Peeking Out From Behind the Mask

Day after day there are people out there who battle with feelings of sadness, emptiness, worthlessness or maybe they’re just numb. They are people you know, people you love and maybe even you yourself have these feelings. These are people who are struggling with such pain that they find it hard to believe that anything short of death can stop the pain that is in their heart.

When news like that of actor Robin Williams committing suicide comes out, we take stalk. It’s sad that he got to a place of pain that was so deep that he felt he had to end it all.

With such high profile news comes worldwide reaction. Some comments are an expression of the pain that people are going through wondering how someone who had meant so much to them could do such a thing. Other comments I feel express a misunderstanding of depression and what it is like to struggle with this dark pain. At times it’s hard to comprehend how depression truly affects people and to grasp what is really going on in the heart and mind of a person who is in a battle with depression. Today as we mourn the loss of a great actor and comedian, I would like to call you to take a look around you and see the people we do know who are in the same state of depression and need help from someone who loves them.

I can not diagnose the root causes of depression in people. There’s probably a myriad of contributing factors to why people struggle with these feelings. Whatever the triggers may be in someone’s life, it is still a very real and misunderstood pain, and because it is once again in the forefront of the news, I feel lead to jot down my thoughts along with some of what I’ve mentioned in the past. The reality is that though the celebrity status of Robin Williams brings notoriety to the issue, there are many people who struggle on a day to day basis in silence and in solitude.

ALONE IN THE DARKNESS.

Will you let me tell you what it’s like? It’s a pain that grips you and takes control. Your brain may know the truth that you have a great job, loving family and friends, seemingly everything is going well for you but your heart is aching. Your spiritual life may be good, you pray and read your bible. Yet sorrow still overwhelms you. It’s more than just a temporary sadness. The more you think about all the good things that you do have the more it hurts because you feel like you have no right to hurt this way. After all, there are other people who have it worse than you do, right? So for as much as your mind tells you that you should be happy your heart struggles to feel the joy. The pain that comes from depression actually overshadows what your mind knows to be true.

You find it hard to seek help. Maybe it’s because you don’t want to appear week or because you are the one who’s always helping others and you don’t want to burden them. You don’t want to be a burden to others, even though you would never pass up the opportunity to help someone else in need. It’s much easier to put on a smile, put on the mask and hide the pain that is inside than it is to face the awful truth that at each turn your heart feels like it’s being torn apart.

Sometimes you do want to tell someone how you feel but you just can’t find the words to explain what’s inside. Each time you try the thought comes to you that it’s just not that important, so you just say “I’m fine”. You want to talk about it and yet, somehow you don’t. You need the contact with another person because the deeper into the darkness you go alone the harder it is to want to stay alive. You need someone who will just be there for you with out judging your motives or reasons for feeling depressed.

IS THERE A LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL?

It is a very difficult trial to battle alone. For as hard as it is to admit that you struggle, hurt and need help, it is a step that needs to be taken. And how do I know this to be true? It’s because I’ve been there, it’s easier to put on a smile than it is to admit I am hurting. Not long ago I came across one of those e-postcards that expressed it well; “Sometimes when I say I’m OK, I want someone to look me in the eyes, hug me tight and say ‘I know you’re not’”. But for as nice as it would be for someone to come along side and “just know” that you’re hurting, the reality is that it requires that you speak up.

It really does help to talk about it, write about it, let someone know how you’re feeling. But just getting it out there in writing is not enough. It takes having real life or face to face interaction to have true healing. I can’t tell you that it will be easy and the pain will not go away with one quick conversation, but talking it out is a start and does help. Even when the pain seems to overwhelm me and I feel all alone, I remember the words of the Psalmist who clearly battled as well;

My tears have been my food day and night,
while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?”
These things I remember, as I pour out my soul:
how I would go with the throng
and lead them in procession to the house of God
with glad shouts and songs of praise,
a multitude keeping festival.
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.
(Psalm 42:3-5 ESV)

You’re not alone in this battle. You can again find joy and happiness. My greatest hope for you is that you would find refuge in God through Christ as your ultimate solution. If this is where you are struggling, please find help, I am willing to bet that there is someone in your life who really does care for you and will be there for you to listen to you. Someone who will get you the help that you need. Ending your life is no solution either for you or for those around you.

