Sometimes I feel like being a turtle and hiding inside my shell. Thinking about the complexities of the world can be exhausting and trying to ignore all of the furor seems almost impossible given the 24/7 instantaneous and nonstop coverage of the news in all of its forms. We can’t even get away from politics when we attempt to escape by watching television or movies. The propaganda both extreme and subtle always appears to be ever present. It’s little wonder that we have gone a bit overboard in our reactions to differences of opinion, even to the point of violence in some cases. Perhaps the worst reaction is to suggest that some ideas are so horrible that they should be banned or even found to be illegal. I shudder to think that we are dancing so dangerously toward the idea of any kind of censorship and I am appalled that there are so many who would willingly end friendships over differing convictions. I have to wonder if we simply need to tone down the rhetoric and return to a less bombastic era.
I watched a stunning two part documentary about Afghanistan on Netflix last week. It was thought provoking to say the least. I found myself wondering why I had never heard much about this country before we invaded after 9/11. Its history is so rich and yet so tragic. I never really understood its true significance nor did I realize that it has been an embattled nation since the nineteenth century when the British sent troops there in the guise of supporting its people and its government. The reality was that Great Britain was concerned that Russia might use Afghanistan as a pathway to India and so in a series of ill conceived plans the Brits built fortifications and sent soldiers and their families to keep an eye on things. The maneuvers resulted in rebellions and the slaughter of thousands of British soldiers in some of the worst losses in history. Even back then it became apparent that the Afghan people neither appreciated nor tolerated interference from an outside nation. The same bitter defeats that plagued Great Britain would later become the fate of The Soviet Union in the nineteen seventies and eighties and the United States more recently. History demonstrates over and over that it is easy enough to get into Afghanistan but tragically difficult to get out.
I was stunned by all of the knowledge that I gained during the course of this documentary and determined to learn more. I realized that I was all too unaware of geopolitics and probably only thought that life in the eighties when I experienced the peak of my happiness was as perfect as it had seemed. It was my ignorance of terrible events that protected me from reality. While it was a nice state of mind to have I wonder whether it is better to be unaware of all of the tragedy and injustice or to be knowledgable and capable of rational dialogue. My innocence felt nice but was it the way I should have been?
Perhaps there is a happy medium. While I was raising my daughters, watching “The Golden Girls,” having fun with my friends, enjoying my job and living in what I thought to be the world’s greatest neighborhood I was in a kind of blissful bubble. It didn’t occur to me to think that trouble was brewing in parts of my own country and exotic locales in the world. I was fine and so I somewhat selfishly assumed that everyone else was as well. I had no interest in learning about the Middle East and only thought of its existence when Iran held some Americans hostage or I was only able to get gasoline on a certain day of the week. Perhaps instead I should have been more engaged with the slow progression of events that were moving toward the future that is now. History is always much easier to understand and to predict in the long view rather than the moment.
One of the things that I most appreciated about the documentary that I watched was that it was not particularly political in nature. It was filled with more facts than opinions, unlike most of what is supposed to be news today. The journalist did not insert himself into the discussions. The questions that he asked were more informative than challenging. He admitted to having a particular bias but generally left it to the viewers to draw their own conclusions. I don’t see much of that in the media today. Virtually every form of journalism seems to be slanted toward a particular philosophy, making it more difficult to determine the truth. I suspect that the anger that is so rampant in our society is a byproduct of the ratings game. We are more likely to watch a ninety second spot that is audacious and inflammatory than one that simply outlines information. We would rather see film of riots in the streets than hear outlines of legitimate concerns. We are baited by soundbites rather than encouraged to delve more deeply into research. I believe that these are the kinds of things that make us a bit crazy.
I remember a time when Walter Cronkite was the face of the nightly news. He showed us what was really happening and then left it to each of us to form our own opinions. Movie stars were just that, people who played roles in fictional stories. Television was a means of escaping the stresses of daily living. The stories were funny, inspirational, adventurous. The whole family could watch until a certain hour at night when the programming became a bit more adult. People often spent evenings sitting outside, enjoying the sounds of nature and their neighbors. Children played on lawns up and down the street. There were no video games to distract them from running and using their imaginations. People interacted and life in general was very informal, unplanned. We didn’t rush around the way people do today. We had time to linger over a nice meal, laugh at stories of the day’s happenings, pause to check on a person who was not doing so well. Perhaps we fooled ourselves into thinking that our little islands of bliss represented the rest of the world but it made for much more contentment and far fewer disagreements. Maybe the silence that we had in abundance back then was a very good thing. It may be that the old bard nailed it when he spoke of sound and fury signifying nothing.
We rushed into this complex state of instant and non-stop information and sensory overload without really knowing the consequences. I suspect that we are still experimenting with our brave new world. We don’t quite yet know what we should hear and what we should ignore. We have to learn how to balance what is good about our cyber universe and what only serves to make us weary. Just as with overindulging in food or drink we sometimes have a tendency to allow the commentaries and pundits to shape our thinking without unplugging long enough to reflect on what we have seen and heard. Most of all we each need to remember that we have erected systems, norms and customs that prevent our society from descending into anarchy. There are ways to address problems and concerns without violence and self righteous anger. I am optimistic that we will eventually adapt to the ever changing ways of receiving and reacting to information. Hopefully we will never forget to respect the freedoms that are the foundations of our society. It is better to learn how to quietly analyze conflicting voices than to try to silence them. It is in our diversity of thought and our pursuit of knowledge and truth that we are strong.