Making What’s Right About Us Wrong
Humankind is a remarkably complex species, and at the same time a markedly simple one. So many of our disputes are, I think, pitched battles of the simple versus the complex. What if we go for both?
Personally, I wouldn’t classify economist and Opinion columnist Paul Krugman as a pessimist, but this morning’s essay in The New York Times was genuinely a downer. Consider this:
“Republicans spent most of 2020 rejecting science in the face of a runaway pandemic; now they’re rejecting democracy in the face of a clear election loss.
“What do these rejections have in common? In each case, one of America’s two major parties simply refused to accept facts it didn’t like.
“I’m not sure it’s right to say Republicans ‘believe’ that, say, wearing face masks is useless or that there was widespread voter fraud. Framing the issue as one of belief suggests that some kind of evidence might change party loyalists’ minds.
“In reality, what Republicans say they believe flows from what they want to do, whether it’s ignore a deadly disease or stay in power despite the voters’ verdict.”
Attend to this, Beloved, a small edit. In reality, what Republicans say they believe flows from what they want. And that’s where the sentence should stop. For all of us.
What we want, simple or complex, skews our experience of reality. Sometimes a little and sometimes a whole lot. I know, that’s a drastic statement, but it’s actually true. The reason is because when we want … anything, we become attached to having what we want.
A great many Americans have proven that wanting what we want when we want it is no longer a genuinely viable option if we also want to move our country forward.
Wanting … desire … affects our ability to trust, Beloved, and trust is the backbone of any and every social contract.
Here are the words of Bret Stephens from this morning’s Times. “I was reminded of this again reading an extraordinary essay in The Washington Post by former Secretary of State George Shultz, who turned 100 on Sunday. His central lesson after a life that spanned combat service in World War II, labor disputes in steel plants, the dismantling of segregation and making peace with the Soviets: ‘Trust is the coin of the realm.’”
Trust is the coin of every realm. From as simple as getting on the 104 bus going down Broadway in Manhattan which you can trust will go down Broadway, and, which you can also trust that if the route is going to be changed in any way, you will be informed of it via the P.A. system by the driver. To as complex as deeply interwoven racial bias inherent in our social structures that needs to be teased out, named, revealed, healed, and permanently changed.
Mr. Stephens quoting Mr. Shultz again. “When trust was in the room, whatever room that was — the family room, the schoolroom, the locker room, the office room, the government room or the military room — good things happened. Shultz wrote. ‘When trust was not in the room, good things did not happen. Everything else is details.’”
In the past four years and most especially during this election circus, we have seen what the erosion of trust has done to our country. It has constructed a constant culture war that we seem in danger of perpetuating permanently within the ranks of the populace.
Mr. Stephens again, “But the catastrophe of Trump’s presidency doesn’t mainly lie in the visible damage it has caused. It’s in the invisible damage. Trump was a corrosive. What he mainly corroded was social trust — the most important element in any successful society.” … “What Shultz attests from personal experience is extensively documented in scholarly literature, too. In high-trust societies — think of Canada or Sweden — people tend to flourish. In low-trust societies — Lebanon or Brazil — they generally don’t.”
The thing is, Beloved, it’s no longer ‘they’ as written above. No, it’s we, us’ns. All y’all and me too. We’re the ones who are suffering this lack of trust, and, unfortunately, it’s so far past only social as to be downright scary.
Mr. Stephens once more, “The bad: a different kind of radioactivity that first destroys our trust in institutions, then in others, and finally in ourselves. What the half-life is for that kind of isotope remains unmeasured.”
So much of our antipathy to one another can be characterized as the Case of the Analog v. the Digital. Humans are nothing if not enthusiastic, Beloved, but so often we trash the old in order to welcome the new. How about we try for both? Yes, at the same time.
What if, this holiday season, we took a page out of Iceland’s holiday book? Consider this: “Imagine this: It’s Christmas Eve and after receiving a brand-new book from your family, you cozy up in your favorite reading nook or in front of the fire with a mug of hot cocoa and spend the rest of the evening reading. That’s exactly how Icelandic people celebrate Christmas each year. This tradition is known as Jolabokaflod, which translates roughly to “Christmas book flood” in English.
Books, real books, physical books, what’s come to be known as dead tree books, are analog.
Margaret Renkl is one of my all-time favorite nature writers. Here are some heartening words from her latest New York Times offering.
“Books remain the ultimate gift: easy to wrap, available in such a multifarious array that there’s truly something for everyone and, best of all, a desperately needed break from screens in the age of TikTok and Zoom. A book does not beep at you, spy on you, sell you out to marketers, interrupt with breaking news, suck you into a doomscrolling vortex, cease to function in a nor’easter, flood your eyes with melatonin-suppressing blue light or otherwise interrupt your already troubled sleep. That’s why my best beloveds are all getting books for Christmas. Who wouldn’t want such benefits for the people they love best in all the world?” Who indeed?
Books also do not break our ability to trust in ourselves, others, or our systems — not even dystopian ones. Here’s what I think we ought to consider, Beloved, let’s embrace the digital advances that humanity has created, by all means, but let’s also balance them with equal analog time. Let’s make both right instead of one wrong, or old-fashioned, or too traditional, and one right.
A dear, dear long-dead friend of mine used to say to his mother, “Get with the program, Mom!” I think it’s high time we remembered that there is a program here on Earth. That program includes all of us. That program is nothing if not balanced in our favor. That program awaits both our analog and digital yesses in order to foster a world that works for everyone.
The alternative, Beloved, simply is not a reasonable option. Besides, one of the very best things about a book, any book, may be discovered in these transcendent words of Emily Dickinson, “There is no Frigate like a Book / To take us Lands away … . Let us go away from the land of make-wrong, the land of mistrust, the land of heartless unsafety and set our sights on the work in front of us to reestablish trust, heal our broken hearts, and face one another in the faith that we can do what we are called to do to make a future bright for everyone.
Dr. Susan Corso is a spiritual teacher, the founder of iAmpersand, and the author of The Mex Mysteries, the Boots & Boas Books, and spiritual nonfiction. Her website is susancorso.com.