SHOW THEM THEY ARE NOT ALONE

Do you know someone who’s hurting? Be there for them, listen to them and help them get the counsel that they need. That friendly ear, shoulder to cry on, loving hug, can go a long way to getting someone out of the deep dark depression of the soul and into seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.


Hiding Behind a Smiling Mask

ANOTHER TRAGEDY

Depression takes various forms and manifests itself in different ways. Some people get to the point where they feel the best way to deal with the pain is to take their own lives. All suicides are tragic, just last year I wrote about suicide and depression in light of the death of social media guru Trey Pennington. Though all suicides are all sad, there are certain ones that surprise us for the very reason that we never see them coming. When Junior Seau took his own life it shocked us because he did not fit the mold of someone struggling with depression. People who seem to have it all, have a good family, always seem to be happy, and seem to have it together. These are the ones who leave us bewildered and wondering why.

I keep going over in my mind all the reactions that I heard from people over Seau taking his own life. Some comments are an expression of the pain that people are going through wondering how someone who had meant so much to them could do such a thing. Other comments I feel express a misunderstanding of depression and what it is like to struggle with this dark pain. Cowardice, easy way out, selfishness are a few of the accusations leveled at such an act. These types of comments, I believe, show that this person is (at very best) not informed on how depression truly affects people and they are not thinking about what is really going on in the heart and mind of a person who is in a battle with depression.

I will not attempt to diagnose the root causes of depression in people. Those who fight against the dark pain of depression do so for many different reasons. Seau and other football players it seems could have issues with concussions contributing to it or even with the loss of the high of being a super star. Whatever the trigger may be in someone’s life, it is still a very real and misunderstood pain, and that is why I chose to write about it.

ALONE IN THE DARKNESS.

Can I tell you what it’s like? It’s a pain that grips you and takes control. Your brain may know the truth that you have a great job, loving family and friends, seemingly everything is going well for you but your heart is aching. Sorrow overwhelms you.  The more you think about all the good things that you do have the more it hurts because you feel like you have no right to hurt this way. After all, there are other people who have it worse than you do, right? So for as much as your mind tells you that you should be happy your heart struggles to feel the joy. The pain that comes from depression actually overshadows what your mind knows to be true.

You find it hard to seek help. Maybe it’s because you don’t want to appear week or because you are the one who’s always helping others and you don’t want to burden them. You don’t want to be a burden to others, even though you would never pass up the opportunity to help someone else in need. It’s much easier to put on a smile, pull the mask down and hide the pain that is inside than it is to face the awful truth that at each turn your heart feels like it’s being torn apart.

Sometimes you do want to tell someone how you feel but you just can’t find the words to explain what’s inside. Each time you try the thought comes to you that it’s just not that important, so you just say “I’m fine”. You want to talk about it and yet, somehow you don’t. You need the contact with another person because the deeper into the darkness you go alone the harder it is to want to stay alive. You need someone who will just be there for you with out judging your motives or reasons for feeling depressed.

IS THERE A LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL?

It is a very difficult trial to battle alone. For as hard as it is to admit that you struggle, hurt and need help, it is a step that needs to be taken. And how do I know this to be true? It’s because I’ve been there, it’s easier to put on a smile than it is to admit I am hurting. Not long ago I came across one of those e-postcards that expressed it well; “Sometimes when I say I’m OK, I want someone to look me in the eyes, hug me tight and say ‘I know you’re not’”. But for as nice as it would be for someone to come along side and “just know” that you’re hurting, the reality is that it requires that you speak up.

