October 2, 2013
By Andy Flannagan
I used to spend a lot of time highlighting to people that they need to watch and read the news with sensitive filters. News corporations have a vested interest in printing what is tragic and scandalous, since they need to sell ads and papers to keep profits high. I wanted to remind people that what they were reading in any given context was far from the whole story. They won’t be reading too much good news, and they won’t be reading about the wonderful but unremarked-upon acts of kindness and service that happen in communities up and down the country every day. The net effect is that we all become more cynical, depressed and unable to believe that positive change can occur. Because of my work in politics, I spent a lot of time encouraging folks to be involved in the media, to bring higher standards of journalism and a desire to tell the whole truth.
Now I still believe those things to be true, but I think there is also something more fundamental going on. We have allowed “news” to become the default information source for our lives. In some ways the “news” can’t help it. By its very definition it is novelty-based. However, novelty is a bit like carbohydrates. It is great for snacking to give you a quick hit, but long-term leaves you hugely undernourished if it is not part of a more varied diet. We confuse what is new for what is true. Our “incoming data” diet should surely include some ancient, deeper writing and art. It takes more effort and patience but there is a reward in embracing what has stood the test of time, whether in the realm of music, philosophy or everywhere in between.
Technology is enabling us to fit more and more into our busy lives. We can now listen to music as we jog, read our emails on the bus, check headlines or sports results as we walk, or text our friends while we queue in a supermarket. The space to just be living, thinking and breathing is being squeezed out, sacrificed in the headlong pursuit of making our lives more efficient and entertained. Does this actually make our lives happier or more effective?
Does this technology drive us to only look at what is in our immediate gaze on flat screens of various descriptions, never seeing beyond to the depth of what life and relationships have to offer? Is there a dimension that can’t be measured by length, breadth or height? The reality is that even if this other dimension existed, we might not stop for long enough to see it or feel it. We instead opt for the safety of what we can touch, click or watch and we miss out on the invisible adventure.
The writer Henri Nouwen wrote that a crucial part of life is ‘displacement’. By displacement he meant deliberately putting yourself in a situation where you would not naturally be, a place where you might not be totally comfortable. We learn so much about others, about ourselves and I believe about our creator, when we displace ourselves, crossing boundaries to leave what is familiar and safe territory. We have all developed finely tuned ‘suffering avoidance mechanisms’ that kick in when we see even a hint of effort coming around the corner. You may only need to go streets away to experience that sense of displacement. Our streets and churches (or other faith groupings) are some of the only places left where people from vastly different socio-economic backgrounds can mix and learn from each other. If we restrict our socializing to those whom we work with or those whom we study with, there is a whole world that we are missing out on. When we intentionally remove ourselves from hard places, we are limiting our growth, as well as the impact that we could be having on a hurting world.
Andy Flannagan is a London-based, Irish singer-songwriter. Here is a link to the delightful and moving video of his song “The Reason”:
To learn more about Andy and his work visit www.andyflan.com