Merriam Webster defines united as Made one, relating to or produced by joint action. The diversity of our country is one of the many things that made this nation great. Most great ideas and institutions have a shelf life (an ending) and our country could fall into that category. Trying to get a consensus on anything these days can be a futile effort. Is it possible that the country has reached a point where the United States is no longer United? I steer away from the subject of religion and politics in this blog by design, I will be walking a tight rope with this article. My hope is to talk about the country as a whole and not present a fragmented partisan ideology. I hope to address the question in the title of this blog post and what the alternative might be for our beloved country.
We have two major parties in the United States, the Democratic and Republican Party. I was born in the early 60s and have seen the parties undergo re-construction several times. The political climate today has a different banter, it has become toxic, to put it mildly. I believe we are seeing the birth pains of a country that no longer fits into one of the two parties. The parties are being destroyed from the inside out. The Republican Party experienced some of these growing pains with the advent of the Tea Party. The infusion of Tea Party members into the Republican body was metamorphic and has led to many stalemates in passing legislation and a type of innovation rigor-mortis. We look to the other side of the aisle and see a Democratic Party undergoing the same changes. The move towards a progressive type of government has the Democratic Party reeling and attempting to define its new look, and avoid at minimum a collapse of its own identity. This leaves us with two main parties that are coming apart at the seams and still trying to govern one sovereign nation. To add insult to injury, they seem unable to agree on the simplest of subjects. The possibility that an emerging party will overtake the current big two doesn’t seem far fetched. This political environment sets the stage for my next point. Will the United States eventually fracture into several countries?
Most people are aware that Europe is a large group of countries, with most of its countries belonging to the EU (European Union). The United States is a collection of states that make up one country. Looking at the different areas of the U.S., California compared to Alabama for example, the differences are palpable. We also have state laws compared to National laws that are in conflict with one another. The legalization of marijuana is a prime example. I am currently a government employee. If I resided in Colorado, a state where marijuana is legal it would present a conundrum in the use of a state legal substance. The government categorizes the use of marijuana as an illegal substance. I would have to exercise caution in the places I attended and the foods and drinks I would consume. Any trace of marijuana in my system would constitute grounds for being fired by the U.S. Government. This is one small example, another would be the legality of sanctuary cities, abortion rights, and the list goes on. The U.S. appears to have states that act like different countries while some of the states currently promote the desire to have socialism as a form of government over democracy. I am not making an argument for the merits of any of these topics I am covering in this blog, I am hopefully making the case of the United States isn’t really united anymore. Is it possible one day a conglomeration of countries might replace what we currently call the United States? I not only think it is possible but likely.
A quick look at the demographics of the current United States shows minorities increasing in numbers that would suggest we have become a very racial and ethnically diverse country. The United States diversity is a gleaming strength an has been for well over two-hundred years. Yet, diversity is a tough balancing act for any country and could promote change quicker than some people would find comfortable. Imagine if you would for one minute, a collection of countries (currently states) based on their own ideology under the umbrella of a central entity that you might call a union. This union would provide a military for protection of this group of countries, much like NATO currently does in Europe. The countries (currently states) could decide on their own health care, taxes, immigration policy, end of life considerations, abortion and many more items. The divisions in the United States is at a tipping point and something will have to change or the disintegration of the United States is a possibility. This idea has many questions that I do not have the answers or the expertise to expound upon, just an idea of possibility to ponder. On a side note, Texas and California have discussed succession from the United States in the past. California alone is the fifth largest economy in the world. The thought of the United States broken up into smaller countries will not sit well with some people, I find some discomfort in the thought. A large group of countries might be the only thing that ensures the survival of our current structure, the United States of America.
It is obvious the vitriol that is present in the country covers a host of topics. The country is looking for a leader, a political messiah to bring us together and solve the countries divisions. Some divisions cannot be solved, the departure of citizens from England to form the United States is a perfect example. Henry Blackaby said, ” We get the wrong answers because many times we ask the wrong questions”? Is the United States asking the wrong questions today? I have told people for years “There is no easy way to reverse a bad trend, you have to make a radical departure from your current path”. Is the United States really united? I think most people would agree, not anymore. I have proposed one alternative, there are many more on the horizon. The only thing we cannot do is stay on our current course. Maybe United will mean something very different in the future.
