It can all be too much. Too much information. Too much violence. Too much unrest. Too much I can’t do to help. The information age is blessed with greater access to knowledge, but there is a responsibility that comes from knowing. This is what adulthood is about: knowing more. But it is also about doing more, gaining experience. We can use our knowledge, take responsibility and grow, OR play in the sandbox, ignore the bell, and stay out for a recess just a little while longer.
Can I even be a soldier?
I wonder if we are in the middle of humanity’s coming of age story. I wonder if we were to consider our human history as if it were represented by Jacque’s seven ages of man in Shakespeare’s As You Like It, if we are now beginning our time as metaphorical soldiers:
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden, and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth.
I wonder if we would be wise to pay closer attention, to take our relatively easy Canadian lives more seriously within the global context, and to dedicate ourselves more fervently to our families and to our communities. I wonder if we are too easily distracted by all the lovely things to do and to buy and to play and to watch that we are losing sight of our values, that we are letting someone else do our thinking for us. For when is there time to think and work if most our time is for play?
Most days I want to be like the monkey: seeing nothing, hearing nothing, saying nothing. I want to keep my eyes on the ground in front of me, watching only my next step (or my phone for notifications or my movies and shows or my favourite shops for a good sale). If I look up, I will see violence and war and oppression and poverty and pain–so much pain everywhere. So I let it go and paint my own Disney-esque version of life through upbeat and joy-filled Facebook status updates.
What are we really entitled to?
I pretend that the most pervasive news story is about Pokemon. I pretend that my biggest problem is being single and childless. I feel entitled to a smooth life, to a stable paycheque, to a group of friends who adore me, to a family who loves me, to a fairytale movement through my days as though I were a character in a movie–and for the most part, I get all of these things. But at what cost? What is the sacrifice?
We are sacrificing experience and the wisdom it brings.
Anyone who knows me will agree that I’m an optimist, a lot like the metaphor “sunshine in a jar.” I like to seek out light and goodness and joy and laughter. I want to live fully and experience all that I can–but I’m not naïve. I know that to fully live and experience everything, it will not be all sunshine.
So I know that when I don’t have the courage or the time or the energy or the drive to welcome the darkness I sometimes pretend it’s not there. I turn off the news. I walk away from pain. I stay home and pretend it’s all okay. Someone else will be the soldier. And it’s okay to do this sometimes, to take a break…but what if the break becomes the normal state of things? What if life’s pursuit becomes a quest for a big, leisurely, breezy, playful decades-long break? Do we really think we can reclaim our childhood innocence and freedom? Why is our North American culture pushing us on a quest for retirement before we’ve even arrived?
Some days it feels like I’m a character in a dystopian fiction, but most days I’m not. I’m seeking breaks. Pursuing my bliss. Finding joy in an afternoon nap. Planning weekends and holidays. Contemplating a new light fixture for the kitchen or researching shrub types for the front yard. While I’m floating smoothly through life, someone else is advocating for my rights and freedoms. Someone else is sacrificing their naps and weekends for others. Someone else is thinking about the things that are most important to us. Someone else is protecting my integrity.
So that’s really the question, isn’t it? Who is the soldier? Who are the people who can embrace the fullness of this metaphor? Who advocates for the fallen, comforts those in distress, rewrites the laws as we learn from experience? Who are the ones to question injustice, to actively participate in the story of our world?
The temptation of the information age is to become a member of the audience. To watch and cheer and cry and respond to the story playing out for us on our many, many screens. The temptation is to stay home, to surround ourselves with distractions, to pretend we are not part of the story.
So then I wonder who am I? Who do I want to be? Part of the audience or part of the action?
All of this thinking today was sparked by watching a collection of TED talks relating to theatre. One of the talks I watched was about the importance of live performing arts. The question: are performing arts becoming irrelevant? Ben Cameron explains how live arts might not be as important for people as consumers but they are more important than ever for people as participants. The performing arts have always given people a way to explain, express, explore, and question the hard stuff, the unexplainable, the complexity of being human.
In the wake of such troubling news around the world, we can use performing arts to participate in finding solutions, expressing grief, and becoming examples of change. Performance is action. The stage can help us make sense of things because it allows us to immerse ourselves in the problems, to see things from different perspectives, to simulate experience safely.
And then I think about all the learning I did years ago about Theatre of the Oppressed. Augusto Boal brilliantly changed the “spectator” to a “spect-actor.” To live is to take action. To learn is take action. Choose a verb, choose an action. We have so many choices. Hamlet shows us so clearly the cost of inaction, the sacrifice of “being” versus doing. I know I can do better at being a ‘spect-actor’ in this world, in doing more and being less. I want to begin my quest to find my inner soldier…in theatre the wall between the audience and the stage is invisible. I bet the walls in life can be fake too…
One of my favourite stories is Flight of the Hummingbird. We learn that even when the greatest danger presents itself it is enough to do what we can. How many of us are doing nothing?
Even if I turn it off, the news is still there. The fire still rages. It’s all still there. But in some ways it’s worse now because I know it’s there. It haunts. It weighs. It whispers for help. It asks for me to step outside and become part of the story.
The sunshine: I don’t need to turn away, to pretend I’m not involved, to sit in the audience. I can actively participate in my world. I can choose experience over Netflix. For any given problem of any size, here are three questions I can ask myself:
- In this moment, am I doing what I can?
- Is there something more I can do tomorrow?
- How’s my time and energy aligned with what’s most important to me?
Chris Hadfield presented great advice for problem-solving in his book, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth that can be applied to any issue. He suggests to:
- Warn. Let people know about the problem.
- Gather. Get together a group who is committed to solving the problem.
- Work the problem. As a group seek to find solutions.
We have choices. We can take action. We can become soldiers. We can turn off the news and become part of the story, even in a small way like the hummingbird.
Hopefully I don’t get distracted along the way…