by James Strauss
There is only one decision given to human beings alone, and that decision might be enforceably delayed, but it can never be taken away. That decision is whether to continue living or not. Once, in a post traumatic stress group meeting at a VA clinic, a returning veteran was asked if he was suicidal. He jumped up from the table, irate that anyone might ask that, or think he was weak enough after having gotten through combat, to now kill himself. A psychologist settled him down, and apologized for asking the question. After things had gotten back to normal, the psychologist said: “of course you are not suicidal, but do you feel like you don’t want to be alive anymore?” The veteran indicated that it was true, that he didn’t want to be alive anymore.
How many times in life do human beings come to the same conclusion, without any outside confrontations?
How many times does life serve up, deserved or undeserved, dinners we (as humans) would rather not continue attending?
The statistics about suicide are skewed to minimize its existence and to keep people from thinking about committing the act. There are no published prison statistics on the frequency of prison suicides, or other deaths inside for that matter. It is illegal to keep such figures, both federally, and in any state. There are no statistics published, other than conjectural or anecdotal, about prison rapes either. Such information is verboten in the modern American culture, yet most everyone thinks that almost all information is available in some form or another.
Human beings are afraid of thinking about suicide, because they do think about suicide. They don’t discuss suicide, for the same reason. Suicide is about as acceptable in general social conversation as UFOs. A person might bring up the subject and all those present agree that its interesting and worthy of further comment, but very soon that person will find him or herself alone. In fact, depending on what circumstances that person lives in, they might be put under ‘suicide watch’. Which, amazingly enough, is an assessment whereby physical measures are taken to prevent the suicide of the subject, but the intervention methods themselves can directly increase the likelihood that the person will actually commit the act!
Suicide is lied about, and denied, by almost everyone (for fear of social ostracism, or if they are already in a restricted environment, being put on a draconian suicide watch). Human beings are the only living creatures known to be able to contemplate and then consciously take their own lives. Some dogs, cats and other pets have been known to fade away into death, by not eating or through lassitude after losing a partner in life. But only humans are known to be actively aware of their anguish, and then capable of ending their lives in response. Other species have been proven to use tools, have opposable digits and exhibit self-awareness, so maybe the one characteristic exclusive to humans is the ability to think about, and then commit, suicide. You won’t see that subject written about or considered in general literature.
The ability to persevere is an intrinsic part of the human genetic structure. With no training or life experience, babies automatically shy away from only two things; heights, and snakes (and loud noise). These two things cause babies to exhibit all the physical characteristics of terror. Survival is written into our genetic code. Only living on from infancy, and through adolescence into adulthood, can result in the breadth of perspective needed for humans to consider surrender, and quitting the whole damned thing. You’ve thought about it, but you won’t tell that to the person next to you, or anyone else. The human tendency to quit life is huge, but kept virtually secret by media outlets. In the United States more than twice as many people die every year by suicide than by being murdered. In South Korea and Japan, it’s twenty-five times more likely that a citizen will die from suicide rather than from murder. In fact, 1n 2015 more guns were used by their owners to kill themselves, then by other citizens using them.
But where is the news about this? It’s not published. Murder dominates almost all news outlet reports; from police murders of citizens (more commonly reported than every before these days), murder in groups by mentally ill citizens, serial murders, and more. In general, there are no suicide rates coming out of combat zones. In fact, the latest wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are the first to report the incidence of suicide among troops and Marines serving in combat zones. But that news is still totally minimized. Today suicide is viewed by the general public as it was viewed by that veteran who stood up to deny being ‘weak enough’ to consider killing himself.
Suicide is wrong for simply one reason. It’s almost always based upon flawed belief systems implanted by inaccurate or deliberately distorted data. And suicide is almost always an act ‘committed’ in reaction to what is likely a very temporary situation. Note the use of the pejorative word “committed”.’ Society uses that word to describe the performance of heinous acts; crimes. This is society’s way of preventing suicide. Society tries to shroud the act with extreme negative consequence, which is meaningless as a deterrent, because the person who commits suicide is very deliberately, and intentionally, not going to be around to suffer any consequences from the act. The often ensuing shame and guilt, however, is all too often unfairly laid upon surviving family and friends. Society needs to come to terms with the fact that suicide is not the act of a coward. It’s an act of futility, of ultimate despair. It is sought when a human comes to believe that he or she has no ability to affect the physical or social circumstance around them. Suicide as an act, is a result, a reaction. The result of inattention and minimization. Without one’s self-importance being supported by others in the social structure, there is no way to fight back that living misery; that escape into the night; the continuance of unending pain. To put into place a program of “no surrender,” to help our loved ones survive (and other living humans are all truly our loved ones, if we will simply accept it) is to go straight into the cold beating heart of this problem of low self-worth.
Combat veterans returning from conflicts don’t need counseling nearly as much as they need employment that has worth and meaning. Doing something that has worth results in a feeling of self worth. Single mothers don’t need welfare; they need real jobs so they can not only take care of their own, but also feel like they are capable of taking care of their own. The mentally ill need constant physical attention to their conditions, but even more emotional reinforcement to maintain a sense of positive self esteem, not abandonment to the streets. Suicide, when viewed from a ‘no surrender’ standpoint, can be seen as the result of cultural murder. To be outcast, to be excluded from social worth, to be denied the opportunity to have meaning, is to be very effectively killed off. Suicide is not the result of poor moral character or cowardice; it is the result of feeling utterly alone. “No surrender” is possible through love and acceptance from the culture. Suicide should not be defined as the fault of individuals who might do it. Every human on earth might do it if circumstance is allowed to provide a backdrop which encourages it.
Do not surrender yourself and don’t surrender those around you either.