The Real Enemy Is Despair

Jolene Baney

By Jolene Baney

I know it’s not the topic de jour, and the whole conversation around mass gun violence is too complex to boil down into a blog. I also know that all of us are equally saddened and feel frustrated by the recurring mass shootings in our country and would like to think we can make a difference. Here’s how:

I’m reviewing some notes from a presentation I heard from Dr. Joel Dvoskin, a leading expert on the topic of mass gun violence, I thought it was worth sharing.

In a recent presentation he said, “The real enemy is despair.” 

Mass gunmen have common traits that millions of people may also have, and yet those millions of people don’t go out and shoot into a crowd. What they ALL have in common with these modern day mass killers can sometimes be suicidal thoughts or some sort of chronic pain. They have given up all hope, hence the statement “The real enemy is despair.”

So the challenge is, can we all look around and see people in our midst who might be in crisis, and perhaps lend a hand? Instill hope? Encourage them to seek help? It may be the greatest gift you can give: to help them see another possibility for their life. You’ll never know it, but you may just prevent a tragedy.

I read about a recent Twitter exchange between the well-known public figure Sarah Silverman and a man who responded to one of her online posts with a derogatory slur (something I won’t repeat here). Instead of lashing back out, she reached out with compassion and concern.

She read his timeline and found that he was dealing with debilitating back pain and was feeling isolated and hopeless. She told him she saw someone worthy behind the rage. As they tweeted back and forth, more emotional pain was revealed and the celebrity responded with understanding and empathy. She gained his trust enough to get beyond the physical and emotional pain and a vulnerable human being emerged.

He thanked her for reaching out, apologized for the slur, and talked about the hope he now felt. Others started chiming in and offering help, support groups were suggested, encouragement given, and connections were established. Donations came in to help pay for his medical bills and, as was reported later, Silverman paid the rest. I truly believe he was touched and changed in that defining moment in which another human being looked beyond the gnashing teeth and found a connection.

If hate is the thing with teeth; then, as Emily Dickinson wrote, “Hope is the thing with feathers”. Thanks for reading, and please know you matter.


“Hope” is the thing with feathers

By Emily Dickinson

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –

That perches in the soul –

And sings the tune without the words –

And never stops – at all –


And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –

And sore must be the storm –

That could abash the little Bird

That kept so many warm –


I’ve heard it in the chillest land –

And on the strangest Sea –

Yet – never – in Extremity,

It asked a crumb – of me.


Related Articles:

When Someone You Love Speaks of Suicide: 4 Steps to Help a Person in Distress Find Refuge

Chronic Pain and Loneliness: 8 Tips for Beating Social Isolation When You’re Living with a Chronic Illness

Is Chronic Pain Ruining Your Life? 5 Things You Can Do RIGHT NOW to Get Relief