I have been feeling quite disconnected this week. Some of this is no doubt due to my returning from a long-weekend away, where my routine was pleasantly upended and disturbed by nature and a different environment. I have found myself distracted, impatient, and generally out of sorts.
Within my small circle of geographic touchpoints (gas station, store, pharmacy, coffee places), I have experienced new levels of awareness. For example, gas prices are at an all time high in my area. Yet, I put my credit card into the machine, fill up the car, and go on without the emotional charge of “YIKES!” Seeing as I can remember gas wars from the 1960s, where gas was mere 20 to 30 cents per gallon, you would think I would be jumping up and down at having to pay over $3.00! But no, just put the card in, take it out, and go on my way.
This is just one example of my disconnection from reality. I read and listened to news reports this week of children being separated from their parents, put in cages, and held at the border. All this on the orders of a man holding the position of highest ethics in the land – the Attorney General of the United States. I was outraged! I was outraged in the quiet of my living room. I was outraged in front of my mobile phone feed. I was outraged at my desktop. I was outraged in my privileged solitary confinement.
Today, as I listened to news reports explaining what had occurred halfway around the world in Singapore, I felt that now familiar swelling of righteousness. A friend posted a question on their Facebook page asking why people weren’t out in the streets protesting? After all, mine was the generation that marched on Washington to stop the Vietnam War, to right the wrongs of years of civil rights abuses and segregation, to insure equal pay for equal work. Mine was the generation that created newsworthy protests!
Then I looked at myself in the mirror. While the outrage burns within, I am no longer connected in any visceral way to communities of action. I express my outrage through emojis. I discharge my discomfort with pithy posts. I find solace in reading what others say, especially those I agree with. I have limited capacity to stay engaged in discourse or discussion with someone who holds a differing opinion.
In taking stock of this, I also see how my role as a leader in in my community has changed with age. I am now on the sidelines of power. I am dismissed not because of my beliefs, but because I have aged out. Without a Twitter following or hourly posts on Instagram, I have become a relic, posting on Facebook for the benefit of a few of my friends. A quaint caricature of an older person befuddled by technology and a step behind from whatever is current.
We are living in an age that is demanding the return of moral leadership. What is my role as an aging American? The tag line for the Center for Aging & Values is “creating purpose and meaning across the lifespan.” I am spending time considering what this truly means.
Having experienced upheaval in the late 1960’s and through the mid 1970’s, I know the vulnerabilities of being a passive citizen. Our country is seeing the effects of Timothy Leary’s instruction to “Tune In, Turn On, Drop Out”. The evolution of the revolution is that we have eviscerated community and instead become separate and self-contained, not always individually, but in “only people like me” groups.
Developmental systems theory (Bronfenbrenner) posits that we each exist within a context of spheres of influence starting with our family and expanding to the community at large. Within each of these spheres are values and beliefs that influence our behaviors. Where my generation has fallen short is in making sure those who follow us understand the need to stay in relationship with our inner circle and expanding spheres.
With the rise of the Internet, what had historically been geographically and time-based spheres (i.e., neighborhoods and distance) evolved into immediate and unlimited connection. It is my contention that this has resulted in a re-wiring of our connections, and in some cases, creating disconnection.
Action is called for right now. Perhaps not the action of my youth, the burning of flags, the marching in the streets, but action nonetheless. The channels of how that action now manifests are markedly different than in the 1960’s. We must vote. We must share our values and beliefs with others not just online but in person, face-to-face, heart to heart.
While I was in graduate school I had the privilege of working at SRI, International. One of the scientists there presented on his work creating the internet. The title of his talk was “High Tech/High Touch”. His premise was simple. As wonderful has all the technology was, we absolutely needed to insure that we remained connected at a human level and acted in humane ways.
There is a visceral lack of humanity present in the world right now. We are all witnesses to it because of our technology. Now we need to bring some heart to the table. This is the call to action that I am going to answer. Let me know what you think. Will you join me?