In the last four days we’ve experienced the breakneck shopping of Black Friday and Cyber Monday; with all that’s going on in society, I wonder, is today, “Hangover Tuesday?” For many Americans, the bad news just keeps piling up – lost jobs, terrorism alerts, airport pat downs, and other societal ills. But are things really as bad as they seem, and what’s next?
My answer is yes, things are as bad as they seem, and they’ll get better only if we make an explicit choice to move in a radically different direction. But, for now, so many trends and events seem to be converging and propelling us down the wrong road. Our economic footing is poor, our politics are toxic, and our insistence on taking a short-term view of things only exacerbates our troubles.
This Sunday on the public affairs television show, Face the Nation, the biographer Edmund Morris, said of the nation’s condition, "Not all that I see is attractive." He continued, "I see an insular people who are insensitive to foreign sensibilities, who are lazy, obese, complacent, and increasingly perplexed as to why we are losing our place in the world to people who are more dynamic than us and more disciplined."
Alternatively, Arianna Huffington, on the same program said that when she looks at the nation, she sees an "incredible outpouring of compassion and creativity all around the country, that's using social media to do an enormous amount of good. What has been missing is the kind of magnifying glass that we in the media can put on all the creative stuff happening out in the country."
Could it be that both views have a ring of truth to them? Could it be there are multiple narratives in our society at work today? Again, my answer is yes. The nation is at an impasse, and when that occurs, within any society or community, there are competing narratives, each one representing for people a different collection of experiences, ideas, fears, and aspirations.
In these circumstances, it is easy for individuals and the nation to become stuck, held hostage by a powerful ingrained narrative, where we keep telling ourselves that everything in society is wrong, that we are unable to move ahead, that we are too polarized, too broke, too fat, too lazy to get any traction. We can become so disillusioned and mistrustful that we are no longer willing to engage with one another or try out new ideas. Perhaps it is even understandable that people want to pull the covers over their heads and hope that when they wake up things will be different.
But Huffington has a point, there are incredible things happening throughout the country if only we are willing to pull back the covers and look. These positive things do not make up for the troubles enveloping us; they do not offset people’s pain and suffering; they alone cannot help us to turn the corner to better times. Nor do they invalidate the reality of the challenges – rather they suggest that we are caught in-between truths.
But we can build upon these positive actions, if we so choose. But not just any kind of building effort will do. Simply running harder and faster in the same old ways that got us into this heap of trouble will only cause us to dig a deeper hole. So, too, will being “boosters” for efforts that may sound good but don’t do enough good. Instead, we must be willing to break from the tired old debates, the practiced Power Point presentations, the stale re-branding initiatives, and similar activities, and focus on finding new pathways forward.
Going shopping only will lighten our worries for a day or so, but not address what truly ails us. The most basic, fundamental task before us is to make a choice: either to remain stuck with a hangover, or to stand up and try to get some work done. The latter will require a different outlook and path.