By Brian Chisholm
Delegate, District 31
“I’ll tell every one of you, if you’re willing to hear me, what your biggest problem is. You think you shouldn’t have them. Problems are what make us grow. Problems are what sculpt our soul. Problems are what make us become more. If we could realize that life is always happening for us, not to us. Game over, all the pain and suffering disappears. Your problem is your gift.” — Tony Robbins
I have spent countless hours reflecting on this message and remembering the piercing impact it had on my heart the first moment I heard it. I have tried to leverage this in my own logic to overcome problems. It has echoed in my mind, more prevalent than ever over the past few weeks since getting a text from my high school son letting me know that yet another classmate had ended his own life prematurely. This optimistic mindset shared by Tony Robbins can be at odds with that organic, negative gut feeling we can’t shake when wrestling with these devastating problems and trying to look for a better tomorrow, all while facing the unbelievable fear of losing loved ones.
In the 24 hours before writing this article, I met with concerned parents actively seeking solutions to problems in our schools, from bullying and racism to mental health. This was followed up pre-dawn the next morning by lining sidewalks with hundreds of other parents holding signs and candles in a show of love and support for the affected students.
As I stood there, trying to absorb the enormity of the challenge facing these parents, students, my son, my family, friends, teachers, mental health professionals, critical response teams and community members, I tried to consider any possible solutions. Like others, I try to understand the reason this plague has infected our area in such high numbers. I am far from a mental health specialist, so I can offer only my thoughts as a dad, husband, son, state legislator and friend who is reaching for answers. I know this is an odd time to incorporate the belief that our problems can be our greatest gift, but here is my best attempt in hopes it helps. Furthermore, I fully recognize that the leading cause for teen suicides is mental health issues and that is well beyond my scope of knowledge. Regardless, I wanted to put forth my thoughts on this subject as well as the other problems facing our kids. I also realize this is a sensitive and delicate subject to comment on, with the real risk of offending many. That is far removed from my intent; this is simply the view of one person who hopes to start the conversation toward solutions.
I am deeply concerned that we have witnessed, and in many ways unintentionally fostered, an environment that teaches kids that they are entitled to a life without pain or problems. It is our human nature to do everything we can to protect our kids from negative situations or feelings. I believe this can rob them from the gift of developing the skills absolutely necessary for overcoming adversity and problems. These skills are imperative to ensure our children can flourish and lead a happy life when they enter the “real world” as an adult. I worry that the more we shield our kids from the situations and problems they face every day, the greater the chance they will lack the skills needed to cope. They spend hours on social media sites with droves of staged photos of peers appearing to have the perfect life. I am dismayed that this false illusion of everyone around us having a problem-free, ideal life with an amazing future can play havoc on a young, impressionable mind. It can lead to the feelings of isolation because they do have legitimate problems. This is a serious issue and I know the mental health challenges of many are extremely complex. I do, however, think we would be well served if all kids and adults understood problems play a prevalent part in everyone’s lives. I have immense optimism that rather than letting problems destroy us, they strengthen us to more effectively embrace the serious challenges in life.
It is impossible to help anyone too afraid to share with others their serious problems and thoughts because of their feelings of isolation and remoteness. I pray these terrible and tragic losses will result in more individuals understanding they are not alone and problems are widespread throughout society, but so are the people willing to help. The human spirit is immeasurably powerful, but we all need help now and then from those around us. Most importantly, we must all recognize that problems exist within all of our lives and can be used to forge great progress if we educate the most vulnerable of the help that is available all around them.
Vital resources include www.aamentalhealth.org and the Maryland Youth Crisis Hotline at 800-422-0009.
God bless you all.