Since Steven died, because we were very good friends, many people have asked me if know why this happened, if I was I aware of an issue, etc. The short answer is “no.” I don’t know why this happened. Most of the people I’ve had intimate conversation with in my life have carried heavy burdens, had some serious brokenness in their lives, and/or felt tremendous responsibility for some outcome that was really mostly out of their control or not really their responsibility.
I don’t intend to reveal any personal conversation I’ve had with Steven, or with anyone else, for that matter. Having said that, I plan to take important, positive learnings from Steven’s life, but also from Steven’s death.
I’ll offer here two primary observations, and, I suppose, recommendations about people I’ve spoken with, not just Steven. Some of this applied to him specifically, some did not. Both stem from one simple notion – none of us should go through life processing our major experiences primarily alone.
The human mind is incredibly powerful. The most important secular book I suggest for people to read to understand the perceptions, decisions, and behaviors of people is Thinking Fast and Slow by Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman. One of the major concepts in the course I teach on ethics is rationalization. Most of us can easily convince ourselves that an action we are taking is ethical, even though we know, deep down, that it is not. We can convince ourselves that something is our responsibility when others would say it is not. We can interpret something from our childhood as intensely personal, even though it was not. Even if a horrible childhood experience was personal, other people might have a completely different perspective of the same situation. For thousands of years, two siblings have had an identical shared experience and reported radically different long-term meanings to it. All of this happens because of the incredible power of the human mind.
My first suggestion is we have to connect to something larger and more powerful than our individual human experience. The following idea may not appeal to everyone, but the best method I’ve found for accomplishing this is to be in relationship with Jesus Christ. Such a relationship doesn’t make anyone’s life a bed of roses, but experiencing the love of Jesus, which surpasses any form of human love, does provide a constant dynamic of hope, assurance, and connectedness. For thousands of years, people in the direst situations of humankind – people in concentration camps, people being tortured – were still able to find joy and peace in Christ. Having a perfect friend who provides unconditional love consistently and never fails to be available, can help prevent any rationalizations, misinterpretations, and nursed hurts that we may allow to fester and possibly spiral out of control.
Secondly, everyone who is reading this has easy access to professional resources that can also help us escape the tyranny of our own minds. Most decent-sized employers have an “employee assistance program” where we can easily be connected to a counselor who specializes in mental health, weight-loss, addiction, financial, spiritual, or other advice. These professional helpers are trained to assist us with any problem we are experiencing. Don’t think you are too proud or too unworthy to seek out this help.
I don’t intend for this blog post to be so heavy, or a downer. I have blogged elsewhere about all of the love and good times I’ve shared with Steven. I will be inspired by those experiences for the rest of the life. His death is a tragedy and I’m heartbroken that Steven and I will not be adding to those wonderful experiences.