connection and pro-social purpose. If we want to fix any of those pathologies, eventually, we have to work back to the source and identify who is at risk of walking down one of these paths and giving them constructive and attractive alternatives.
We’ll gather the best data we can find both on why people (especially, I suspect, young men) pursue these paths, and what they might have in common. Most of the work in this area to date has been attempting to profile, for example, mass shooters, which has proven impossible because it aims to predict who among the deeply disturbed and despairing is most likely to explode into violence, with the intention of interceding and disarming them. This project aims to look much farther upstream, to try to identify data trends that point to which people are most likely to be facing a lack of connection and purpose, so we can try to redirect to healthier possibilities far earlier in the process of unwinding a life. It requires the best expertise of psychologists, criminologists, public health experts, etc., but it also requires those who best understand consumer data and people who work in other areas that require similar analytical skills, with the hope that the freshness of their perspective may jar loose some new insights.
Finding the lost is part of the challenge; identifying attractive interventions is the other part. We’ll look at successful programs that exist now that might need new ways to penetrate the marketplace of the lonely and purposeless, and we’ll also engage creative thinkers and – most importantly – at risk youth and young adults themselves – to see if there are better alternatives to be discovered.
We won’t solve it all in 17 days (17 for the number of victims at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School). But I believe we can start something.
Friday afternoons, Saturdays and Sundays will be focused on Pray, Play, and Party. We’ll encourage participants to participate in worship services from a broad cross-section of faith traditions, noting that houses of worship have emerged as prime targets for despairing violence, and reflecting the role of organized religion as the historic center of purpose and connection. We’ll be asking local faith communities to support us by including us in their worship, praying for the success of the project, and including their best and brightest in the discussions.
We’ll balance that by asking our local arts community to work with us to provide participants (including some of our artists) with opportunities to engage in creative play to prime the pump of ideas and connect participants with each other. And we’ll look for ways to have fun in the process to tighten those bonds.
Mondays through Friday mornings will be focused on solving the questions: how do we find the lost, and what do we offer them? While the format is still TBD, it will likely blend some pre-work to get up to speed on the data and research that exists and some initial presentations, followed by long, intense days of group work to hack at the answers to those questions.
We hope to base this at the Health Equity Center in St. Petersburg, and we believe there is alignment between this project and their purpose. While we will follow the data where it leads, our assumption is that those in underserved communities are at least as likely if not more likely to face loneliness and lack of purpose as well as to be victims of those whose despair leads to violence. Our vision is that whatever solutions come of this will address the needs and opportunities of the communities that suffer from inequities in our society…but that they will also address the needs of other communities and audiences as well.
So that’s the idea that hit me in the middle of the night. As I begin to “socialize” it, I thought I needed to write it down somewhere I could reference.