I’ve been thinking about choices a lot lately. I’ve made some great choices in my lifetime and some famously disastrous ones. I suppose we all have. The wonderful thing about choices is that in many cases, they can be improved upon or changed by the choices we make down the road.
Our lives are never in a straight line. Rather, life is a long zig zag with plenty of double backs, switches and hairpin turns. At each juncture, we have choices to make. Some good, some bad, some simply don’t matter one way or another.
And yet, we seem to be living in a world in which we falsely believe we don’t have a choice. We are bombarded with noise from 24-hour news channels, binge-worthy TV series and movie franchises. We turn to our new best friend – our smartphone – every couple of minutes to see if someone liked something we said or on the flipside, see if someone said something bad about us.
In short, we are in a continual fight or flight mode. When we were a more primitive species, fight or flight kept us alive. Hear the tiger – fight the tiger or flee from the tiger. Fight or flight was fundamental to our lives and evolution.
It was never meant to be a way of life. It was a survival tool But today, we’re in fight or flight mode all the time. And we wonder why we’re so unhappy, why our hair is falling out, why our doctor wants to write us prescriptions for anxiety or depression and why we all feel so out of control.
It’s because we never get a chance to just sit in our modern caves, far away from any real or perceived danger, free from fight or flight tendencies, where we can just unwind. Instead, we willingly invite all the danger into our homes in the form of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, CNN and Fox News. Our once safe harbor is hit from all sides by the media, politicians, corporations, special interest groups, religious leaders and people with an ax to grind – even people we thought were our good friends.
The truth of the matter is, we made all these choices. We have created the life we choose to live in. We chose to buy the latest smartphone. We ordered up Internet connectivity for our cars so we can be constantly connected there too, added TV to our tablets and Netflix to our computers so we don’t miss a minute of anything. We willingly share the minutiae of our lives with total strangers on Facebook and recoil when others don’t like our revelations within seconds of them being posted. We live in a nonstop panic because we never take the time to find peace in our lives.
It’s easy to get sucked into this vortex. I understand. But what we are missing is the ability to find perspective, to consider at length what is going on, what it means to us, and whether it deserves further consideration. We miss the important process of quiet contemplation where we can re-center ourselves and return to normal. We are in a continual state of chaos that is in part, caused by our own choices about what we want to have in our lives and what we want our lives to look like.
In the old days (pre-Internet, even pre-TV), we read Hemingway, James Joyce and the classics. We tended to prefer education over edutainment. We would have never watched a “reality” show because we would have understood that it’s all staged, heavily edited pablum. And now we have a President who is a “reality” show star himself and that seems normal to us. We’ve come to value pop culture over being educated and have entered the dangerous world of actually demonizing education and worse, science. We are dumbing down, becoming reactive to false stimuli and losing our sense of what is truly important as we submerge ourselves in the faux environment we have created through our limited, head-in-the-sand views, subscriptions and Tweets.
We have created this world and then we complain about it. We act like we are victims when in fact, we are the creators of our own chaos.
Long ago, when television first came out, it would have died within a few years if no one had bought a set or watched a show. But we gravitated to it, first out of curiosity, then out of amusement, and finally out of need.
We are doing the same with Facebook, Fox News, Twitter, Instagram and other mindless distractions.
Don’t get me wrong. I obviously have a Facebook account. I surf the news. I read other’s posts. But I don’t live on it. If I read something I think is questionable, I check the facts. I don’t subscribe to the thoughts of others because I’ve learned to do basic research. I’ve learned to filter what I see, hear and read. And I’ve learned that others, particularly those who are the loudest, tend to have the most to sell.
Today I am learning to filter out the constant clatter and din of 24-hour noise cycles. I am finding peace in playing music, reading some of the classics, limiting my time with acquaintances who don’t add value to my life, and spending more time listening to the quiet that is becoming my life.
Another choice. That’s all it is. Everyone has this same superpower. We can all step away any time we want to and enjoy life in a quieter world, a real world, we choose to live in. We don’t need to panic at the sight of a “Breaking News” flash on TV or sound like Chicken Little every time the guy in the White House Tweets another fantastic claim that is factual nonsense.
We can reject any and all of it if we choose. But sometimes I think we find it easier to just bitch about it all instead. Doing something about it takes a lot of work. And fewer and fewer seem to want to do that work.
In The Emerald City (for now), making better choices (for now),