Even as I write this post I find it very therapeutic to get this out and talk about it. At the same time I know that just getting it out there in writing is not enough. It takes having real life or face to face interaction to have true healing. I can’t tell you that it will be easy and the pain will not go away with one quick conversation, but talking it out is a start and does help. Even when the pain seems to overwhelm me and I feel all alone, I remember the words of the Psalmist who clearly battled as well;

My tears have been my food day and night,
while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?”
These things I remember, as I pour out my soul:
how I would go with the throng
and lead them in procession to the house of God
with glad shouts and songs of praise,
a multitude keeping festival.
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.
(Psalm 42:3-5 ESV)

You’re not alone in this struggle. You can again find joy and happiness. My greatest hope for you is that you would find refuge in God through Christ as your ultimate solution. If this is where you are struggling, please find help, I am willing to bet that there is someone in your life who really does care for you and will be there for you to listen to you. Someone who will get you the help that you need. Ending your life is no solution either for you or for those around you.

SHOW THEM THEY ARE NOT ALONE

The easy way out? Cowardly? Selfish? I know those accusations come from a place of hurt and misunderstanding. I hope that this sheds some light on what people who battle with depression are really dealing with. Do you know someone who’s hurting? Be there for them, listen to them and help them get the counsel that they need. That friendly ear, shoulder to cry on, loving hug, can go a long way to getting someone out of the deep dark depression of the soul and into seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.


The Left, the Right and the Lorax

Anyone who has ever read Dr Seuss knows that he always had a lot to say about character, friendship, social concerns and more. His children’s books always had a message to them so it’s no surprise that the movie adaptation of The Lorax has the same original message that Dr. Seuss was trying to get across.

Let me start by saying that this movie was a great movie. Very kid friendly, it is a Dr Seuss story after all. The animation was well done and stays true to the illustrations and imagination of all the books that I remember reading as a child. And the fact that it’s in 3-D is pretty cool too. Of course, the story line follows the book’s story and its original message.

My favorite line in the movie was “If a guy does something stupid once it’s because he’s a guy. If he does the same stupid thing a second time it’s usually for some girl”. There’s even a reference that, at least my kids didn’t get, they steal a bed and the background music they sing is the theme of “Mission Impossible”. Overall it’s a great family movie to go see. A movie that should encourage some good family discussion if you want to challenge your family and not just look at it as entertainment.

Now to address some of the buzz that’s been going on about the message of the movie. I saw an article a out how some on the right are saying that it’s just a liberal tree hugger agenda being spewed to indoctrinate our kids. But if you’ve ever read a Dr. Seuss book you know that he always had a message to teach, so with that in mind I thought I’d give my perspective.

There is definitely a message being expounded in this movie. I would say that all entertainment, art, amusement give out the agenda or view point of the person or people who created it. This movie is no exception, the clear message is; take care of the earth, don’t deplete our natural resources, a message that I think is what the good Dr. was getting at when he originally wrote the book.

The left tends to paint the “right-wing-religious-conservatives” as hating the environment as is seen in one of the first songs where everybody is happy with life without trees and they “thank God for our brand new parking lot” or how the protagonist is only interested in monetary gain and he has no interest in the environment.

On the other hand the right tends to paint the left as tree huggers who don’t care about anything other than worshiping trees and nature and would rather see the death of the human race than to see another tree cut down. Hence the reaction in the above mentioned article, with people bashing such movies and discounting the message.

As the saying goes, there’s three sides to every story; yours, mine and the truth. I think there’s more common ground to be found in this simple little story than either side sometimes admits. A kids movie with a grownup message. Not to alarm or shock you but, here’s my perspective as a Christian, I actually agree with the message of this movie, I’m just not necessarily with the reasons behind it.