“It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.” ― Nelson Mandela
Regardless of your take on crime, it goes against nature to have people locked behind bars. Some crimes deserve punishment, that is without argument. With the increase in the number of people incarcerated in the United States, the crime rate has adjusted very little. I want to take a look at the United States penal system and examine its effectiveness.
Let’s start at a prominent place, the mental health of prisoners behind bars. The closing of mental institutions in the 1950s and 1960s took place for a couple of reasons. The care in those facilities and the techniques used to help the mentally impaired came under just scrutiny. The price for adequate care was another concern. The idea was to bring the mental health care into the prisons to help rehabilitate incarcerated inmates. Like every novel idea, this one had shortcomings that would soon be exposed.
The growing number of inmates with mental health problems should be of concern for our nation. It is estimated about 50% of all men in prison, suffer from some form of mental illness, that number jumps to 75% for women incarcerated. NPR had a fascinating article on the subject from their 2017 post, here is a link https://www.npr.org/2017/11/30/567477160/how-the-loss-of-u-s-psychiatric-hospitals-led-to-a-mental-health-crisis. The secondary problem with this system is people with mental illness not yet in the penal system. The lack of facilities for the mentally ill is disturbing. Without proper treatment, statistics show an alarming number of these untreated people with mental illness will end up in prison. The level of medication in prison for the mentally ill is a catch 22, and the problem continues to grow.
The number of people incarcerated in the United States is alarming. We live on a planet with approximately 7 billion people. The figures from the United States Census Bureau put the population of the United States at 328 million people. That means the United States has roughly 4.6% of the world population but houses 25% of the world’s prisoners. If that number is astonishing to you, it should be. These statistics show a there is a systemic problem with the method prisoners are prosecuted, processed and eventually incarcerated in America. There are currently 2.2 million people in prison in the United States, that is more than the following cities: San Diego California, Dallas Texas or Philadelphia Pennsylvania. To complete this number game analysis, for every 100,000 people in the United States, 655 of them are in prison. Is crime in the U.S.A. that much higher than other parts of the world? It is surprising that the U.S.A. does not make the top 10 list of countries with the highest crime rates. Venezuela is ranked number one in the world, and it has 100 murders per 100,000 people. America ranks 31st in the world for gun violence, a statistic you would expect to be higher. So, why does the U.S.A. have such a high percentage of the world’s prison population?
The reasons for the high percentage of prisoners in America will not be resolved with rhetoric alone. It appears looking at the numbers and statistics that some of this is due to the war on drugs. For example, there are states in which possession of 8 ounces of marijuana could land you in state prison for three years. The person charged with possession of an illegal substance now has a felony record. The Marijuana laws are one of several dozen laws that are not only draconian but leave very little room for negotiating based on the accused’s record. Another factor in the growing number of prisoners is something we call recidivism.
Recidivism (the tendency of a convicted criminal to re-offend) is another reason for the high incarceration rates. Without proper rehabilitation of our prisoners, we can expect very high recidivism to occur. A study done by the U.S. Department of Justice documented prisoners from 30 states over the period from 2005-2014. The surprising findings showed 5 of 6 prisoners were arrested at least once during the nine years following their release, this is an 83% recidivism, and those numbers are expected to climb higher. California passed three strikes, and you are out in March of 1994. This law stated that a person committing a severe violent felony with two other convictions would spend life in prison. It is hailed as a crime determent and adopted by 28 other states. While it appears to have helped in most polls, the most significant impact on the crime in these states are statistically alcohol consumption and unemployment rate. The one last thing we will look at is the lack of rehabilitation of prisoners.
Education of prison populations is usually high school level or less. Indiana tracked prisoners that obtained a G.E.D. while in prison and found the recidivism level dropped more than 20 percent. Today’s prisoners released without skill sets possess very few skills valuable to employers. With prison overcrowding and the lack of funding, prisoners are being locked down for extended hours. Mix into this the statistics we discussed earlier, the number of mentally ill and you have a Molotov cocktail for disaster this is a segment of the population we lock up and try to forget. There are many success stories we could celebrate if we come up with a plan that includes treating our prisoners like human beings. It might seem like a fantasy, but the process we have in place is not working.
