One by one, and together.
By Tim Moody
The remarkable Polish poet, Czeslaw Milosz, once wrote,
“This hasn’t been the age for the righteous and the decent.
I know what it means to beget monsters
And to recognize in them myself.”
It is an appropriate indictment of our own day and of our own selves.
I keep telling myself that what we are experiencing in our country is just a phase, something we have gone through before, where people who turn loathsome and violent, enormously greedy and arrogant, will change. That these dark clouds of hostility hovering over us will pass and the sunlight of decent behavior will shine again.
But there is something alarmingly stubborn about the indignity, prejudice, violence, division and hatred among us. We seem stuck in a continuous atmosphere of rancor and bitter estrangement. And it is disturbing and frightening that our leaders seem incapable or not
interested in changing the nation’s oppressive mood.
Our media, in all of its forms, is clearly geared to keep in front of us the most outrageous acts and words of angry and disgruntled Americans. National and local news, Sunday news shows, political commentators on television, radio, and the Internet endlessly stir the pot and keep us angry at one another. And that, too, fuels the tiresome discord we feel and face.
Social media, now an embarrassing assortment of deranged talk, bullying threats, and bizarre vulgar comments, fills anyone who stays connected to it with feelings of mental and emotional exhaustion, and the fear that we are losing our humanity.
I’m still convinced that the majority of Americans are good, decent people, responsibly going to their jobs and taking care of their families. But I can’t dismiss what seems to be a continuous and growing inclination of people to angrily disagree, fight verbally and physically, and behave without any consideration of the feelings or even the lives of others.
I have always respected law enforcement and like many boys I thought being a cop would be a great honor. But today’s police forces seem, in too many instances, out of control, intimidating to all citizens, bullying and without any limits to what they do, and unafraid even if they themselves clearly break the law.
This is not being addressed by politicians, judges, or law enforcement. And that it continues to go on week after weary week only serves to keep society at large edgy, resentful, and unwilling to trust the police or the courts.
The dead end that Washington and Congress have become; the indifference to white supremacists by our president, the cynical ending of DACA, the horror and rage that was Charlottesville, the sour and acrimonious debate over Confederate statues and so forth, all tend to make us a country of people delusional and alienated.
Dr. Jeff Gusky, an emergency room physician, National Geographic photographer and author, believes we are experiencing what he calls a “human emergency” based on unhealthy choices we are making regarding technology, social media, and a pace of living that is frenetic and irresponsible. Dr. Gusky has studied photographs and the history of World War I and sees frightening similarities to our current abnormal behavior.
In his book, “The Hidden World of WWI,” he writes about the willingness for people to see enemies as subhuman and that war and killing were perfectly acceptable means of preserving what was considered a higher standard of living. He believes that today our own way of thinking and living has diminished our humanness, that our politics and social behavior have cut us off from reality and have disabled our moral compass. His goal is to help us see how modern life affects conscience. He wants America to discard this imperialistic, superiority attitude that drives us and embrace being human and imperfect. The obsession to be always right must end.
It is a worthy and noble effort. We need voices like Dr. Gusky calling us out of this destructive path we are on, to realize how today we create monsters, to see how we too can become them, and to embrace again those grand ideals and values that represent our better selves.
Wordsworth’s great lines are fitting:
“When from our better selves we have too long
Been parted by the hurrying world, and droop,
Sick of its business, of its pleasures tired,
How gracious, how benign is Solitude.”
We need a rest from the insanity around us. We need to think of how to change. And then we must do it. One by one, and together.