The Paradox of Our Age/Time

 

Paradox

In 1992, political scientist Francis Fukuyama famously argued that the spread of Western-style democracies and free market capitalism would become the final form of human government.  It seems a paradox that the economic and political systems that were thought by Fukuyama to bring peace and stability to the world are increasingly on the defensive—in Europe, in Asia, in the Middle East, in Africa and, I often think, here at home in America.

While musing on this dreary thought, I happened on Jann Freed’s recent blog on paradox. I will reprint here a portion of the essay she shared from ‘Words Aptly Spoken’ by former non-denominational pastor Dr. Bob Moorehead.  This 1995 essay—The Paradox of Our Age/Time—shines a bright light on many of the contradictions wrought by prosperity … and may help explain why so many cultures choose to reject a way of life that seems to offer material prosperity but spiritual poverty.

“The paradox of our time in history is that we have taller buildings but shorter tempers, wider freeways, but narrower viewpoints. We spend more, but have less, we buy more, but enjoy less.

We have bigger houses and  smaller families, more conveniences, but less time. We have more degrees
but less sense, more knowledge, but less judgment, more experts, yet more problems, more medicine, but less wellness.

We drink too much, smoke too much, spend too recklessly, laugh too little, drive too fast, get too angry, stay up too late, get up too tired, read too little, watch TV too much, and pray too seldom. We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values. We talk too much, love too seldom, and hate too often.

We’ve learned how to make a living, but not a life. We’ve added years to life not life to years. We’ve been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet a new neighbor.

We conquered outer space but not inner space. We’ve done larger things, but not better things.

We’ve cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul. We’ve conquered the atom, but not our prejudice. We write more, but learn less. We plan more, but accomplish less. We’ve learned to rush, but not to wait.

We build more computers to hold more information, to produce more copies than ever, but we communicate less and less.

These are the times of fast foods and slow digestion, big men and small character, steep profits and shallow relationships. These are the days of two incomes but more divorce, fancier houses, but broken homes. These are days of quick trips, disposable diapers, throwaway morality, one night stands, overweight bodies, and pills that do everything from cheer, to quiet, to kill.

How many of these paradoxes bedevil your own life? Are there any that you can change in your own world?

Nostalgia, Neophilia and Now

NostalgiaLast week, I confessed to neophilia—a preference for variety in daily life, a high tolerance for ambiguity and uncertainty, as well as a love of a challenge. But being a neophiliac does not preclude moments of considerable nostalgia.

Unfortunately, nostalgia sometimes gets a bad rap. Merriam-Webster defines it as a “wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to some past period or irrecoverable condition.”  This negative perception undoubtedly stems from the Greek roots of the word—nostos (‘return home’) and algos (‘pain’). 

The implication here is that if you tend to reminisce about the past, you’re probably not a lover of the new. In fact, I’d argue that nostalgia is critical to being a lover of the new. But my view of nostalgia is less a longing to return to the past than an appreciation for how your past has shaped who you are today.

Support for this point of view comes from Susan Krauss Whitbourne, a Professor of Psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. In a 2012 article, What’s So Nice about Nostalgia?, Whitbourne argues that the experiences of your teens and early 20’s are critical to the person you become later in life. In her view, these are the years when most people begin to forge a sense of identity.

Whitbourne says that after age 30, “We shape and re-shape our life stories, reworking the narrative in a way that enhances the way we feel about ourselves now.”  She adds that “dipping into the past to remind you of how you’ve coped with previous life stresses can help you strengthen your confidence in dealing with what you’re facing now.”

Whitbourne provides a helpful frame for my own experience growing up with a mother who mocked most of the things I cared about and a school environment in which I was bullied on a regular basis. It was clear that I did not fit in; the harder I tried, the worse things got. By age 16, I was desperate to escape.

I went off to college, and then to New York to work in finance. I escaped my mother and the school bullies, but I could not escape the inner child who expected criticism at every turn. My solution was to keep moving on—new jobs, new friends, new adventures—before “they” could discover what I presumed my mother and school mates already knew.

I didn’t start out as a neophiliac. I started out a scared young woman desperate to escape the mockery and criticism of her childhood. But serendipity played a large role in making me one. 

Thinking about that serendipity is where nostalgia comes in. I always had an analytical and questioning mind. I always liked solving problems. I always hated routine, and was eager to take on a new challenge. Had my career started out, as so many do today, in a routine job with a boss who expected me to follow the rules, I suspect I would not be a lover of the new but simply a woman still trying to escape the inner bullies.

In fact, who I am now—a lover of the new—reflects, in very large measure, the fact that my early employers—all men—encouraged me to explore new ideas and take on new challenges. This was indeed serendipity at a time when finance and banking were even more of a man’s world than today. I have no desire to return to those days, but I don’t ever want to forget them.

What role does nostalgia play in your life? What are you nostalgic about?

 

To read Whitbourne’s article, click here.

This continues the series on themes that are significant in my upcoming novel, A Fitting Place.  If you would be interested in doing a guest blog on one of these themes, click here