As an observer of culture, an educator, and a father, I have been mulling over some troubling things.
I have been discussing some ideas with my family, colleagues, friends, and students. I have been reading some history of cultural and political tensions in the recent American past, from the Great War to Vietnam, from the Great Depression to the Cultural Revolution of the 60s, and from the Civil Rights Movement to the Reagan Revolution. I have been spending some time reading a historical analysis of the entertainment industry and some history of popular culture. And I am concerned.
I am concerned with the state of things to be sure. With the ongoing political and cultural divisions, racial and economic tension, geopolitical violence and uncertainty, and the continued advancing of terrorism, there is good reason to be concerned. The threats and challenges we face as a society are real and carry with them real risk, not only to our democracy and way of life but also to the well-being of our families and ourselves. But it is the insidious assault on individual and collective character and sensibilities that really keeps me awake at night and causes me grave concern for the future. I fear we are becoming something other than what good judgement, our democratic values regarding human dignity and mutual respect, and even our faith dictate, and sadly something more base.
And this is not merely a reflection of the flaws that mark human nature.
I think we are feasting upon a diet of images, ideas, attitudes and behaviors that are negatively impacting the way we and our children see the world and others, and the way we think, feel, act and react. I think we are becoming what we are consuming, and this is a universal principle that we cannot take lightly.
There is an old Sunday School song lyric that went something like this: “Be careful little eyes what you see. Be careful little ears what you hear.” I think for many of us it is easy to see in that lyric a fearful posture toward exposure—a rearing up of children that is insular in its approach. And it may well have been used that way. But it also reflects a caution that is worth heeding.
We are influenced by what we see and hear. Harry Houdini once said, “What the eyes see and the ears hear, the mind believes.” We are persuaded subtly and often unintentionally by the things we consume through our senses. This reality cannot be neglected.
We are too often shocked by the violence around us, the objectification of women, the degradation of those less fortunate and the disregard for the law, rights, authority and suffering. Yet we are inundated with images and words that normalize these shocking things at best and romanticize them at worst. From video games to television shows, from movies to news commentary, from political rhetoric to social media feeds, we are swimming in a festering and miry pool of attitudes and sensibilities that are drawing out not the best in us, but the worst.
Jesus said, “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness” (Matthew 6:22–23, ESV). In this is a great truth: What we fill our eyes with matters. Yet we too often do not think about the choices we make. We don’t concern ourselves with considering the impact of our choices on us individually and collectively when we consume violence and hatred, disrespect and vilification, gratuitous objectification of others and coarse jesting. Subtly, these things fill our minds, normalize our attitudes and behaviors, inform our judgements and sensibilities, and shape our expectations for others and ourselves.
Maybe we should consider being as thoughtful and careful consumers of what we ingest through our senses as we are of what we eat or purchase. It just might make a true and lasting difference.
This article was originally published in the Bucks County Courier Times on June 29, 2018.
Perspective: It’s an important word. It is full of meaning, and its implications are profound, both for us as individuals and for us as a society, a society that seems,