Take a moment and consider these stress-causing issues: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine; The Supreme Court leak; Abortion; Political primaries for everything from the United States Senate to county commissioner; Hunter Biden; COVID variants; A seasoned deputy aiding a criminal to escape; Personal problems that affect us all; and feel free to add to my list.
Stress! We live in a world where we are constantly told by headlines “What you need to know.” I don’t know about you, but I resent that statement and avoid reading anything in a newspaper that professes to know what I need to know. The constant clatter of print and talking head news confirms that William A. Percy was correct.
Recently I re-read his autobiography Lanterns on the Levee. While I take issue with certain parts of his story (such as his racist paternalism), his writing is exquisite and a joy to read as it is chock-full of literary allusions. Published in 1941, it is dated in a way, but like all good literature, it carries a message for us these 80 years later. For instance, in writing about his years at Harvard Law school, he tells how students during the early years of the 20th century were restricted in having parties and social evenings. Thus, he writes, “Our chief dissipation was conversation.” Each night at eleven after studying was finished, a coffee percolator was started in someone’s room and a night of superior talk about various topics was begun. However, Percy writes, “I wonder if this most civilized form of entertainment is fated for extinction by man’s effective mental opiate, the radio?” (italics mine)
Our world, it seems to me, is full of mental opiates: If a television is not blaring so called news that we must know, a machine pipes in unwanted music in public spaces such as airports. Many runners and walkers have the white plugs in their ears that carry music or other clatter directly to their brain. It is all, as someone observed, “A clattering of cymbals.”
Ours is not the first to have problems of a plague, wars, famine, and more. Yet, ours is the first to be able to watch these monsters as they consume us. Instead of taking months for news to cross the Atlantic it arrives via social media immediately. That marvel causes stress like has never existed. Instead of reading about a death weeks later, we see it happen on a screen as it is played over and over. Stressful for sure, and that stress takes a toll on individuals and cultures. But what to do?
Unplug! Percy and other sages have warned us. Our parents knew of and told us of the dangers of hearing too much. Unplug from the mental opiate machines at least for a while. Stop the noise whether it be something we need to know, a game of snooker or football, a realism show that is likely pre-programed, and more. Stop the noise and sit under a tree or on a bank of a creek or anywhere that has as its “noise” the sound of nature. Let the wind going thorough a tree tell you about its trip to you or hear a bird announce its news or just sit and give yourself permission to not know what is happening in the secular world. Sit with a neighbor and hear about his or her joys. Converse with nature and the dear ones in your life.
Unplug! Even Wordsworth told us that “The world is too much with us; late and soon,”
In the end there is little that we need to know about the secular world for it, too, will pass. But we need to take care of each other and have stimulating, common discussions. After all, we were told to be good stewards of our world, and that includes each other, not just the trees, birds, and such.