I believe Nelson Mandela was correct with his quote, “ A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.” We have a problem that will not go away by locking people up and hoping they stay in prison. Eventually, these people will get out and be your neighbor, or the person bagging your groceries, or the security guard at your complex. The problem might not be the crime; the problem could be how we look at it.
“All human beings have three lives: public, private, and secret.” ― Gabriel García Márquez, Gabriel García Márquez: a Life
We are sacrificing our privacy everyday. Possibly, the best place to start is by defining privacy. Merriam-Webster partly defines privacy as the following: “the quality or state of being apart from company or observation”. People today would probably agree the part of privacy we must be concerned with today is observation. Think about the number of times in 2018 that you hit the “agree” button on a EULA (End User License Agreement), this is the page that appears as you are loading in software or apps, the one that you cannot install the software unless you agree. Have you read a EULA in the past year? You would need a law degree from Harvard to have a remote chance of understanding this license. You are signing an agreement, you are agreeing to terms you might not understand. You are agreeing to things that will affect your privacy. I consistently tell my kids the following “With everything that is given, something is lost. It is alright to sacrifice things to obtain other things, the problem lies with giving away something you didn’t know about”. Are we sacrificing our privacy and well being on the alter of convenience? Is technology adversely affecting our behavior? I hope to answer this and other relevant questions in this blog post.
The digital world is a pseudo existence where some people spend a great deal of time. It allows you to be popular or anonymous if you should desire. Everything from false identities to making claims that would be challenged by anyone that knows you personally. This creates, in some the desire for altered reality, a place that previously could only exist in their imagination. What is the harm with a little fantasy here or there? The problem can surface when we intersect with the real world and must deal with people face to face. Living in a gaming world, a world of social media, is understandable for short periods of time. As I write this piece, it could be read by almost anyone, to include people that have no idea about me. Any of the afore mentioned things are not inherently bad; caution must be taken to ensure we spend equal amounts of time with real people, one’s that will hold us accountable for our actions.
We are all creatures of habit. I have watched my wife wash her face at night before bed for many years. I have never actually counted but I am sure she splashes her face with water the same number of times each night. Think about some of your habits and routines, (i.e. getting ready for work, going to bed) you can see we are people of repetition. The new apps being used on our cell phones are tracking more of your actions everyday. This data from your devices tells the developers when, where and how often you repeat your routine. This might not be detrimental, but what if I told you the person tracking you is a 19 year old male from San Francisco? What if I told you he also has a restraining order the was swore out against him last year? These statements are of course hypothetical but hopefully, my point is obvious, we don’t know the people collecting our information. Could future software contain algorithms that try to minutely influence when we do something? You need to look at your electronic devices closer, you have given up more information than you can imagine. One last point before we move on. I often tell people the risk with such software is the following: It remembers details long after you have forgotten them. Let that stew for a few minutes. A device that never forgets anything about your life. If you don’t remember what companies and apps you have given access to your personal information, it might be time to tidy up your digital world.
Finally, let’s talk about time. Time is the one thing that cannot be carried over, borrowed or redeemed once it has been used. If you live to be 90 years old, you will experience 4,680 weeks. This sounds like a really long time, but realize every Christmas another 52 weeks is deducted from that total. This number is a great old age, many of us will not live to see the age of 90. I am not trying to depress you but to help you realize, there is an amazing life happening if you look up occasionally from your digital devices. Anything that distracts us from an amazing life is controlling us to some extent. In the past 2 years we have seen a resurgence in sales for paper journals and day planners. This is not an anomaly, but a trend to reengage with the real world. We have all witnessed and maybe experienced people eating dinner together with phones in their hands. No conversation, each person engrossed in their own digital world. I watch people taking selfies with celebrities, political figures even the Pope. They do not take time to engage with the person, they try to capture it on a digital device, and in turn miss the great event. If you are looking at your phone every 5 minutes, your life is being controlled by the device. If you look at it more often you are obsessive and need to rethink this habit. Our devices should complement our lives, not hijack them.
