The following first appeared in The Finger Lakes Times as the regular weekly column, “Denim Spirit.”
Can you feel the dis-ease?
No, not an illness with us, but a dis-ease among us that is an unsettling lull beneath the surface, between waves pushing the storm toward a moment of breaking. Feel it?
One of the marks of maturity, emotional and spiritual, is the ability to hold two opposing perspectives or truths at one and the same time. Conversely, a blanket of categorical thinking, when nearly every decision or circumstance is evaluated as an either-or proposition, reveals an immaturity of mind and spirit. Think about that in regard to our current culture and politics.
All sides across the political spectrum pick on the news media. It is low hanging fruit for social critics. But it is also true in our current commercial culture, the sharper and more intense the divisions among us the more profitable news becomes. In addition to reporting what is taking place, the news media often heightens and enflames our divisions in a way that sells more news. But this nascent immaturity within and among us, while exacerbated and exploited by the commercialization of the news, is not caused by it.
Here are some symptoms of the disease festering within our body politic and casting off a great sense of dis-ease about what will happen among us. These are personal and individual warning signs as well, not only collective ones.
Thinking in Black OR White – when we cannot see shared biology flowing beneath the color of pigment. Racism and bigotry is a spectrum, not a line that we stand on one side or the other. It is a continuum, with only the most damaged of minds pitching their tents at the extremes. The rest of us move along the continuum, most notably when we have experiences of personal familiarity and intimacy with people we imagine as utterly different from us, and so move closer to them.
Believing in Right OR Wrong – prevents us from seeing that the very same action can be both, and the definitions of each can change over time and distance. For example, freedom of speech enables open political and philosophical discourse, which is good. But at the same time, it can harbor cruel and exploitive pornography, for example, or a culture of abusive ridicule and demonizing of public figures. As for truth and morality changing, slavery and the subjugation of women were once vigorously defended by the majority as moral and biblically based, and even lynching was once declared and practiced as a moral urgency.
Seeing in Black Or Blue – when taking sides causes us to hear pain and feel compassion only for some and at the expense of others. Our ability to feel with others – compassion – gets stunted by over-identifying with one team, one group, or a single subset of people. When that happens we inhibit our ability to imagine common needs and shared desires, and we become unable to blur the lines between them and us in order to recognize we are actually interdependent.
Acting as if I win/you lose OR You win/I lose – when hyper-competitiveness turns us into predators who see life as a game of eat or be eaten. Standing in the midst of abundance, all we can see is scarcity. This makes it impossible for us to recognize distribution as both problem and opportunity, or collaboration as more efficient than winning and exacting revenge.
Maturation is a process that requires time, and it is unclear how much time is left before our divisions explode. Therein lies the dis-ease.
The only thing I know for certain that speeds up maturation are experiences of bringing close the actual interdependency between us. When we can see and feel that our destinies are linked and inseparable from one another, growth happens even in real time. I wish some big news organization could figure out how to commercialize that perspective.