Surfing the Apocalypse
Article ID: 12961
Age Group: Adult
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Posted: June 7th. 2009
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A working knowledge of history can be an effective antidepressant or at least a mild sedative when headlines and hawkers of news imply apocalypse and imminent doom. History is punctuated through and through with sensation and drama. The difference today is the immediacy with which information circles the globe and the sheer number of talking heads competing for our attention.
History reminds us that everything "news" is old when the next panic in the market, the next pandemic, the next climatic catastrophe or the next war threatens to render the evening meal as indigestible as the evening news. History reminds us that no matter what terrifying specter sends us scurrying for the duct tape, the human race has seen it all before and in spades - and somehow survived.
Struggle is inevitable and some form of tragedy will occur at some point in time for every individual, every nation, and indeed for every planet. This is as certain as death itself, but the healthy individual does not dwell on his own mortality to the detriment of his day-to-day existence.
Neither should we allow the barrage of punditry, “yackonomics” and infotainment which screams for our attention from a medium where the goal of selling us soap often takes precedence over informing us - to detract in any way from our happiness and peace of mind.
Human beings are not designed to thrive in a state of constant drama and excitation, but we have developed a culture of instant gratification driven at high speeds from one emergency to the next. The rise in stress related disease charts the course of our national addiction to drama, and here is where we depart perhaps from the circular path that history so often describes.
History is saturated with war, tyrants, plagues, famines and natural disasters, but for most of human history we were not constantly reminded of every possible ill from the tragic and the evil to the tacky and the prurient. We might have worried whether the next cave we took for shelter housed a saber tooth tiger or when the barbarians might reach the gates of the city, but ten thousand years ago we somehow had time to decorate the walls of our caves and two thousand, even a hundred years ago the struggle for our daily bread, clothing and shelter left us tired enough at the end of the day for a good night's sleep that wasn't truncated by the myriad distractions of technology.
Today our physical stress, at least in developed countries, has been replaced by stress and worries of a much more insidious and toxic nature. During our sedentary days we absorb information continuously and often without discernment, and much of that information is highly emotive. We begin the day with breakfast and accident reports. We commute with the radio on and even NPR is subject to helping us greet the day with mindfulness to tragedy.
Billboards remind us of teenage pregnancy and terminal disease. The television in the break room at work stirs our coffee with breaking news of broken lives. At the end of the day we digest our evening meal with the nightly shooting report and one story after another of the intractable problems collected by organizations, which spend the day feverishly searching for the worst news they can possibly find.
As we are constantly bombarded by information, our conscious minds tend to ignore much of it, but our subconscious misses nothing. Advertisers know this and design their efforts to influence us subliminally, though never abandoning the bludgeoning effects of “Wrestlemania-style” announcers (even on local newscasts) , flashing graphics and increased volume. As we become more desensitized, at least consciously, to the various presentations of information, the presenters must become increasingly sensational to compete for our attention and for our checking account.
When it’s all said and done, after we have called the toll free number or clipped the coupon or clicked on the “buy now and save” button, the purpose for which the information was disseminated has been accomplished, but we are left with a tangle of thoughts and feelings that are often mentally, emotionally and spiritually indigestible. Thus we shorten our time on this earth, or at the very least reduce the quality of the time we do have.
Politicians, priests and program directors may not be fully conscious of the impact to our physical, emotional and spiritual health in the constant prodding of our survival instinct that results from a steady diet of the sensational, but we can choose to be aware of the information we allow to penetrate our consciousness. From all the information available to us we need take only what we can use for our own betterment.
We can remind ourselves that the world changes; it always has changed and it always will. If we accept this inevitability, then the energy we have wasted on worry can be put to better use. The barbarians are not at the gates today, and in the United States they are not likely to be here tomorrow, no matter what buffoons we elect as our leaders and no matter what the price of gasoline.
Tragedy occurs somewhere on this planet every second of every hour of every day, and while we can choose to remain compassionate and responsive to the very real suffering that occurs, we can also acknowledge a truth of equal import – that for every occurrence of tragedy in this world there is at least an equal number of incidents involving love and joy – and sometimes the tragic events and the events of love and compassion are one and the same.
After that, we have many choices. We can click on another website or turn off the computer, turn off the television, put the newspaper under the birdcage and read a good book to quiet the noise in our heads. A long walk in the woods will burn up most of the toxins that stress creates in our bodies. A nap is better than medicine. A good laugh with friends will help us recapture the community we lost somewhere on the interstate.
The world is still full of myriad opportunities for joy and peace in equal measure to the opportunities we have for misery. It always has been. The trick, my friends, is in what we emphasize.
the balance of this article originally appeared over the author's name in The Towns County Herald in October of 2008
Copyright: by Don Perry 2008
Location: Young Harris, Georgia
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