JOHNSON COUNTY— It is possible to fall into a trap of believing that the world and society are about us— our small circle of friends and family and how we live. That would be perilous.
Not only is it impossible to live outside the broader context of global society, believing so isolates us from serving any greater good, and ultimately from taking care of our personal needs. A day’s events can become “all about me,” and the most pressing issues of our time—man-made contributions to climate change, nuclear proliferation, economic justice, food security and public health— can wrongfully be set aside. Not only does this affect society, it filters down to each of us in one form or another.
This weekend, I participated in different ways in a number of gatherings of people in diverse settings. Based on my personal interactions with hundreds of people, the definition of “us” needs broadening before substantial social progress is possible.
Make no mistake, there is a culture of “me.” I see it in everything I do outside our home. At the convenience store people line up to serve their addictions, whether it be tobacco, alcohol, sugar, gasoline or salted snacks. At the warehouse three generation families disperse in the aisles like an infantry squad on patrol exploring a foreign land. At the orchard, large groups of young friends bring along their usage of “perfect” or “awesome” as they head out to pick apples. At the political barbeque, activists gather to hear speeches and espouse judgments of each. At the same time, in the vast emptiness that is Iowa’s agricultural land, soybeans and corn stand ready for harvest and nary a person can be found as they were at home or in town, distracted from the leaching of nitrogen from last night’s rain. The culture of me creates isolation but not loneliness, even as people gather informally together in these settings.
To express my opinion, other than to select what is in this article, would be one more futile voice in the wind, and who has time for futility?
What I saw and participated in this weekend was a reminder of how little humanity has changed since Hieronymous Bosch made the painting below in the late 15th century. In a way we each seek our own giant strawberry to hold and consume. Despite ease of communication, we live compartmentalized and focused on personal delights, eschewing a broader perspective except as it serves our needs.
What to do about this weekend’s observations is uncertain. Figuring it out is important to sustaining a life at risk in so many ways as the days pass, and as people disengage from society.