Awareness is generally thought to be a good thing. Certainly we advocate being aware of one’s personal budget, of politics, of education, of science (Climate Change), of job opportunities, of our health, and even an awareness of our ignorance on various topics. I think it is useful to be aware of proper use of the English language. Awareness, it seems, is always positive. Awareness is the first step in correcting faulty behavior. We become aware, then accept reality, then take action. Is there a downside? I think so.
If ignorance is bliss, then what is awareness? Is it opposite of bliss? As suggested, awareness can be painful. Becoming aware of self, of behavior of self, of impact on others of an errant self, can be quite disturbing. That awareness shall continue to be painful until one accepts the truth and takes action to change the behavior. Glaring examples are found in domestic violence, addiction, and child abuse. No one would openly advocate any of these examples but our society is fraught with them.
Society had identified and promotes awareness. We have Cancer Awareness Month, Alcohol Awareness Month, Heart Disease Awareness Month, Child Abuse Awareness – the list goes on. In every case we are talking about becoming aware of something painful such that we might see reality and take action. All good things? Right?
Yes, but. There it is, that nuisance of a phrase – Yes, but! When we become aware and are powerless to take action then we are subject to potentially excruciating pain. I drive down the street and observe a variety of Pay Day Loan store fronts, Title Loan store fronts, thriving businesses sucking the life out of individuals caught in the cycle of economic distress. I see people standing in line and I know some of them are destitute because of gambling or drug addiction. A sense of powerlessness creeps into my psyche. I have to let go.
The downside of awareness is the pain of watching helplessly while a child is abused, watching the child develop survival strategies, watching the child suffer fear of the next moment, and watching other adults ignore the abuse in the interest of maintaining harmony with the other adults. I watched as the child’s self-esteem slipped away. The one time athlete became obese from microwave corn dogs for supper. The one time “A” student was failing in school. A sense of powerlessness crept into my psyche. I fought for the child. My awareness of the horrendous consequences of child abuse sucked the life out of me. I am sick with grief.
I volunteer in a community of social outcasts, drug addicts, homeless, alcoholic, ignorance, diminished mental faculties, mental health afflictions, and those generally rejected by polite society. I am the President of the Board of an Alano Club. We have a caretaker who lives in our building. The other day, a cold winter day, he told me that the night before, around 11:30 PM, he had found a young lady sitting on the floor in a room, crying in distress. We have policies and procedures. Our building closes at 10:30 PM. No one is allowed to stay the night other than the caretaker. The caretaker told her she could not stay. He offered to give her a ride to anywhere she wanted (a mistake in my judgement). She declined any help and he last saw here walking down the street in the cold.
One of the programs in our building is Al-Anon. It is for families, parents, siblings, children, spouses, and friends of alcoholics. Our al-anon group welcomes those same folks with drug addict loved ones. Al-Anon is all about awareness. Particularly aware of one’s powerlessness in regard to changing the life of another. That is a painful notion. A loved one is in trouble and you are powerless to fix the problem!
Two years ago there was a wonderful fifty-one-year-old year old woman – married to the same man since she was fifteen – going to Al-anon to learn how to manage her life with her violent alcoholic husband. She was well accepted by the group. The other group members were acutely aware of her difficulty. They were aware of the danger in her life. They sympathized completely – but they also recognized the limits of their power to force change. Sandy came for a couple of months before she was beat to death by her drunk husband. He is in prison for the next thirty years.
Awareness might save our sanity – but that same awareness is dreadfully painful.