Oxford Dictionaries’ 2016 international word of the year: post-truth
In my growing up years, truth was a highly valued commodity. I remember being punished more than once by a parent or a teacher for attempting to alter or bypass this sacred principle. I soon learned that although telling the truth could be painful, not telling the truth was painful also.
In this new “post-truth” era, things are different. Truth is no longer valued, in fact it has become inconvenient, irrelevant, and downright bothersome. It is now unfashionable to entertain the complexity of things or to stick with the facts. We have become prisoners to the ease of a quick answer and the thrill of being emotionally charged. Lies parade as truth and we bow in worship.
It’s over. In the United States we have a new president-elect.
I have close family who are elated at the results, hopeful for the next 4 years, and sleeping better at night now that Trump has been elected. I, however, feel the opposite. I see that hatred has been given a prominent place at the table; hunting season has opened on women, the earth, people of color, and non-Christians; and little girls have been left to wonder about their value. For me, walls are not the answer, the religious right is not the voice of morality, and the unwillingness to hold the common good is suicide.
In the US, we are nearing Election Day 2016. The events leading up to this day have been marked with extreme polarization and civic insanity. Far from insignificant, the outcome of this upcoming collective decision promises to have far-reaching implications not only for the United States but for the planet and all its inhabitants. This is a big day and a big vote that none of us can afford to take lightly.
Various comedians have made valiant attempts to find humor, irrationality, and downright bizarreness in the events leading up to this election. Talented political analysts have raised their voices, pointing out insights and implications that may have escaped our consideration. And many of us find ourselves taking refuge in the company of like-minded people where our confoundment and concern can be shared.
As I teach on yoga’s ethical system at various studios around the country, I am invariably asked about a real life situation and the pressing question of what to do. Although the situation is always unique, the dilemma has a constant theme: how to be both non-violent and truthful in that particular situation. When I reply, “What a great question; keep asking it,” silence takes over the room. The disappointment in my “non-answer” is palpable.
I am becoming familiar with how much we love answers to the lived experience of our complex relationships. I hear it from others; I know it all too well in myself. It seems like a pervasive inner plea to make life easier by being told what the “right” thing is. But the ready-made solution that answers give tends to cheat us by preventing a deeper dialogue with the complexities these experiences bring us.
Last month Dad turned 90 years old. I, along with my 2 brothers and our families gathered in Tulsa to celebrate. We laughed a lot and for the most part avoided touchy subjects. But mostly we told stories. They were stories packed with memories, the kind that sustain life by giving it roots and some sense of belonging.
In my mind I found myself moving through the details of my life with this man, holding each event up as if through a microscope to clearly examine what has so significantly shaped me. I was looking for a theme that could hold all the experiences. And then it became clear: I had learned about choices.
You see, my dad should have died in his mid 40’s when he had a massive heart attack while away on a business trip, where, instead of coming home, he spent a month hovering between life and death in a distant hospital. Dad was a driven man with one goal, to rise far above his childhood depression memories and give his family what he never had.
My Uncle Bill died at the ripe age of 92 in physical pain, mental alertness, and spiritual security. He was considered by many to be a giant of a human being. Shortly before he died, circumstances brought me alone to his bedside where I took the opportunity to seek the wisdom carried by one who had lived long and learned well along the way.
Sitting by my Uncle Bill, I asked him, “What do you regret the most in your life?” His eyes turned reflectively inward as he answered, “I grew up in a community of immigrants from four different countries, all speaking their native language and living out their unique customs. In all the opportunity there was for me to play with children who had come from a country different than my own, I chose instead to play with the German boys because that was what I knew. I could have learned new words, played new games, tasted different food, and made new friends, but I chose to stay ‘with my own kind’. I regret to this day that I missed out on so much.”
Even though I don’t carry my cell phone with me all the time. Even though I have non-tech hours built into my day. Still, I am amazed by the power that little device holds over me in its insistence to be swiped, clicked, checked, and played with.
It reminds me of the experiments B. F. Skinner did with rats. In one experiment, he created a lever inside a cage for rats to push. By pushing the lever, there was a random possibility that food would appear. What he found was that the rats had a little rush of excitement to the brain each time they pushed the lever, whether food appeared are not. The result was the rats kept pushing the lever.
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The world feels too hot to me. Hot tempers, rash decisions, and revved up speed are warning signs that trouble has found us. Like the gauge in a car warns us when the radiator is over heating, we humans are being warned that the pace we are keeping is non-sustainable and down right destructive.
When the radiator gauge indicates overheating, the sensible thing to do is to pull over to the side of the road and turn the engine off. Stop and let things cool off so the damage can be assessed. If we choose to keep driving, the car is in grave danger of being totaled or in need of expensive repairs.
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