Rising Threat Levels

rising threat levels

If anyone who isn’t like us becomes our enemy, we are asking our problems bigger. That’s what happens when we talk about problems in general terms. But what can we do here and now to solve the problems out there? Or are rising threat levels just a part of life?

Until we see these problems as ours to solve, we will expect someone else to do it. So problems get worse, and we blame others for not doing anything about them.

General Threat Response

This generalization of threats is another manifestation of the problem created by systems, and it affects the way we interact with people.

These systems magnify our sense that people want to do us harm, but they also generalize where that harm comes from. The result is that we go into many casual interactions already on guard, and suspicious of the ill intent that lies beneath that initial greeting.

Culture helps us manage our interactions with others. It creates a relational short-hand that allows us to communicate without having to establish all of the points of reference we would need to give our interaction meaning.

Culture helps us “get it” with other people, and more quickly creates a mutual experience of trust and shared perspective. But when we connect with fewer and fewer people, those outside that group are viewed with increasing mistrust and suspicion.

Problems Created by Systems

What’s the connection between these divisions and the systems underlying them? In short, these large-scale problems become large-scale because they are built on systems that expand their reach.

These are the same systems we hope will expand the reach of the message of the gospel, that God loves the world and sent his Son, Jesus, to make a way of salvation. But when something goes wrong, the harm done by these system-based programs is also multiplied.

This creates a tension. We are predisposed to trust systems, but intuitively know that no system will perform perfectly. So we compensate for this instability by relying on multiple systems in various places, and so hedge our bets against failure in one. This can lead to a contradictory and often chaotic view of the world.

Threat Levels Rising

We can keep these conflicting approaches working together for a time.  But when one fails, it can create a cascading failure in the others. Or in times of stress, we can’t keep it all straight. We end up performing for one system when we should be functioning in another.

Yet this all falls apart because of us. People don’t work as systems do, and the problems with people can’t be solved by systems.

Hope For Something Better

Hope for Something Better

In a previous post, I discussed the tension and confusion between culture and community. But there’s actually something behind that.  That something gives us a reason to hope for something better.

We hope for something better, but our hopes are constantly disappointed. Instead, as this “cycle has increased in speed and intensity” we find ourselves spending more time on less important things.

Why is that, and what can stop it?

Systems of Disfunction

We live in the golden age of systems. Everything we want to do, from financial security to weight loss, has been broken down into a system. These systems contain enormous powers of change and present themselves as a program with a simple series of steps to follow and a simple set of indicators to measure.

These systems have extended into almost every area of life. We have programs for better marriages, raising happy kids, growing as a person, and just about every other topic you can fit into the self-help section. We may approach these titles with a degree of skepticism, but approach them we do. Every time there’s a problem, we immediately wonder, who has already figured out the solution?

But beneath all that lies an undiagnosed problem. It shows up when our solutions create problems of their own, and we find ourselves dealing with the unintended consequences. Or when our proposed solutions fail, and the problem we were hoping to fix now looms even larger.

In moments like these, we may wonder if we’re up against something bigger and more cohesive than we first realized. There’s some kind of system at work that we don’t quite understand. Somehow we’ve run afoul of its process and we just want to get back in sync.

These are also the moments when we tell ourselves to “suck it up” or “get back in line.” We face the choice of giving up part of ourselves and what’s important for us just to get along. All the while, our hopes that this time it will be different are dashed as we find ourselves in the very place we were desperate to avoid.

Hope For Something Better

The alternative is to hope for something better and set out to search for it. But we carry with us the fear that whatever we find will eventually end up being more of the same. We wonder if we are the problem and wish we could just be content with what we have.

We resolve to stick it out where we are, but can’t shake the feeling that something may be dying inside us.

It feels like we’re at war, but we don’t know who the enemy is.