As fast as our life seems to be moving, we generally find enough time to do all of the things we feel are necessary to maintain a reasonably rewarding life. Or have we? What we are subjected to daily seems to leave us in the position of contending with others in our peer group who are also attempting to take care of their own daily business and responsibilities. But we just take it in stride and move along our way only occasionally getting frustrated with others in our way but doing the same thing. This all seems pretty normal to us if I can use that word. But a shift has slowly been taking place much like the frog in a pot of water slowly being brought to a boil over time without him even realizing that his landscape has changed dramatically.
Years ago the most dramatic things we had to contend with in our peer group was keeping up with the Jones's and “getting ahead” in our career. This was about as close as we came to echoing nature’s survival of the fittest. We laughingly referred to our part in striving for position and recognition in life as our struggle in the jungle glibly comparing ourselves to nature and its brutal scenario of eat or be eaten. This perspective has been true for a long time but over the last twenty years it has intensified one hundred fold while the water boiling our frog, unbeknownst to us, has slowly climbed to life threatening temperatures.
While accomplishment and becoming good at what we do has always had a front row seat for our attention, another characteristic member seems to have decimated the game board; that of competition. Sports have always been competitive. This we take as a given. But now we have media show chef contests, dating games for the most winning and eligible partners, reality shows exposing strife and childish behavior like Jerry Springer, survival shows like Naked and Afraid, American Idol judging the best performances, the Emmys, the Oscars and many more all focused on being the best and the highest in our peer group and judged ranking. We can see this even more clearly, not only in our media but in our daily lives with bumper stickers such as “My Child is an Honor Student” at some unknown elementary school or setting up bank accounts so we can pay for the best colleges for kids who will grow up twenty or more years from now not even knowing if there will be such a thing as colleges let alone a future for them when they graduate. So much of what we do has become so geared to standing out, excelling, “rising to the top,” being THE best; the bottom line; who are we supposed to be better than? We used to be so smug looking at Orientals and Europeans putting pressure on their kids to become the best lest they end up committing suicide as a result of their inability to top dog everyone else shaming their family. Elementary school state testing? Students are now tested for performance and IQ in the second grade. FCAT? “Common Core?” What has happened to us? Where did we go? What happen to children actually having a childhood?
Many years ago I worked in a government contracted electrical calibration lab. The man whom I became friends with was twenty years my senior and from Italy speaking with a broken American accent. We spoke of people and culture. We used to watch everyone get their knickers in a twist rushing about attempting to meet military deadlines. When I had seemed to get caught up in the flurry, he took me aside and told me a story about a young man in his twenties sitting quietly on a bench peacefully watching the ocean surf. A man with a briefcase and a fine suit exited his limousine and hurriedly approached the bench and sat next to him. There he wrote notes, made appointments, assessed proposals and conducted business in a frenzy. After a while the youth asked the man what he did and the businessman talked about his work began to advise the youth on how to structure his life. He told him that he should go to the best schools that he could gain admittance to. He should keep his grades up so he could shine above his competitors. He should burn the midnight oil so he was always prepared. He should canvas the companies to see who offered the best opportunities for growth. He should get a loan and open his own business so he could hire others to do his work for him so he could spend his time relaxing rather than toiling over things that were beneath him. Then he’d have leisure time and could spend time with his family. When the businessman’s recommendations played out, they fell silent for a while. Finally, after thinking a while the youth said, “But sir, I AM relaxing.”
Even during the 50s and 60s in the time of “Ozzie and Harriet” and “Father Knows Best” we were aware of the intensifying of our efforts toward simply surviving. We said things like “do it now because you only live once” or “stop and smell the roses.” But we’ve journeyed long and hard to where we are now. Being stressed and pressured into performance has become the norm. We now say things like “no pain, no gain” and I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” We’ve become almost totally unaware that the frog’s landscape has monumentally shifted and our awareness has not yet caught up with the changes in the water temperature. Things have progressed so fast that now even our children have become caught up in the frenzy and when they grow up they will never know that there even was a time where we were slower and more internally focused let alone that being that way was then considered “normal.”
Because of the frenzy we’ve been caught up in, our natural reaction has been to shut down our sensitivities to prevent further assaults on our attempts to cope. As a result, and in order to find relief in entertainment, it now takes radical activities whose force has to overcome the emotional barriers we have erected attempting to stay safe and self-contained. We need the shock of horror shows to verify that we’re still alive and that we can still feel something. We need sensational special effects in movies to evoke the awe that nature was once able to give us. We need jalapenos in everything we eat just to remind us that we still have taste buds even though they have been numbed out with additives, sugar and spices to heighten the perceived blandness of nature’s subtle flavors. Then on top of it all we judge which had the best special effects. Which was the hottest? Which show gave you nightmares and made you afraid to turn off the light? Which was more, higher, faster, stronger? Comparison has become our emotional standard for everything that we take part in. This has translated into intense competition in just about every endeavor we put our energy into. What has happened to us? Have we become so tunnel visioned and myopic on what everyone else is doing that we have forgotten how to just dance to what we feel?
Unfortunately, we have effectively passed this disease on to our children. We have exacerbated its effects by having to give up quality time with them just in order to survive. Now, the media has become their evil babysitter and they’ve gone for the hype hook, line and sinker. And the media shows no mercy and takes no prisoners.
We have allowed ourselves to become the brutal side of nature. We’ve become obsessed with survival of the fittest, the best, the highest, the hottest. We have let fall away one of the priceless qualities that animals in nature still retain. They still roll in the grass. They can still take a nap. They can still play with their children. They can still follow their inner urges. They can still participate in courtship. They don’t need hyper stimulation like we do simply just so they can feel what comes naturally to them. They are still able to dance simply when the spirit moves them. Can we? Or have we truly forgotten how to dance?