Finding the Lost Boys of American Life
We are our brothers’ keepers.
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If you’re a politically minded person (and if you’re reading this newsletter, you probably are), the instant a tragedy happens, your mind likely races to the “big” solution. What are the policies that can solve this problem? I’m not here to condemn this impulse. We should be thinking hard and creatively about policy—especially when we face persistent and deadly challenges, like mass shootings.
We also have to understand that there are some cultural diseases that policy can’t fully fix. There are wounds that politics can’t heal. And I’m convinced that our spreading epidemic of mass shootings falls into that category. Better policy can ameliorate the crisis, but fix it? I don’t see how.
My own thinking about this topic has been deeply influenced by two people—Robert Putnam and Malcolm Gladwell. Putnam is most famous for his book, Bowling Alone, which identified the increased loneliness and isolation of American civil society long before we knew it was a crisis. But in 2015 he wrote a book called Our Kids that transformed the way I see childhood in this country.
I don’t want to summarize the entire book (read it!), but one of the most impactful insights was the way in which kids in crisis often grow up in relative isolation from children in healthy families. It’s not that we see kids in crisis and ignore them. If we live in the right neighborhoods and integrate into the healthy civic associations, we don’t see kids in crisis at all.
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