During my college years, I used to get together with fellow science students to study vocabulary, because, in those days, med school and grad school entrance exams contained a vocabulary component. For some reason, when others quizzed me, I had a frustrating mental block on one of the words we studied. Because of that, it is a word that I can never forget; moreover, it keeps pushing its way into my consciousness when I reflect on the current state of our country.

That word is “rancor,” and it means “deep-seeded ill will.” It perfectly explains the disturbing malaise that has swept across the country in recent years, like nothing I’ve ever witnessed in my 6+ decades of life. It is like a mental disease that strikes at the very core of our being and threatens our collective psyche. In the process, people are marginalized and lives destroyed.

Science has demonstrated that mental and physical health are fundamentally linked, with each being a risk factor for the other. If we can’t right the ever-increasing strain on our mental health, the added stress can become a “preexisting condition” that increases our susceptibility to physical threats, including a myriad of diseases (coronavirus included!), if it hasn’t already. As an example, people with the highest levels of self-rated distress have a 32% increased likelihood of dying from cancer, and the incidence of coronary heart disease is significantly higher in people with depression.

Signs of mental health decline include changes in eating and sleeping patterns, social withdrawal, loss of energy, irritability and mood swings, or a drop in performance at school or work. I know I’ve seen flashes of some of these in myself during COVID-dominated 2020, and I imagine many of you have as well.

In his sermon Sunday about Samuel, Pastor Tyler asked if the word of the Lord today is rare or if our leaders have failed to hear His word. It might appear so when you consider the erosion of civility and basic human decency that at times seems to have no bounds. And our ability to reverse this trend and reboot our mental health seems daunting in light of the widespread one-upmanship and winner-take-all approach that dominates our political landscape. I pray that God’s word will be heard and that His healing hand will bring us together to seek the common good, leading to careful, respectful and intelligent dialogue that supplants knee-jerk emotionalism.

The above Bible verse is my favorite. It is clear that we have fallen far short of its directive. We have all seen those car bumper stickers with the single word, “coexist.” I find this message strangely cold and impersonal. We should set the bar higher. May I suggest a different bumper sticker incorporating Micah 6:8 with one important modification that reads: “Love Unconditional Kindness.” Our ability to get along with others shouldn’t be dependent on their ethnicity, socioeconomic status or political persuasion. Maybe by focusing on kindness, instead of character assassination, we can see profound healing, both mentally and physically.