American culture is in crisis. Our culture, like every culture, is built on the relationships between the individuals within it. And relationships rest on a foundation of trust. When trust breaks down, culture breaks down. I just spent two years researching the science behind this situation for my new book, The Chemistry of Culture. Scientists say the evidence for the breakdown of our culture is everywhere.
Anxiety, depression, and declining interpersonal skills are epidemic. Entering college freshmen are half as empathetic as they were in 2000. The CDC reported that in the previous decade teen suicides were up almost 60%.
The statistics became all too personal for me recently when, in a school where I have worked, a student left school, alerted their social media network, and then live-streamed their suicide. This happened in a school I know well. It is a good school, with a highly empathetic Principal and a caring staff. Trust me, if it can happen here… it can happen anywhere. And it does.
It was like a punch in the gut and I posted about it. Then took it down. Some people believe we should not talk about such things openly. I believe they are wrong. Left untreated, a deep wound to our flesh will not heal itself, and the crisis in our culture must be called out and addressed.
Of course, we must take care to never add additional anguish to those whom this tragedy has touched. We must never identify victims, locations, or even communities directly. But we must begin to bring this crisis out of the shadows and into the spotlight. Then we must act. The future of our society may depend on it. In so doing, we may also find meaning in our pain, help heal the wounds, and begin to prevent more suffering.
I was touched directly by this crisis in a school I love. It has changed me. It has strengthened my commitment to make a difference. For over two decades now we have been turning our schools and teachers into testing machines. We have made student data our single focus. Enough is enough.
The pendulum has swung way too far. It’s now cutting into hearts of our students and the very fabric of our culture. It is ripping apart the social and emotional connections that bind us to one another. It’s time to change our focus. It’s time to understand the why behind we must, Maslow before Bloom!
There is good news. Scientists say that we most certainly CAN solve this problem. Culture is based on relationships, and our behavior determines our relationships. Behavior is learned, and Neuroscience is unlocking the brain chemistry behind building better relationships and culture. I survey some of the science behind these statements in, The Chemistry of Culture.
In the coming months I will be announcing the changes I am making and exactly how I intend to support the work of building better relationships in our schools and improving school culture. If I’ve learned anything it’s that: If your culture is broken, you can’t fix anything else.