Thursday, 16 August 2012

Suicide: The Cause

(See also Suicide: The Cure.)

A former student of mine recently committed suicide. He was a truly exceptional young man, still in his college years, with a powerful soul that blazed a phosphorescent trail through his community and left a persistent retinal impression.

When I was a teacher there was much talk about suicide and how to prevent it. But I was amazed at the utter lack of insight into the core causes of suicide, and truly alarmed at the rank incompetence of official responses. Virtually all anti-suicide programmes for young people can be summed up by a poster I saw in a middle school counselling centre: a big yellow sun with a smiling cartoon character beneath, and the caption: "Life is beautiful! Don't throw it away!"

I wonder how many kids that poster killed.

For the record, people don't commit suicide because life sucks. They do it because people deny that life sucks. They're in pain, and everything they see and hear defines that as failure. Suicide is not an act of sadness or disillusionment; it's an act of loneliness and alienation.

The fact is, even concentrated individual treatment of suicidal persons is often embarrassingly nugatory. Know why? Because when it's over, we dump these unfashionably-perceptive people back into the same abusive, self-satisfied population that almost killed them in the first place.

So take a deep breath, brothers and sisters, because things are gonna get real.

It's not suicidal people who need treatment. It's you.

Your eternal War on Humans makes this life an unendurable hell. The practice of identifying humanity itself as weakness, and advancing shallow, half-baked ideologies, political, social, and religious, over decency, is deadly to human life.

When you brand someone a "felon" for life and deny her a job, a place to live, the vote, you fill this fishbowl with mustard gas. And it kills, liberally and indiscriminately. Because that's what mustard gas does.

When you meet poverty, sickness, and injustice with pat excuses, employ dehumanising rhetoric to smear their victims, preach and screech about this group and that group, value trophies over solutions and money over morality, you burn up all the oxygen in this Mason jar.

When you make an individual anathema, on any grounds, hold him up to ridicule, mock, bait, and blacklist him, you kill legions of faceless bystanders, though they be far removed from your victim-du-jour.

The suicide epidemic can't be addressed with the simplistic one-to-one arithmetic our plodding culture calls data. But whether or not the link can be easily demonstrated, every time you withhold basic dignity, respect, and forgiveness, you chop up the ties that connect us all. Fear and resentment and hopelessness drive the most human of us out of the herd, where they perish. And sometimes, every so often, what goes around comes home, and someone you love dies.

As for me, I wrote this world off a long time ago, and dedicated the remainder of my time here to transcending it. So today I am commemorating my brilliant young brother's life and death in accordance with my vows, by sitting sesshin on a small uninhabited island. In the course of this day I will perform acts of atonement, renew my commitment to the Dharma, and sit metta meditation for us all.

I invite you personally, you reading this article, to join me, by whatever path you walk. Please undertake the struggle to change your heart, and so change your species. Please find the courage to remain calm. Please abandon the wisdom of this world. Please cleave to truth.

And please stop being a mass-murderer.
So here's to you, brave Uncle Francis
When the snowflakes fall, I will sing the blues
And when I think on how you left this world
I will remember how the world left you
Michael Marra
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