As creatures created in God’s image we are called, as a creation ordinance, to subdue the earth, take care of it, basically we’re called to be stewards of creation. God left nothing to chance when He commanded His people to give the land a year of rest once every 6 years.

As a Christian I believe we have a clear reason and mandate to take care of the earth. This isn’t some random ball of dirt that we live on. It was created for God’s glory and for our enjoyment. To not take care of it or even to get to that very improbable point where we no longer have trees would be a dishonor, not because of the loss of the trees in and of themselves but because we would have mismanaged God’s beautiful creation and thus would have dishonored God Himself.

Whatever your point of view I encourage you to take the opportunity of seeing this movie and talk to your kids about what they learned form it. I think that’s what Dr. Seuss was always trying to get from his readers.


A Tragedy & Yet I´m Fine Thank You

A TRAGEDY

Just this last weekend social media guru Trey Pennington committed suicide. By all accounts he was a nice, friendly, happy-go-lucky fellow. A few close friends said he had confided in them that he had issues he was battling. To the outside world, however, he seemed to be the guy everybody liked.

I actually started writing this post before this incident happened. When I heard about the suicide, I felt even more compelled to complete this article. In this social media climate, the need to feel accepted and loved becomes compounded. Everyone is eager to put their best face forward, show the best of themselves in front of everyone else. These feelings are nothing new; it isn’t social media, per se, that has this causes these feelings. It’s been this way for centuries. We all want to be liked, accepted and feel like those around us really care about us.

I’M FINE THANK YOU

“I’m fine, thank you.” That’s what we say. It’s what we are supposed to say. Even the Wiktionary says of this phrase what I think most of us already know; “I’m fine thank you”, is the expected, polite response to, “How are you?” and at least in a Western culture more specifically in American culture, this is kind of a “given”. So, weather it’s just culture or custom or just a desire to put not show our weakness or pain, we rarely let people in on how we are actually feeling. We just smile and say……”I’m fine thank you” or a similar variation.

Trey’s suicide and some recent conversations that I’ve had, have made me reflect on how we communicate with others. In a Facebook world we tend to have less face to face contact and our communication can tend to be very superficial. We can get further and further away from meaningful dialogue if we are not careful and precise in how we interact with each other.

HOW DO YOU ANSWER?

How do YOU tend to answer someone who greets you with a “How are you today?” Do you put your smile on and answer with the expected phrase? Why do you do this? When push comes to shove I don’t think that the reason varies all that much from person to person. We don’t want to look like we’re complaining, we don’t want to leave ourselves vulnerable, or we feel like others really just don’t care. Whatever the reason, we keep our pain and sorrow bottled up and the truth remains a secret.

Under certain social situations this can be a very legitimate answer. In a work environment or with people who are merely acquaintances, this is an acceptable and polite way to answer. When meeting someone for the first time it would be awkward to go into deep details of how you actually are feeling. The question of how you are doing is quite simply a formality, a greeting if you will. The point at which a red flag jumps out is when it comes to interacting with our friends, those people who care about us. We often keep our true feelings, problems, issues to ourselves even with loved ones. This can be to our detriment. Tucking away our feelings, especially when we are hurting, can cause us undue pain and alienation.

I ran into an old friend the other day who, when I asked how he was doing, shared some really difficult times that he is going through. I thought about it. I liked that he did that. He’s my friend and I care about him. I can be there for him to talk, to vent and maybe even get some advice.

I have heard people say that they feel embarrassed to talk about their issues. They don’t want to sound like they’re complaining. But, isn’t that what friendship is all about? Don’t we care about one another enough to want to listen and “be there” for our friends? Don’t we want to be a place where a friend can come and have a shoulder to cry on and feel safe and secure, like someone cares about them? Even King Solomon said “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” (Prov. 17:17) A true friend is there for you through the good and the bad.

WHAT’S YOUR RESPONSE?

