Monday, August 03, 2015

"If you are planning for a year, sow rice; if you are planning for a decade, plant trees; if you are planning for a lifetime, educate people." - Chinese proverb

I've been tying to put into words a feeling I've been having lately: that the cognitive dissonances of our current world have created a pervasive lifestyle of surface-level, short-term thinking.

Nothing seems to make sense right now. To the thinking individual, the stories we are telling about our education, financial, political, and foreign policy worlds just don't add up. So for most people, I propose, it becomes harder and harder to be a "thinking individual." How do you plan for the future when the very institutions that have promised to help build financial security are clearly building security only for themselves? When laws are passed that don't even seem to hide their ties to lobbying and financial contributions? When our leaders create education programs they protect their own children from?

In the absence of coherent and engaging ways of viewing and improving our world, and of helping each other, the result seems to be that we shut down. We surrender our sense of agency. Cognitively and emotionally, our normal awareness and empathy bubbles shrink down to small, individual, sizes.

In a world that doesn't really make sense, we're going to latch on that the things closest to us: our jobs, just making ends meet, and our own children's futures. Instead of thinking about how to build a healthy world for all of us, we're narcissistically self-focused. Our education system, you say, leaves most students feeling like failures? That's tough, but my job is to make sure my own kids get the most advantages possible.

It's not that we don't care about other people; it's that we don't have good stories about how to do so any more--we seem not to know to how to balance our own concerns with larger inter-generational issues, and maybe don't even believe that is possible.

And this isn't the narcissism of the self-aggrandizing, which is the typical lament of every generation regarding the next. No, this is rather the narcissism of pervasive isolation, loneliness, and an emotionally-broken people. It's the survival strategy of a world that seems unable to think for the future.

It's eating food that is bad for us, buying cheap things made under questionable circumstance, living unhealthy lifestyles, and retreating into the imagined worlds of television and movies. These are signs of decay, not of healthy and vibrant cultures.

I notice this self-absorption in other small and interesting ways. For example, the strange inability in public spaces for people to be aware of the movements of others, and stopping in the middle of a flow of walkers, not even seeming to see the jam-up that occurs behind them. Or the increasing disregard for turn signals when changing lanes while driving. Granted, this may not be a new problem, but does it seem now to be an epidemic of people who have no idea of the safety value of signaling their movements to others?

We are not planning for a lifetime. Nor a decade. In most cases, I don't think we're even planning for a year.

I see so many ways in which we seem to just be surviving day to day. And it's killing us and our future.
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