The Greatest Disease in the West

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September 30, 2014 by Alex Johannigman

This weekend I took my first trip to Dallas’ Uptown district since returning to Texas from my year of missionary work. Uptown is known as one of the wealthiest parts of town and is popular for its nightlife and restaurant/ bar scene that attracts mostly young professionals in their 20’s and 30’s. Many Dallas residents view living in Uptown as a lofty goal that they strive for. Moving to Uptown is seen as a sign of success in one’s career as it makes it easier to spend your nights going out to the hottest restaurants, clubs, and bars in the city.

While I was there I was overwhelmed by the quantity of well dressed yet severely intoxicated people which left me with a great sadness, more so than it had in any of my previous trips there before being a missionary. I realized that there is so much spiritual poverty in that part of town, but that poverty also extends beyond Uptown’s street corners and into society as a whole. There are so many people today living their lives so that they can party and drink like crazy on the weekends. We’ve made money and status our gods and pursued them because we believe they are what will satisfy us.

There are so many who dream of reaching the point in their careers when they can afford to live in that luxurious and exclusive part of town, yet I sensed a greater poverty there among the “successful” than I ever experienced during street ministry serving those who are considered the lowest and least successful members of our society.

Mother Teresa had a lot of insights about poverty and disease. She worked with the poorest of the poor and devoted more of her life to loving them than almost anyone who has ever lived. And despite all of her time with those who are materially poor, she had this to say about the poverty of the West.

“The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty — it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There’s a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.” 

nightlifeIsn’t it interesting that our society has more ways to connect with other people through social media and cell phones than ever before, but can be called lonely? That we can have more opportunities for sexual arousal and gratification than ever before, but feel unloved? That we can see limitless horizons for our technological advancements that will make life easier and easier to live, yet still have so many people who struggle with despair and hopelessness?

Ultimately the thing that we’re all longing for is love. All humans suffer from loneliness, despair, and hopelessness at times, though some certainly experience it more than others. While the poor turn to a cheap bottle of rum at the liquor store or a hit of heroin or meth, the rich are just as likely to turn to something unhealthy to cure their despair, whether that is ordering one too many expensive cocktails, going on a $1000 shopping trip for new clothes, bar hopping on a Saturday night looking for a drunken hookup, or deciding to upgrade to a more expensive car or a nicer Uptown apartment. Ultimately, each of those methods of satisfying our desires fails to quench the longing we experience in our hearts for authentic love and community.

So if all of these material things can’t satisfy us, what can we do on this broken world? We can work on building our own relationships with God through prayer, and that is good, but it does little to help the drug addicted homeless man on the street or the business executive who gets drunk every Friday night.

Start by building authentic relationships with those around you. Go beyond the surface level. People in the professional world especially often feel limited to small talk and surface level interactions with each other, believing that they need to “keep it professional.” But this may be why so many of us in the wealthy West feel such a lack of true community in our lives relative to the rest of the world.

Ask about a person’s values, what they are thankful for this week and what they wish had gone differently, their highs and lows, the things they are looking forward to, and if there is anything they really wish someone would help them with or talk to them about. Let’s fight what Mother Teresa called our “greatest disease” and make it so that when someone tells us that we seem to actually care about them as a person, it’s a normal occurrence rather than an exception to the rule.

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2 thoughts on “The Greatest Disease in the West

  1. […] Aleteia∝ S30 The Truth & Charity Trap – Fr. Dwight Longenecker, Standing on my Head S15 The Greatest Disease in the West – Alex Johannigman, All That Catholic Jazz S30 The Bad Evangelist Club: Do Protestants Have […]

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  2. […] at All? – Fr J V Schall SJ The Truth & Charity Trap – Fr. Dwight Longenecker The Greatest Disease in the West – Alex Johannigman, […]

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