Technology is a wonderful thing. I can sit in my living room and talk with someone face to face on the other side of the world for free. Maybe sometime in the future, I should get a card and write them a note in my own handwriting. I hope this blog post has raised some awareness of the danger in letting our digital world control too much of our time. Privacy is a wonderful thing, and something we all need, just be careful not to give away what privacy you have left. Finally, be present with those you love. If you go to dinner, turn off your cell phone, don’t silence it, turn it off. Take control of your life and how you spend your time. In the end, this is the only life you have to live, make every moment count.
I went in search of nothing and found it every time, It took such little effort, I languished in my mind.
I went in search of something, and much to my dismay, There was so little free time to finish out the day.
It appears nothing is actually something, With not a lot to show, Maybe, to make something out of nothing, Is how we learn and know.
“An eye for an eye only makes the whole world blind.” —Mahatma Gandhi
Have you ever done something that you thought was very uncharacteristic of your behavior? Perhaps what was being exposed is a deeper issue that simmers below the surface? Maybe, it is revealing the type of people you are associating with during this period of your life? It could be the synapsis are not firing correctly in your brain, but maybe it can be just an honest mistake. There are some mistakes made that are not as innocent as others. Let’s take a look at a couple of reasons you might hear someone say “I didn’t mean to do that”.
There are multiple studies on the power of habits. One of the great books I have read on the subject is by Charles Duhigg, aptly titled “The Power of Habit: Why we do what we do in life and business”. When we act unseemly or react in a way not befitting the circumstance, we often find ourselves questioning our own reaction. Every New Years people worldwide make “resolutions” for the coming 365 days. Experts, have tracked these resolutions in studies and found that 80% of all resolutions fail by February. Some habits affect how we interact with the world at an unconscious level. Anyone that has played sports realizes the way you practice is the same way you will perform. This analogy is true in everyday life. We will react or act exactly the way we pattern our thinking on a daily basis. I realize humans are not machines and anyone can make mistakes in handling even a simple situation. Yet, if we examine an occasional faux pas it could reveal more about our pattern of thinking, our daily habits are likely the foundation of such behavior.
Another reason for saying “I didn’t mean to do that” can be a weak alibi or worse yet an insincere attempt at an apology. I have found people, in general, are very willing to be forgiving of others that apologize for their mistakes. The exception is an insincere confession of remorse or worse yet a lack of caring for one’s action. Repetition is another key factor in the acceptance of an apology. I tell my kids all the time, you can make 5 mistakes in one year, just don’t make them all in the same week. Repetition of a mistake may lead a person to believe the perpetrator gives no thought to the discomfort or hurt they are causing. If you really didn’t mean to do that, try your best not to repeat the offense.
There is also the occasional error that (wait for it) is no kidding an honest mistake. I once went into a credit union when I was young and the teller appeared to be pregnant. You can see where this is going. I asked her when she was due, and she quickly told me she wasn’t pregnant. I have since learned the number of questions you ask a woman you do not know should be, let’s call it non-existent. Yet, it was an innocent mistake. They actually exist and should be handled with kid gloves when the situation arises.
Finally, there are the mistakes made by children that are just hilarious. Most kids really are innocent, well, at least they start off that way. When James my youngest son was about ten years old, he was outside golfing with his friends. We live in a cul de sac and the boys were “teeing off” from the manhole cover in front of the house. I was in the office when I hear a window break. You guessed it, Tiger Woods Jr. had just launched the golf ball through our window. When I came outside I saw the boys peeking around the corner. I asked James what happened (totally rhetorical in nature). His answer was priceless, “Dad I was certain I could make it between the houses”. That was a young man’s version of “I didn’t mean to do that”. This is another instance when the mistake, while, not well thought out, was perfectly innocent. Sometimes, you just have to laugh and move on.
In conclusion, there
There are many ways of communicating in today’s culture. Of the choices, often our default is expressing ideas through conversation, making plans or even disagreeing with ideologies. Our parents have a great deal of influence on our speech patterns and its spoken tone. When viewing debates and disagreements from earlier decades, a striking difference can be noticed immediately, the difference is the civility of the spoken words. Many people today long for the days when people would be considerate in discussions. Is this a utopian trip down memories lane, or can we return to a place where respect and consideration dictate our speech?
