The ostrich, that head-in-the-sand symbol of denial, is an apt metaphor for humanity today. Being in denial of the reality that we sense is occurring around us is OK given that most of us can’t cope any other way. Life is short and for many, religious beliefs encourage a focus on the afterlife as comforting compensation for our suffering. Religion-based narratives are also a way of keeping our focus on a story that offers a seemingly rational explanation for why things are the way they are. Nevertheless, there is a reason most of us are sand-eaters. Beware! Some of us may not want to know what that reason is.
Experiencing a different story that promises more immediate benefits than do religious paradigms and perhaps a more profound explanation for why our experience is what it is might persuade us to lift our heads and look around. It all boils down to making a choice of which narrative we choose to believe and in making that choice we become the creators of our identity and the experience which will then inevitably be the result of what we have chosen to believe. Worldview, identity and behavior; any profound science of community called sociology would be built around this structure.
The symbol of the ostrich represents a terrified and traumatized humanity that cannot bear to withdraw its head from the sand and look at what is happening. Those who try to face the facts are often overwhelmed. Who can blame them? With no criteria grounded in Simple Reality paralysis can occur when we are faced with choices that are agonizingly painful; choices based on delusional beliefs.
Which shall we choose?
Should it be fear or compassion?
Which warrior shall we arm?
The one who fights in a distant land OR
The one seeking self-respect on a disputed street corner selling drugs?
(They are the same warrior)
Which wounds shall we bind?
The shrapnel-incised bodies in the burning building of a foreign city OR
The shattered psyches of our own self-medicated youth?
(They are identical shattered souls)
Which neighbor shall we comfort?
The lonely aging man whose mind is slipping away OR
The aging woman in the refugee camp, ankle deep in the mud.
(They are the same lost and abandoned elders)
Which rape victim shall we protect?
The altar boy at St. Elizabeth’s in Philadelphia OR
The sari-clad teen in the slums of Mumbai?
(They are our invisible and unprotected children)
Which terrorist shall we execute?
The bearded youth on the drone camera screen OR
The tattooed Aryan White Supremacist in a Dallas prison?
(They are the same deluded and angry seeker of respect)
Which child shall we teach?
The revenge-seeking child in the Middle Eastern madrassa OR
The wealth-seeking child on Manhattan’s Upper East Side?
(They both suffer from the same self-destructive identity)
Which mother shall we feed?
The gaunt, starving Congolese mom cradling a dead baby OR
The meth-craving Appalachian mom who cares nothing for food?
(They both wander benumbed and lost in a nightmare)
Which body shall we repair?
The IED-shattered body lying by the roadside in Baghdad OR
The bomb-shattered body on Boylston Street in Boston?
(They are both innocent and bewildered)
Which mind shall we rescue from the madness of a non-existent narrative?
The bi-polar youth with empty eyes OR
The dust-covered West Bank Palestinian hurling rocks?
(They are the future; damaged by an identity they did not consciously choose)
Obviously then, choices currently being made based on the conventional (P-B) beliefs, attitudes and values promulgated by the professional sociologist cannot result in a sustainable community. What is the fate awaiting the global village? It will be the four horsemen of the Apocalypse in spades. Worse than disease, famine, war and death? Afraid so!
Will the following description of dystopia paralyze you? Will you want t0 distract yourself and go shopping?
Add to the classic human woes, global warming and its effects and other natural calamities—tsunamis, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, landslides, forest and grass fires, volcanic eruptions, drought, crop failures, extreme heat, extreme cold, earthquakes, antibiotic resistant superbugs and rising ocean levels inundating coastal environments. Given that 50% of the people in the global village live along continental coasts, the rising ocean levels will cause widespread denial. Using a phrase from Garrison Keillor we will find that people are of “ordinary incompetence [but are also] a rigid and incurious people overwhelmed by events in a world they don’t dare look around to see.”
What is wrong with this picture other than denying that it is happening? Is there any way to change this gruesome looking future? First, we have to admit that there is a problem, which means facing reality. Economist Robert J. Samuelson explains why that hasn’t happened yet. “We don’t ask hard questions because we fear what the answers might be.”
You will be glad to know that there are two alternatives, two choices but which is the best one? We will have to change our behaviors; that is obvious, but how? “The most powerful catalyst for change, sociologists will tell you, is when people learn what they already know.” The undeniable evidence coupled with our intuition (inner wisdom) is what we must base our future choices on.
If we don’t choose to change our story we will continue to experience disturbing community metrics and behaviors. We are already seeing the following emerging dystopia.
“Colleges across the country are reporting an increase in the intensity of mental problems, including depression, stress and self-injury. In fact, the number of college counseling center clients on psychiatric medication rose from 9 percent to 25 percent in 2005, a University of Pittsburgh study said.”
“In a majority of the top-selling rap songs, women are cast as leeches deserving of mistreatment. They are used for sex, sometimes in [a] rough manner, then discarded. Some rappers even brag that they share their women with friends.”
Destruction of African American Families
“Because black folks, by and large, don’t do the marriage thing anymore. We are considerably less likely than white Americans (57% to 35%) to be currently married and similarly less likely (43% to 25%) to have ever been married. Largely as a result, 43% of our families are headed by single women, with all the problems of poverty and dysfunction that portends.”
“Although the deep problems afflicting poor black men have been known for decades, the new data paint the most alarming picture yet of ravaged lives and, the scholars say, of a deepening national calamity that has received too little attention. Terrible schools, absent parents, racism, the decline in blue-collar jobs and a subculture that glorifies swagger over work have all been cited as causes of the deepening ruin of black youths.”
“I do not believe that gambling is harmless. As a criminal defense lawyer, I have witnessed the tremendous harm that gambling can bring about. I’ve watched the destruction of the addicted gambler, including one woman who was an otherwise blameless citizen until she began playing the slots. Casino managers watched as the machines ate first her salary, then her savings, and eventually the hundreds of thousands of dollars she embezzled from her employer. The casino bosses plied her with free rooms and dinners for her family. They sent a limo to bring her to the casino. They made her feel special as she fed huge quantities of $5 tokens into two machine simultaneously.
“They didn’t come to court when she lost her dignity, her marriage, custody of her two children, and eventually her freedom. True, the state had no desire that she embezzle. But the state did repeatedly send the message that gambling was an approved activity.”
“Either we let Americans gamble legally or we don’t. The growth of gambling outlets has indeed led to a rise in bankruptcy, suicide, robbery, embezzlement, divorce and other social ills. And state governments fool no one when they fund counseling organizations for people brought low by gambling activities that the states themselves raise revenues from.”
What is the essential difference between the person who becomes too afraid to face the consequences of self-destructive choices or the experience of natural calamities? We do, after all, have essentially the same experience of life; only the details differ.
For those of us whose life has become a meditation, consciously choosing response over reaction moment by moment, each day we learn that fear and suffering are a result of resisting those human or natural experiences described above. As our skill in not allowing our old false-self conditioning to dictate our experience grows stronger we learn how to use our energy to support the growing True-self conditioning resulting in a growing equanimity. Living in the Now is too deeply satisfying, we wouldn’t want to have our head in the sand and miss a single wonderful moment.
References and notes are available for this essay.
Find a much more in-depth discussion in the Simple Reality books:
Where Am I? Story – The First Great Question
Who Am I? Identity – The Second Great Question
Why Am I Here? Behavior – The Third Great Question
Science & Philosophy: The Failure of Reason in the Human Community