I woke up this morning with two bits of information before me. One was the memory of a dream I had during the night in which I was describing an actual interview I’d seen on the Today show between host Bryant Gumbel and economist John Kenneth Galbraith in 1992. The other is a sermon a colleague, Rev. Craig Moro just sent me explaining the meaning of the Islamic name for the devil, Iblis.
During the Today show interview, Galbraith, who served in the administrations of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnson, was speaking of his new book, The Culture of Contentment. As I recollect, he argued the economic contentment of a few, and the subsequent desire to leave things the way they are, was festering a tremendous amount of discontentment that would eventually express itself in three undesirable ways. I don’t recall the first two ways but remember the third well. He told Gumbel such discontentment would suddenly explode in some form of unexpected violence that would be extreme enough to disturb the entire nation. “Not that I expect it to happen tomorrow,” he added. Ironically, the very next day, April 29, 1992, riots erupted in Los Angeles after a jury acquitted four L.A. police officers who had been videotaped brutally beating an African American man in their custody. More than 60 people were killed during the riots and thousands injured and arrested.
The Arabic word Iblis, coincidently, means “hopelessness” or “despair,” according to Rev. Moro, which is synonymous with discontentment, especially as it was manifested during the L.A. riots. Perhaps these synchronistic data points came this morning, just prior to writing my SUUN article, because many of us today are feeling various degrees of despair and discontentment. COVID-19 has bedeviled us. We’re all literally being bottled-up inside, the pressure is mounting, and some are ready to explode, which may help explain the protests going on around the country. The best thing to do in this case is to release some of the pressure so it doesn’t build to the point of exploding. This can be accomplished in three ways. First, being aware of our feelings of despair and discontentment and how badly they are impacting us. Is it time to let off some steam? If so, the next thing is to express it. Maybe call a friend and talk about it. Or express it creatively, in a poem, song, or YouTube video. And, thirdly, make this difficult experience count for something by staying meaningfully productive. Meaning amidst suffering and despair can make all the difference.