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November 14, 2013

Reflecting on current events while far away

Cooperstown Crier

---- — One of the many advantages of travel is creating some distance from one’s normal cultural surroundings. 

One of my habits while traveling in other countries is to consciously ignore events that might be taking place back home. Given the ease with which one can keep track of events at home abroad while on the road, maintaining the blackout requires some effort. It appears to be much easier for me than for others. 

The focus for me when traveling is the culture in which I find myself. Inter-cultural experiences are eminently invaluable because they force one to see the world, as much as is possible, in terms otherwise inaccessible due to deeply seated cultural biases. 

While on the road in Sicily, I found myself thinking about the infinite variety of cultural divides that characterize the present state of acrimonious discourse in this country. Frankly, it was refreshing, and pleasantly comforting, to be so far away from its toxic reach that I could actually think about it somewhat more objectively – or at least as objectively as is possible. 

Sitting on a weather worn stone seat in a Greek theater built in 440 B.C. in Segesta, Sicily, I wondered quietly to myself what it would take for us to rid ourselves of the destructive toxicity of our contemporary politics and find ways of more graciously coming to terms with one another. Swathed in the penetrating warmth of an Italian sun, I envisioned multiple possibilities, no one surfacing as the best last hope. As I sit here watching our own sun melt away the snow that blanketed our hillside yesterday morning, obviously influenced by being in a place once an integral part of ancient Greece, it seems clear to me that if we are to change course we need to rid ourselves of the hubris that under-girds our relations in general and our politics in particular. Until we do that, we will get nowhere and our body politic will disintegrate, if it has not already, into an even more ineffective, utterly useless jumble of self-nourishing egoism.

Having spent some hours the last several days reading up on local and national events, and preparing myself to cast thoughtful votes in tomorrow’s election, especially with respect to the amendments that will be on the ballot, one thing is certain. It makes no difference how long one is away. 

Pick up any newspaper or check out any Internet news site and the status is pretty much quo. The names might change, as do the places, but the stuff of the news is pretty much the same. Thoreau pointed that out many years ago. 

I have a friend in Maine who stopped reading newspapers many years ago. He lives a news-less life, which is something I cannot do. There are times when I wish I could, but such a behavior is anathema to my sense of the obligations of responsible citizenship. 

Getting away from it all for a short while enables one to catch one’s breath for a brief spate of time. It fosters, as Wordsworth might say, reflection in tranquility. Reflection seems to have lost its value. Which is a shame. A character in a novel I read while away suggests that talking is one thing. And noise making is quite another. We have created a contemporary culture that seems to value noise far more than it values thought and rational discourse.

I doubt if we will ever create a perfect world in which we will all get along wonderfully well and love the blazes out of one another. Be nice. But it will not happen. The best of families are often riddled with tensions that cause incalculable distress. So, we are stuck with a world that will always have the burden of resolving differences as amicably as possible. 

Ironically, difference is a good thing. We often seem to forget that, especially when riding individual or collective hobbyhorses. If each and every one of us can take off our cultural blinders just long enough to talk to one another, really talk, then there might be hope after all. Right now noise seems to have won the day.