The much abbreviated “flipside” to this coin is how you ask someone about how they are doing. Let people know that you really do care to know the REAL answer to the question. Saying “Hi, how you doing?!” as you wiz on at “lightning speed” just says, “I’m off to bigger and better things”. Remember, body language says a lot about the sincerity of your question.

I think it’s safe to say communication is complicated; intentions can be misconstrued or even misinterpreted. Very easily people can fell like you just don’t really care how they are doing. The burdens, pains, and sorrows they feel are tossed aside by just a quick action that says you don’t really care or don’t have the time to listening. This may or may not be true, but the way you respond to someone while asking them how they are doing says a lot about weather you really want an answer.

So things to consider in this growing social media climate, if you have friends, REAL FRIENDS….Let them know you really care. It may only take a few moments of sincerely looking them in the eyes and making them feel like you care. But then, on the flip side, don’t hide how you’re doing, to your real friends. It can ultimately be detrimental your health. “I’m fine thank you” is not nearly enough when someone is sincerely trying to help, remember, the coin has two sides and life is not simple. I wish Trey Pennington had found such a person and let them help before it was too late.


Nothing New Under the Sun

After much thinking and discussion about the role of technology in our lives, and more specifically, social media, I decided to jot down some thoughts on the subject. I am, by no means, the first to talk about this and I won’t be the last. One of the first people to get me thinking about how technology affects our lives was Neil Postman, in his book, “Amusing Ourselves to Death” which was assigned reading in college. More recently, I read a book by Tim Challies, “The Next Story”, which I also highly recommend. Both these books speak directly to the issues at hand and have been formative in how I view technology and social media. Yes, I still work in the news media, and yes, I am very involved in social media, in spite of reading these books.

I do not intend for this to be a defense of technology in general, or social media in particular, but rather to share some conclusions that I have come to as I’ve wrestled through the issues of what place these things have in my life. One thing that I have observed about many of the articles written on the topic is that they tend to point out the downfalls and dangers of new mediums of communication and usually with very legitimate concerns. So I hope that this post will give some food for thought for anyone who reads this; the issues are not always as ‘clear cut’ as one might like.

I’d like to go about this by addressing some of the objections I hear on a fairly regular basis. Some of them include the following: “Information on the internet is a mile wide and an inch deep.” “What do I care to know what you had for dinner or where you are going at this very moment?” “It’s just a time waster.” These types of objections are raised often and although I do see some validity in them I also think that in some ways they fail to see the deepest issues at stake in the whole debate.

“There is nothing new under the sun.” King Solomon said this thousands of years ago and he’s still right! We must be careful not to blame technology for all the problems that people have with social media. At the end of the day we are talking about communication. Facebook and Twitter are conversations plain and simple. My goal is to hopefully provide challenge to the reader and maybe encourage some discussion for both those who use social media and those who do not necessarily like them.

Objection number 1:

 “Friends on Facebook or Twitter are merely superficial.”

This, for the most part I would have to say is true, and yet, think about how many truly close friends you have. People to whom (aside form your spouse if you are married) you would bare your soul. I’m willing to bet that the number is a bit higher for women than it is for the men reading this. I’m guessing it is still a small number, maybe only one or two, but certainly in the single digits. Yet there are lots of people with whom you spend time, on any given day, chatting about any number of superficial topics. We talk about sports, recipes, television shows, music etc. At times our conversations never go much deeper than that. It’s a natural part of life, we have conversations on various different levels with lots of different people.

I speak from personal experience. In a real life, person to person, face to face encounter, my wife is really the only one that I have a “more than inch deep” experience with. I am a people person. I love talking to lots of people; we talk about lots of things. I like to get to know new people and catch up with old friends but when push comes to shove, if I am to be honest, much of the conversation is not all that different than the conversations that take place on Facebook or Twitter. It takes effort to create relationships that are deep and substantial. So, in this case, social media is only feeding our weakness, giving us an easy way to let laziness in our relationships have its way. This, of course, is only to point out that superficiality in relationships is not entirely the fault of social media, but often times it’s our own shortcomings.

