Troubled American actor Shia LaBeouf found God while living in his truck in California. He had come to the end of himself, presumably finding nothing much left that he liked and even had a gun on a table. “I’m outta here,” he remembers thinking.
But he didn’t do it. At around the same time, the 37-year-old actor befriended a group of Capuchin monks. He entered their world of quiet and contemplation, in part to prepare for his role of much-loved Italian saint and Catholic priest Padre Pio. In a way, what Pio loved rubbed off on the actor. Are we not reminded of the Psalm: “Be still and know that I am God.”
It’s a wonderful story of redemption and, for LaBeouf’s sake, let’s hope it sticks.
But redemption is not the story for far too many young men. They are retreating from universities and even society. Some won’t put up with the way universities disparage them. Others absorb guilt of their so-called privileged world that they never came from, since privilege typically comes from being rich, not white. Many more are disillusioned by our culture’s lack of heroes and absent fathers and become lost in the online world of noise: from Tiktok videos to sports, to excessive video gaming and the tsunami of pornography. Many become addicted to this online world that enslaves them and, for some, drug and alcohol abuse is a not so distant shore. Young men, and now also many young women, are losing their way.
How bad is it? My wife was buying a cemetery headstone for her father’s plot recently and the woman she spoke to told her that she had seven requests in the past two weeks for headstones for young men between ages 21 and 25. This is not just anecdotal. Males are twice as likely to commit suicide and Statistics Canada reports that for every suicide there are 20 attempts.
“Studies are showing that our adolescents are the loneliest generation in our history,” reports Real Women of Canada. “Anxiety and depression among our youth have become a severe problem. In fact, the increase in mental illness among adolescents has become epidemic and is nothing short of staggering. In a survey of over 600,000 U.S. adolescents, it was found that, from 2009 to 2017, major depression surged 69 % among 16 to 17 year olds, and jumped 71 % among 18 to 25 year olds.”
And those statistics are pre-pandemic. Canadian clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson is one of the few willing to acknowledge this crisis. In a recent more than one-hour interview with Piers Morgan that has been viewed online more than seven million times, Peterson’s eyes filled with tears as he spoke of society’s self-destruction. He wept as he said: “It’s really something to see, constantly, how many people are dying from the lack of an encouraging word, and how easy it is to provide that.”
He said that everyone needs to know that “you’re a net force for good if you want to be.”
We do not need to look very far in our lives to see the human manifestation of mental illness, depression and paralysis. We see the wounded in our own families and in the families of neighbours and friends. Sometimes we need to find help for them. And sometimes we can start by helping in our own small way. We know that goodness is contagious. It all starts with a smile, or a greeting, and showing interest in the other.
In a European study, a bus driver was asked to smile every day at every passenger getting onto the bus. In one week, passengers were smiling and some began talking to each other. Imagine that, the rebuild of a crumbling culture can start with an act of kindness, a kind word, a smile. But not once. Every day.
It also helps to ignore today’s elites and learn from the heroes who built Western civilization and who would say that anyone who thinks that this life is all there is simply isn’t listening and isn’t paying attention to the world around them and their own longing for what is true. Our true heroes give us a more realistic and optimistic perspective. They will tell you that we are only passing through this world and every good thing we do ripples through our culture and into the future.
General Maximus, played by Russell Crowe in the movie Gladiator, said it beautifully. Holding the reins while sitting on his horse, he plucked the courage of his warriors for battle as he roared: “What you do in life, echoes in eternity.”
Patrick Meagher is editor of Farmers Forum and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org