We will start with the art of disagreement. “It is the mark of an educated man to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it” -Aristotle. We socialize with like-minded people, and this is completely normal for relaxing and enjoying our downtime. Why do we balk at letting someone into our circle of friends if they have a different ideology? Are we teaching our younger generation to think or is indoctrination the modus operandi when it comes to solving problems? Physics has shown that when two people look at an event, they do not see the exact same thing. Yet, we expect compliance, agreement, one accord on critical issues such as religion, politics and a host of other work-related items we face each day.
So, we often find ourselves in a situation where a disagreement is obvious. What causes the tenor of the conversation to escalate toward aggressive responses? The debate, discussion or however else it is phrased is about swaying, persuading maybe in extreme cases even manipulating someone to see things our way. Far too often it becomes a competition and the desire to understand is a foregone conclusion. Steven Covey in his book “The Seven habits of highly effective people” says it this way, “Seek first to understand and then to be understood”. Do you see the paradigm shift in his approach to a conversation? To keep our conversations civil or even fruitful, a concerted effort must be made on one side (minimum) to listen. This requires us to concede that which is obviously right, or at least, has factual based evidence for the discussion. This requires the educated one in the conversation to be humble and to consider doing what is right above even winning the discussion. When was the last time you told someone in a conversation, “I did not know that”?
Another reason people no longer speak with civility can be as simple as someone making a mistake. It could be a cashier ringing up the wrong item, not applying a discount or charging you twice for the same item. I have been in retail stores and watched people behave in the most offensive manner, all due to a simple misunderstanding. I was a manager at Best Buy after my Marine Corps career and witnessed a lady get arrested over a simple cashier mistake during the purchase of a CD (Compact Disc). For those too young to realize this antiquated medium, these were the replacement too cassette tapes, well, I better quit while I am ahead. Conversation can become very aggressive in the face of a mistake, and all civility is lost for the encounter. Why do we look for compassion when making a mistake and forget to give it in return when the mistake is not in our favor? We might have lost our humility and fair-mindedness towards others.
I will not even consider politics and the complete loss of civility we have witnessed in the last couple of decades. I will say this; our children grow up seeing the way adult society behaves. They will model the behavior they have witnessed in their youth, and this is a disturbing thought. It reminds me of the quote from W.H. Auden:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.
I fear we are planting seeds that will grow one day, and we will be dismayed at the crop that it will produce. Why are people no longer heard? It is primarily because they have stopped listening to each other. We are far more concern with having our ideas heard than listening to something new.
Racial tensions today remind me of the early to mid-1970s. We are caught in an endless loop that always brings us back to the same point. It reminds me of my dog when he chases his own tail. We know the problems, we even have a very good idea of the solution, we just cannot discuss it with any kind of clarity. Once a remark is taken out of context or seen as being biased in one direction, the conversation becomes “passionate” and from that point forward people stop listening. No man on the face of this earth can know what another is going through. To remotely understand a person you have to listen, really listen to what they say, not what you think they are saying. I have a three-second rule I try to employ these days which allows me time to process what has been said to me in conversation. If it is not clear, I will ask for clarification. Sometimes, regardless of the effort to listen to someone, I just cannot understand their point of view. If we judge people due to misunderstanding them, what are the chances of having a civil conversation?
In conclusion, we need to re-learn civility. Every adult or child you have a conversation with today is a human being. They have dreams and goals just like you. They also have bad days, again, just like you. If you look at the problem we have today with rudeness and inconsideration in our conversations, it can appear to be an insurmountable problem. Yet, all great accomplishments have come through a group of people deciding a change is necessary. I will leave you with a quote from Margaret Meade:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
“Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.” ― Aristotle
On my way home from work the other day I saw a man almost kill himself and others to avoid sitting through a traffic light. I have written before about how fast life moves, and the Christmas season puts that pace to another level. I am 57 years old and I cannot remember peoples patience in the earlier years of my life being so frail. Maybe, it was me that was impatient so I didn’t pay attention to the actions of others. Regardless, people today are holding on by the thinnest thread and are prone to losing their sanity at any moment, over the most innocuous things. I think the microwave might have to take some of the blame. There are a host of other modern conveniences that are under suspicion, but I believe the microwave might be the first to the dance. Let’s take a look at some of the devices that could be our alibis for an impatient living and some things we can do to reduce our impatience.