Despite its limitations, I have had some good conversations with old friends about more significant topics through Facebook posts. I have even been able to be an encouragement (so I am told) to others who have posted about troubles that they are going through. It is a format that lends itself sharing experiences and asking questions regarding issues many of us face in our daily lives.

Objection number 2:

 “What do I care what people are eating or where they are going at this moment?”

Well, in all fairness, when I switch over to my Twitter feed at this very moment that I’m writing down my thoughts, there are a few “I need coffee” comments, a handful of silly quotes by people to make you smile (some not funny enough to LOL though) but the majority are comments and/or links are comments on various topics ranging from politics, the news of the day, sports, and even sermons or church services. All of these people posting updates are hoping that the reader will find the post interesting, helpful or at least gain some insight from it.

That being said the objection is usually about what superficial topics are talked about on social media. For as true as that may be, I do find it interesting that, when we get together in real life and talk about some new restaurant we found, a great new burger we tried, or the fun hike we did the other weekend, it is all well and natural to talk about. But then when the same conversations are posted on Facebook or Twitter the objection is that it’s irrelevant or that it’s or that it’s narcissistic. Can it be those things? Of course it can, but it also can be those things when you’re talking face to face with your friends sharing the same information. The issue isn’t the where the information is shared but rather the issue is one of the heart. Technology (Facebook, Twitter etc.) merely amplifies the issues that we have when relating to others around us. It doesn’t create them. I have had as many deep conversations about important issues as I have about some great new food item or even about Real Madrid playing soccer.

Objection number 3:

 “It’s just a big time waster!”

I would have to wholeheartedly agree with this argument. The internet, with its vast expanse of information, can be a huge temptation to waste time! I often feel like I need to go and check and see what my 900+ Facebook friends or Twitter followers are doing at any given moment. It’s kind of like a pull to be constantly connected. It takes self control to keep from spending exorbitant amounts of time on the internet even if what you are doing seems to be important.

That being said, I’d like to go back some 3000 plus years and share a few things King Solomon had to say about wasting time.

Proverbs:

24:33, 34  A little sleep, a little slumber, A little folding of the hands to sleep; so shall your poverty come as a robber, And your want as an armed man. –No one can argue that sleep is a good thing but the sluggard of Solomon’s day was hastening to poverty because of it.


24:30, 31 I went by the field of the sluggard, By the vineyard of the man void of understanding; Behold, it was all grown over with thorns. Its surface was covered with nettles, and its stone wall was broken down. 
–The sluggard comes to ruin because he can’t be bothered to work on his field, he must have been doing something, but he obviously wasn’t working.

If King Solomon can talk about the sluggard wasting time and people being lazy and not having time for the important responsibilities of life (and he didn’t have the internet) I think it’s safe to say that if you were to get rid of your computer, internet and smart phone and maybe even your TV set, you could, and likely would, still find ways to be lazy and not get things done.

The internet and social media can most certainly feed our propensity to laziness. It gives us an escape. It’s a way to waste time looking things up, looking at people’s updates, and viewing their photos of family and friends. This becomes a distraction allowing us to put off working hard and avoid fulfilling other obligations. And you know what else I’ve found? It even feeds our laziness in other ways. Take spell check for example. I no longer need to remember how to spell. The computer fixes errors for me (usually!). I recently realized, while texting from my newly acquired iPod, that I don’t have to switch over to the symbols keyboard for I’m, I’ll, and  I’d, because it will just add the apostrophe for me.

Though it can be used to waste time, I believe these social networking tools can be profitable. I see my family on a daily basis. I have good friends that I see at least on a weekly basis. But then I have friends and contacts with which I would like to keep in touch, yet, either distance or time prevent this from happening. Through utilizing social media, I can get a glimpse into what they are doing, how they are and what’s happening in their lives. I can interact with them when I might not have the time to call or travel to see them. It does take discipline to keep from letting it consume all of your time, but it is doable.

