A 2010 facebook posting:

“People are receiving very disturbing news from a variety of sources about a ‘pact’ that teens have initiated via face book to have a mass suicide this weekend. Every community is trying to deal with the situation. Various community meetings have been held, and many have initiated suicide watches. CFNR is trying to do something to reach the youth by radio.

There was a gathering … last night ( youth dinner and talk) and another one tonight.

… the men from the community have been out patrolling until 6:00 am Sunday night, and until 3:30 am Monday night. The village administration was advised by the RCMP about the suicide pact and then there was a village meeting Monday night about the suicide danger.

 

… Would everyone, please be on the alert for conversations amongst students who might be involved in these face book conversations. Please report immediately to the RCMP with anything that might lead you to suspect that students are talking about this or contemplating suicide.

Thank you”

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My response:

I’ve been thinking and thinking about this.

It seems to me that although both are tragic, there is a difference between individual suicide and mass/group suicide.  We are familiar with the variety of reasons for individual suicide – loneliness, hopelessness, depression, abuse, escape, and so on.  But it seems to me that this kind of  “mass suicide pact” is perhaps different (though without doubt some reasons are shared) … and I’m thinking that unless we really try to understand the root causes, any solutions we might come up with won’t be effective.

In the past, we didn’t hear much about these kinds of “pacts” except in very small groups (two or three people), or in large communal cult-type groups (like the Jim Jones massacre, or certain wars, for example) in which a very strong leader, seen as a god-type figure to his followers, convinces them to obey him unquestioningly, even to the point of giving up their lives en-masse.

But it doesn’t seem to me like this is the case here.  We have up to 500 “potential suicide candidates” who apparently have gathered together through facebook (and possibly other on-line communities/ chats) to make this decision.  What, I am wondering, could have motivated this?  Does it have its roots, for example, in some kind of “movement”?  Have they been influenced by music heroes, media, movies, and so on?  Is there some common source of depression and hopelessness which they all share?  Is it perhaps a way to “belong,” to feel that they are significant parts of a group/ gang/ community?  If so, what does that say about the lack of community which would drive them into such a dire decision?

I have heard people point to things like lack of activities and safe places to hang out and so on, for young people.  But sometimes I wonder if the “for young people” part is maybe a significant root of the problem, especially in communities where traditionally “community” was “family” and included all ages together – working, playing, sharing history in story and song and art, sharing community-wide values and beliefs, and so on.  I fear that it may a result of  the choice of society generally, to divide its members into groups based on nothing more than their chronological ages, in at least the past century (and probably back at least to the time of the “industrial revolution” in “first-world” nations) (and, I believe, accelerated recently by the “technological revolution” which really has led to so many actually hanging out alone, though they believe they are somehow “connected” …. tweeting, facebook statuses, email, phone…  and hasn’t this particular “pact” arisen out of this alone-but-technologically-connected kind of community?).  Schools (and Sunday Schools, and youth organizations, and all manner of other age-divided aspects of society) have been a significant purveyor of this “division” in society overall; and of course, first nations people have been particularly negatively affected by the residential schools, which went far beyond just local age-segregation to result in intentional family disintegration.

And when families disintegrate, communities disintegrate.  Children no longer share the experiences of their parents and grandparents (and aunts and uncles and other adults).  Teens (remembering that “teen-agers/ adolescents” didn’t even exist in dictionaries just a few decades ago), it seems to me, have been particularly separated, when they are right at an age when they should be having opportunities and encouragement to start taking on adult participation and responsibility in the community.  No wonder we worry about our kids not having enough to do.  We have taken away from them the opportunity to be active and responsible community members.

Another outcome of this separation of age-groups (starting earlier and earlier as we have introduced elementary school, then kindergarten, then nursery school, then day-care….) is surely a loss of family togetherness in a multitude of ways.  Two particularly crucial ways, I believe, are a sense of community history (not just “taught in school” but learned daily as children listen to the elders in their homes and daily and naturally take part in activities which have a long history and define the community and people in many ways), and integrated with that, a loss of community values, and connection to place and land, and a loss of spiritual values, of connection to and relationship with Creator, and creation.

I could go on and on, but surely I’ve already said more than my share, so I’ll sign off for now!  Solutions?  We can’t change the past, obviously.  But we do have the opportunity to make new choices in the present… and as we live in the present, and it goes on and on, we have a lot of opportunity!  What will we do with it?  Will we choose to make new directions a dynamic and continuing part of our lives (all of our lives), or will we just have some meetings and get excited about it for awhile and then let it slide?  To keep at it will be a lot of hard work.  Are we willing to go there?

 

Jan 12, 2010

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