Let’s start with our main culprit, the microwave. It was first sold in 1946, and the technology for this device was derived from a RADAR system invented for the war. This device would allow us to cook food in a fraction of the time. Time saved would equal extra time for leisure, thus it was a win-win scenario. Unbeknownst to the people of that day, this would become the lifesaver for many college students in the future. The die was cast and society would not go back. Our thirst for devices that would save time would eventually become insatiable. There is an old saying that says “With everything that is given, something is lost”, our patience was being lost and we didn’t even realize it.
As a child growing up in the 1970’s I would watch my parents do their banking, are you ready for this, inside an actual bank? I remember one year my mother telling me they were installing something called an ATM machine at our bank. This machine would allow a person to withdraw money without going inside the bank and without talking to another human being. I felt like we had been transported (no pun intended) into an episode of Star Trek. Banking could be done faster with the added convenience of having the bank open 24 hours per day just for you. The ATM helped revolutionize the future of banking and would eliminate the requirement for a person to have bank transactions during operational hours. Society expects hours that will cater to their needs, in the meantime, patience was dwindling with every innovation.
The grandaddy of patience killers was launched in 1969 from meager beginnings. The letter “L” and “O” was sent 350 miles successfully and the network crashed afterward. This was the birth of the internet which ushered in the Information Age, life would never be the same. Fast forward almost 50 years and now automation through the local and worldwide networks allow us to do transactions of buying and selling (everything imaginable), right down to the automation of our homes. The instantaneous, results-driven society has allowed for many conveniences but everything comes with a price, and the toll is taken on our patience. Has anyone that is reading this been on a slow internet account lately? It is as frustrating as being behind a lost driver during rush hour traffic. So, how do we slow our world back down to a manageable pace and still remain relatively tranquil? We will take a look at a couple of ideas that might allow us to stay patient in a world that is far too busy.
Number one, if you are one of those individuals that sleep until the last possible moment, run out the door with a precision drive time to work, and if you encounter any obstacles on the way, you could become an impatience time bomb waiting to explode. My first suggestion for regaining patience is to allow extra time for delays that are unavoidable in life. An extra ten minutes of time can be the difference between totally stressed out and a day you can enjoy. In the big scheme of things, there are 168 hours in a week, what difference will ten minutes make? Give it a try, leave 10 minutes earlier in the morning for work, or for the movies, or a dinner date. You will reap the rewards of being more relaxed and might regain some of your patience.
Number two has to do with commitments. There is an entire series off of blog posts available on the subject of saying yes too often. One of our problems with impatience can stem from overcommitting. We use devices to save time, then we, in turn, fill our schedule with more to do. The modern conveniences we have talked about are not inherently bad, they just produce adverse results when misused. I will leave it to experts that deal with time management to assist in determining the items to do and those that need to be omitted. Just be aware that every commitment made restricts your schedule and tightens the noose on our free time, and this can lead to impatience.
In conclusion, of course, the microwave is not the cause of our impatience. The rub is to use technology and innovation to improve the quality of our lives, not to fill it with more obligations. If you suspect you are impatient, just ask one of your close friends, they will know, trust me. Slow down and let life come to you. We all live life one minute at a time. Trying to accomplish too much in a short period of time is a recipe for frustration and a lack of patience. I will leave you with a quote that demonstrates patience is a state of mind. “Patience is the calm acceptance that things can happen in a different order than the one you have in mind.”
― David G. Allen
Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Within the sound of silence
Simon and Garfunkel
Life today happens almost instantly. One thing we might be missing in our lives is some time alone, in other words, solitude. The lyrics I opened this blog with might be familiar to some. The song is “The sound of silence”. I always enjoyed the irony of the title. We are constantly exposed to a stimulus of one type or another. I am amazed at the number of people that watch television on their tablets, phones, kindles and just about anything else you can imagine. We stream music, we listen to podcasts, we text, tweet, post to snapchat, and on rare occasions make a phone call. This constant bombardment of noise is having an effect on people, whether they realize it or not. Yet, when we slow down, and relax and turn everything off an unusual thing takes place, we feel all alone. If you allow this strange sensation of “quiet “to occur on a regular basis, you might actually find yourself saying “Hello darkness, my old friend”. Is quiet and solitude becoming an abnormal event for humans in 2018? Let’s take a brief look at a life partially disconnected from all the noise.