Conclusion:

Even as I sit here writing I am well aware that even in this blog format, I still am only scratching the surface. The books I mentioned at the beginning do a much more thorough job of dealing with all aspects of the topic. Of course this format is a lot longer and more in depth than any status update but even a Facebook update or a Tweet with a link to this blog can be a means of communicating in a micro social media world. My hope is that this will encourage discussion and maybe cause people to think about how they communicate.

Though the way we interact is changing, it’s still communication. We continue to communicate and/or miss-communicate just as we have been for thousands of years. The amount of information and the speed at which we give and take that information has certainly changed. New methods and modes of communication have most certainly changed some of how we communicate. And if Marshall McLuhan’s adage, “The Medium is the Message” is true, then some of what we communicate about has most certainly changed. But the real issue behind it all, I believe, is still a heart issue. We are in a time where technology gives the sinfulness of our hearts an ever expanding playground and venues for sinning. The things I have written about above are definitely weaknesses that need to be avoided when you are dealing with social media. If you are careful and wise in your use of it, it can be a great asset to communication. But as one pastor once said, “Information these days is, instant, constant, global and permanent.” My conclusion? “Think long and hard about what you’ve written before you hit that send button!”


The Intolerance of Tolerance

One of the buzzwords these days is “tolerance.” I’ve seen people who have been attacked as intolerant just because they take a stand or voice an opinion. It’s a powerful word. It can be used to stop a discussion in its tracks. It is a word that can render someone persona-non-grata and is often used (in an ad hominem argument) to black list someone in a single swoop!

So what does this powerful word mean? Let’s start with a look at the definition. The Merriam Webster Dictionary says, 1: capacity to endure pain or hardship 2: sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one’s own 3: the allowable deviation from a standard; especially: the range of variation permitted in maintaining a specified dimension in machining a piece

For the purposes of this discussion, I am focusing on definition number 2., “sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one’s own.” This is the issue that holds so much controversy in our day and causes so much tension. Tolerance as an ideal is great. We really should be willing and able to listen to others and show sympathy for their views. If you live in a country that touts freedom as one of its virtues tolerance should be a pillar of the community. We should in no way malign or hurt others for holding differing ideas from ours. That is what freedom is all about in a democratic society. The issue that I have, with the idea of tolerance today, is the way that the actual meaning of the word has been changed.

The dictionary definition of the word “tolerance” has not changed, but on the streets, in the vernacular, its meaning has changed a great deal. The old definition of tolerance was in strict accordance with Voltaire when he said, “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” In other words, we used to recognize that there had to be disagreement between two people for tolerance to take place. Let me give you an example, I could say to you “I tolerate soccer fans”. If you know anything about me you would say “you’re and idiot! You ARE a soccer fan!”. I am after all a huge soccer fan. If, however, I were to say to you “I tolerate baseball fans and even had a civil conversation about a 26 inning ball game with someone” (letting you in on a little secret, I do NOT like baseball) you might say, “That’s very tolerant of you”. Why would I expect you to react that way? Because if I agree with you I cannot be said to be tolerant, I am merely on your side. I am in lock step with you if I agree with you. I have to, by definition, disagree with you so I can be tolerant of your view. There is no other way to put it.

With all that said, the common use of the word has changed in every day use and in the media at large. A person is called intolerant if they take a firm stand on an issue claiming that someone else is, I hesitate to use the “W” word … WRONG! This can be seen as tantamount to hate speech. It is down right nasty and intolerant! But you see it is actually the most tolerant of positions to take. Recently a survey was done on a college campus and what it found is very interesting. Students were asked which is more tolerant, 1. a person who says all views are correct and equally valid, or 2. the person who takes a firm stand on an issue, yet is willing to allow for others to hold their views….. students were most likely to respond that the first person was the most tolerant.

