October 16, 2009
“If all economists were laid end to end, they would not reach a conclusion.” –– George Bernard Shaw
“Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.” –– Mark Twain
“There are some that only employ words for the purpose of disguising their thoughts.” –– Voltaire
I often find myself struck by the odd but often appropriate juxtaposition of words and ideas. When things somehow fit together despite their vastly different origins, contexts, and perspectives, I find myself not only interested but also often amused.
The three quotations listed above appeared together on my screen a couple of days ago in a feed of quotes of the day. I don’t know how they were selected or by whom, but in some strange way these three resonated with me.
For most of us, the current economic situation has proved profoundly disorienting and often downright disturbing. Even when it has not affected us personally, we are confronted with the reality of the situation everywhere we look, which has the effect of playing up deep-seated anxieties about our security and place in the world at-large both individually and collectively.
Our peace of mind has not been helped by the lack of peace in the world. As a nation at war, which our adversaries have framed as a holy crusade against what they see as our immoral and imperialist intentions, we have been challenged to consider anew the differences between what we consider right and wrong.
Meanwhile, the anxiety bubbling to the surface in our social discourse has been amplified by media fighting to capture and retain our attention in an environment overrun with with competing stimuli. It comes as no surprise then that our differences become accentuated, exacerbating our sense of disquiet.
The heated rhetoric and conflicted discourse resulting from the confluence of all these troubling ideas and events has given us little time to pause and reflect upon their meaning for us personally. When we forget to stop and ask ourselves questions about what we are seeing and hearing, others’ ideas often take hold not only of our attention but our motivation as well.
The result often confirms the already biased view of reality put before us. Unless we take an active interest in testing this reality and really challenging ourselves to decide whether it is true or more accurately meaningful as it relates to how we live, we run the risk of making it a persistent framework for the way we see the world.
Under ordinary circumstances, the succession of calamities confronting us with such regularity and urgency over the past decade would have shaken us from any self-imposed stupor we might have fallen into. But these circumstances have were already far from ordinary when the trend began to accelerate. By the time our adversaries tried to get our attention, many of us had already ceded our responsibility for taking responsibility.
We need neither adhere to nor abhor any particular discipline or creed to see that right and wrong are relative positions on a continuum. Likewise, for the concepts of good and evil. Despite all the progress and promise of the digital revolution, we do not live in a binary world.
In the shadows of our world and the dark recesses of our minds we will find our souls, if only we choose to look hard enough. It is, however, the search itself, not what we discover, that gives our lives meaning and purpose.
Rather than letting others think or speak for us, we need to take action and assume accountability both for ourselves and the world around us. The sooner we choose to do this, the happier and richer our lives we be and the better our world will become.