There are mountains of data to support the health benefits of a person taking time to meditate, walk in the quiet of the morning or just sit and watch a beautiful sunrise. Isn’t it quite interesting that all the items listed cost you absolutely nothing but your time? The strange thing is you have to schedule the time to do nothing. If your schedule does not allow for periods of silence, you are in desperate need of solitude. I warn you, your first attempt at being alone might not go well. Being alone with our own thoughts might bore you the first time you try it, but don’t give up. You will quickly find it hard to survive your day without some alone time. I have allotted an hour a day of solitude for the last 20 years and my days would be harder to handle without that time alone. Start off slow and try 10 minutes as a starting point twice a week, but just be warned, it is addicting.
Solitude can change the way you interact with other people. When we have time to process our thoughts, we learn to slow down and listen to ourselves, which enhances our ability for listening to others. There is no magic bullet for learning to quiet yourself and turn off the noise. It is a discipline much like a good eating regiment, getting proper sleep and a host of other things that are essential for good health. Why do we fight against the things that will make our lives more fulfilling? Maybe we are afraid to venture off from the things most familiar to us? Either way, it will take a bit of courage, mixed with discipline and sprinkled with expectation. In the quiet, when all external factors are removed, we find our true identity. As we look in a mirror, we position our bodies, hold in our bellies, re-comb our hair (if you are lucky enough to have hair) and wait for that split second until we are convinced our appearance matches what we want to see. The first look most likely was the most accurate. In the moments of solitude, we are able to see ourselves and without distractions. Take a look at yourself when you are alone, this is the picture others see every day. Don’t be discouraged by what you find, be encouraged that you now have a starting point in which to begin your work. It is these moments when our lives come into focus. It is these times we begin to have an intimate meeting with ourselves.
The last thing I will discuss concerning solitude is the need for it when we are in a crisis. If you have ever flown on an airplane, it is amazing the difference in the view. I once flew over a place I had lived for 5 years and could scarcely recognize the terrain, or find my house from the maze of objects below. Our problems are much the same. Many times, we need to see them from 10,000 feet and be removed from the middle of their presence. How can we elevate ourselves above the fray? You probably guessed it, being alone allows unfettered access to reason through the situation. One caveat I would give you about this procedure. Do not go into solitude with a martyr’s complex. Do not be a victim, just be a casual observer of the situation. Sometimes, it even helps to talk out loud to ourselves. Ensure no one is around or they might try to baker act you on the spot. I have found the combination of solitude with self-talk an amazing, therapeutic procedure. I am not a psychology major, I am unsure of exactly what takes place by being alone and having a discussion with oneself. I only know this; many problems appear different when I act on this procedure. It is in the still, calm of the early morning, or late night that I find my greatest therapy. I look for the sound of silence daily. It has become my dearest friend.
In conclusion, if you find yourself alone for a few minutes, don’t reach for the television remote. Take any free minute to let your mind wander and check in with your current situation. If you follow a regular routine of seeking solitude, removing noise will become part of your daily routine. This reminds me of the Kenny Chesney song, titled “Noise”. Here is the chorus:
Yeah, we scream, yeah, we shout ’til we don’t have a voice
In the streets, in the crowds, it ain’t nothing but noise
Drowning out all the dreams of this Tennessee boy
Just trying to be heard in all this noise”
Is solitude a scary thing to entertain? Yes, being alone can be unsettling for some people, yet, many times it is exactly what you need. Start slow and make time to be alone even if just for a few minutes. When you are alone let your thoughts direct where you will go. The items that need your attention will come to you. Do not try to direct them, think and try to allow yourself to relax. Solutions that are needed many times are not the first ones that come to our mind. Enjoy the silence, just listen observe and allow yourself a few moments to be thankful for your life. It may not be glamorous, but you are alive and that is a gift itself. Schedule a time to do nothing. It will be filled with more than you can imagine.