You see, the problem with this new definition is that it renders the word nonsensical and even useless. I would argue that without strong disagreement and a willingness to allow others to have their dissenting opinions, we are left with a weak and useless word, meaning nothing. In fact it is a very scary position to be in because people insisting on a tolerance that says, “To be tolerant you MUST agree and support all ideas as beings equally as true or valid” are left with an insurmountable dilemma: If all ideas are equally as valid and equally true, then you have no way of judging whether Mother Theresa’s ideas or Hitler’s ideas were any different or valid, and that, my friend, is a VERY scary place to find yourself.


The Push and Pull of a Technological Life

Tools of the day.

I recently listened to an interview with T. David Gordon talking about culture and how we look at it. In the interview he talked about the discipline of Media Ecology:

Media ecology looks into the matter of how media of communication affect human perception, understanding, feeling, and value; and how our interaction with media facilitates or impedes our chances of survival. The word ecology implies the study of environments: their structure, content, and impact on people -Neil Postman

He said that when we look at a culture’s tools, we have to ask ourselves two questions, first what do the tools do for the culture and second what do they do to the culture? To explain what he meant he used the illustration of a nomadic hunter/gatherer culture. If you drop a plow into said culture and ask those two questions here is what you get. What this tool does FOR that particular culture is it allows the people to farm, grow produce for food. What this tool does TO that particular culture is that it makes them be no longer a nomadic culture. They get stuck in one place and become agrarian.

That being said, it got me thinking (I’ve contemplated the idea of Media Ecology ever since college and reading Postman for Communications 101), what do our tools today do TO us? It’s quite easy to come up with things our technological tools do for us. We can keep in closer (and constant) touch with people who are thousands of miles away or who we haven’t see for decades. We can share information we want a larger audience to know on an immediate and global scale. In my line of work it provides us with mobility, we no longer HAVE to be back at the station to get our video, scripts, emails or the like. Everything is at our fingertips at a moment’s notice. For some, especially on sites like YouTube, it provides a venue to get out their message and to become virtual celebrities. Technology has made our communication in these days, as I recently heard someone say, instant, constant, global and permanent. So those are some of the things these tools do FOR us, now on to the second question.

Some of the things that I feel our technological tools do to us are the following:

1) Positively, they force us to think more globally. Our communications are out there for the world to see. We are in conversations with people all around the world. We are forced to see in and to think of things in a more globally minded way (though not all are very good at this). It forces us to give everyone a voice to speak his or her ideas often times in response to our own ideas.

2) Negatively, they make our communication superficial. Great conversations cannot be carried out in 140 characters or less. The types of information we give out or respond to are short quips of wisdom at best, random irrelevance at its worst. To borrow an illustration from Postman, the Lincoln/Douglas debates that would last 3 hours and then resume for three more hours after a short break. This format of political dialog would not fit into the communication technology of our day. Conversation under our technological age consist of short quips with limited number of characters (as in Twitter) or at times longer one or two page expositions (as seen in the longer format of someone’s blog) but none the less, the electronic conversations get nowhere close to a 3 hour debate of the issues.

3) Positively, they do make us more mobile (that can be a negative I guess if you like to stay put). As we move around the world we are forced to be in touch with those with whom we must stay in contact with. Every one is a mere phone call, IM, or text message away. We’ve even coined a new term “telecommuting” working from home, allowing us to do that which is required of us without wasting time driving or using up gas etc.

4) Negatively, they take away any sense of privacy. All information is out there and accessible for all to see and judge. This both feeds our insecurities and our sense of pride, wanting all to look at what we are doing an approve.

So what effects do these technological tools of our day have on us and our culture and society? Negatives and positives, we are living in this world of instant technology and instant communication and none of that is going to change any time soon. Like the quote earlier said communication is instant, constant, global and permanent. My suggestion is that you think real hard before pressing that send button!


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