Monday, October 02, 2006

An ADD Generation

One of the most startling realities of our day is the short attention span of the public. We are daily exposed to new "factoids" and inherently unable to focus on the most serious issues for any length of time. I call this phenomenon the "ADD generation."

(One caveat: As an educator, I am aware and sympathetic to chidren and adults who struggle with ADD, ADHD and similar challenges. In this article. I am referring to the plurality of the public who are carried along by the hyperstimulation of our sound-byte era.)

As I write, another political figure is found to be sexually corrupt and resigns in disgrace. The timing of the expose causes his party to cry, "foul play!' while opponents assume a posture of moral sobriety completely contrary to their defense of adulterer Bill Clinton.

At the same time, tragedy strikes several schools, including murder in an Amish community. Psychologists, sociologists and a few celebrities will comment on the "culture of violence" and the ubuiquity of guns and call for more government involvement. Meanwhile, families will grieve, religious leaders will offer comfort, local communities will rally and the third planet from the sun will keep on spinning.

In the midst of today's headlines, far more serious issues are obscured. Borders are still porous, North Korea and Iran are still going nuclear, Iraq is a mess and our national debt goes up nearly $50 billion dollars a month! In spite of 24/7 internet communication, satellites everywhere and millions communicating, it is hard to find agreement on the most basic facts of current events. For example, Bob Woodward of the Washington Post argues that there are scores of attacks every week in Iraq while the Administration contends that slow progress is being made. Whom do we believe? It depends on your sources - but even more perniciously, for many, it depends on conscious or unconscious ideological assumptions that affirm or negate the "facts" of any matter.

Until the last two generations, historians and philosophers argued vigorously about the meaning of events and ideas; however, they were, for the most part, deriving their conclusions from the same body of information. Today, the pessimism of the powerful who were trained in the 1960s unites with postmodern agnosticism concerning any "facts" to produce a lethal alchemy of subjectivism that daily reinvents the universe . When this poison is mated to a short attention span, finding knowledge and wisdom becomes even more daunting.

How do we battle this epidemic? We can not retreat to a premodern existence. We can not avoid our civic and moral responsibility to be informed and take action for the world. Let me suggest the following mental pathway to sanity. I am stating these ideas as personal affirmations:
  • I am personally responsible for much of what occurs in my life, especially my reactions to circumstances, the quality of my relationships and my moral choices.
  • In a representative republic such as the USA, I bear responsibilty - with my fellow voters - for the quality of government we have. My apathy or activism makes a difference. My own moral compass impacts whom I vote for and how I hold politicians accountable for their actions.
  • I owe it to myself, my fellow-human beings and future generations to learn all I can about the critical issues of our day and to think seriously about the implications of public policy.
  • I can not solve every problem or even understand every issue perfectly, but I can assess whom I trust to partner with to tackle the issues.
  • I must SLOW DOWN inside my own head and heart and be careful about hasty conclusions or refusing to consider evidence contrary to my prior notions.
  • I need to be clear about my guiding moral and spiritual principles and find others who will help me develop into a more mature person.
  • I choose humility daily, refusing to capitulate to the arrogance of the immediate or fuzzy nostalgia.
  • I will learn from history even as I realize that my choices create history every day.
Let's slow down, think deeply, pray humbly and act judiciously. The Hebrew prophet Micah said it best over 2,500 years ago. We must "do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God." Then and only then will we be liberated from media manipulation and spin doctor solutions.

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