Now in the second decade of the 21st Century we couldn’t be more connected to other people than we are today with our instant messaging, cell phones, Skype, WiFi network connections, computers, pda’s and more, but we’ve rarely been so cloistered in our own little existence. We have a more intimate connection to these props of modern life than we do to the people around us. We are cocooned, easily able to disconnect, and distanced from any challenging interactions. In our busyness and hurry to get on to the next great thing or the next thing on the to-do list, we use all these devices to keep us in touch with others, but at a distance and often separate from the people we care about the most.
Today’s icon is a couple in a restaurant not talking to each other, but one or both are talking on their cell phones. Or a parent at the park on the cell phone not interacting with the child. Or dangerously, the people who talk or text while driving. We think we are so connected, but the connection is remote. We’re attentive to anything else but to what we are doing, what our surroundings are or what the people we are with really need.
I suppose I am reaching the age of old-fogey-dom, where I am too old to understand. You could accuse me of not understanding this modern world, but I too live here with my IPhone and my WiFi and my MacBook and depend tremendously on the Internet for information, research for my work and news. But I think that what I have observed is not only being disconnected from our immediate environment and the people in it, but most of all from our own selves.
This is a SPIRITUAL crisis. If we have no time for the person in front of us and we pay no attention to our surroundings, then we are certainly disconnected from ourselves, our own deepest needs and our true selves and longings. We don’t see the signals an environment sends up or the distress of the people in front of us. We are too busy to notice. We’re disconnected from God. This modern world is so seductive, we can easily believe that we’re the center of our lives, but the way we live so shallowly in them, we are the disposable people of the 21st C. Anyone could replace us and we’d hardly be missed.
At the end of our lives will we know that we have lived the life we were created to live? Or did we live out someone else’s life? There’s an apocryphal story of a Rabbi Z___, who apologized to God when he died: “I’m sorry that I couldn’t be Moses.” And God replied, “We have already had a Moses, where was Z____?”
Whose life are you living? Perhaps any culture we live in has a very strong influence on us, but I think 21st C. American culture is particularly toxic to an authentic life. It is so seductive in its advertising, media, ambition and upward-mobility that we forget our true selves easily in the onslaught of all the biased information we take in every day. That bias is in favor of mindlessness: of buying what we don’t need, of taking jobs that don’t fill our needs or express our talents but earn us a higher income, of dreaming of 10 impossible things every day that are disconnected to the reality of who we are.
The cost of this disconnection to our very souls and spirit is huge. At the end of our lives we have little but things to show for who we are. We run from addressing our society’s problems and our own. We are mere shells of a people doing the “right” things, having the “right” sized life and that’s it. We are inflated balloons; the least challenge deflates us, the wind of the culture blows us where it will. Who are we? Who am I?
We pay a huge price for living someone else’s life; to leave behind the demands of our culture also exacts a price for us. I am not talking about going out and living in the woods. I am referring to a life in this world connected to your own deepest longings and talents: in this world but not of this world. I think the price is worth it. We may not make as much money, we may not have the “right” clothes or houses or cars. But we will have something much more precious: a deep inner satisfaction with who we are and how we express that self in the world; and we will connect with, truly meet, the people we’re closest to.
That’s my view from the aged side of our culture, close to old-fogey-dom. Don’t dismiss me out of hand:
take this idea and entertain it,
try to find yourSELF in the busyness,
taste what it would mean to feel connected to your own life and your loved ones. Live YOUR life! It’s the new freedom!