The Economy of Despair & Stewardship of the Soul

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It’s occasionally frustrating to accept how out-of-step one person may be with the rest of the world, and how divergent their values and broad interests can be from the society they emerged from and were presumably shaped by. It is in lonely and isolating moments like this when I surrender myself to hopelessness and despair. In these times, I cannot help but be gripped by negativity and anguish during those moments we all have of uncertainty and self-doubt. Although infrequent, I find myself most often vulnerable when I seek validation and affirmation from my peers. The mind can be a lonely place, and inevitably ends up being a sounding board for various sundry complaints and criticisms  — both real and imagined, and both at the micro level (you) and the macro level (the greater society). In times of reflection and clarity, I find it useful to write and record my various griefs and grievances with our troubling world, and the various factions that inhabit it. It’s probably worth noting that although many of the questions ostensibly appear to be bitingly acrid and shockingly negative, they are in fact indicative of a deeply seated optimism and hope for the human race. Although obviously bitter and hopeless at first blush, perhaps it may help to keep in mind that I wouldn’t express such concerns so passionately, had I no faith they may some day be remedied. These items are by no means a complete or comprehensive list, but a sample of themes and obstacles I see as standing in the way of a peaceful, fair, and equitable world. Many betray my own distrust and disillusionment with the zeitgeist of our age, and all its many incarnations.
Is it possible to deplore the shifting values of your own generation, while not being labeled a lunatic or cultural heretic?

Can we move forward and inch towards egalitarianism, while abandoning common sense and that which makes us uniquely human?

Is it blasphemy simply to question the role of technology in our lives and suggest safeguards?

How does one embrace the inevitable zeitgeist, look to a more equitable future, and retain the curiosity, scholarship, and rigorous aestheticism of the past?

How does one make peace with diverse interests and curiosities in an increasingly specialized society of parochial common interest groups and homogenized learning environments?

How do we continue to work towards a democratic society that educates everyone equally, while not diluting the content, rigor, or meritocracy of scholarship and those who work tirelessly to excel, both for the virtue of acquiring knowledge and the urge to succeed?

How does a society effectively become smaller and more connected, while inversely becoming more hostile,  ignorant and disdainful of each other’s cultures?

How does a society assimilate new cultures without stripping color and cultural heritage, and neutralizing everyone into a dull, homogenous pablum?

How can a single adult navigate a world built for families and breeding, without fear of reprisal and scorn?

How is it more acceptable to allow a mind to wither and atrophy, than for a body to age and betray the inevitable ravages of time and neglect?

How can a society become ostensibly so self-obsessed and motivated by praise and attention, without losing its ability to empathize and protect our weakest members?

If time travel were possible, could a man ever find solace in the erudition and aesthetics of the past, while being forced to endure their primitive beliefs about faith, science and racial hierarchy?

How can one so repelled by the virtues and priorities of many of their contemporaries ever hope to enjoy any sort of life in the public sphere?

Can those afflicted by varying degrees of mental illness and depression ever find empathy and support in a nation terrified of ‘crazy and dangerous individuals’ intent on hurting and killing innocents unpredictably? Will those afraid of unprovoked and random attacks ever be convinced that only an infinitesimally small number of mentally ill are ever violent, and that they have a much higher and probable chance of developing mental illness in their own lifetimes than they do of being hurt by someone else who suffers from it?

Can an increasingly compartmentalized and loyal public ever embrace cultural pluralism and the virtues of curiosity and diverse interests?

Will we as a society learn to be less polarizing, and appreciate seemingly conflicting styles, pastimes, passions, and interests, recognizing that two superficially opposite things need not be mutually exclusive and consumed ‘either-or?’

Will we ever stop leaning towards extremism and absolute fidelity to a position, at the expense of compromise, good will, generosity, respect, and good sense?

Can art and sport ever peacefully coexist and ultimately attract devotees who enjoy both endeavors?

Is there a useful and valuable place for faith and religion in an increasingly secular, scientific, and faithless world? Can science and religious belief belong in the same universe, and not seek to disprove the other, but have ‘faith’ that there is something uniquely human and valuable in both systems of thought?

Invariably, there are innumerable other questions I grapple with, and things that challenge how I avoid/confront/attack the world in which I live. At this point in my life, I have received all the formal education I’m going to get, and for the first time since I first began school, I am adrift without the structure of education. I have three formal degrees, including a Master of Fine Arts, and several certifications. Until now, I have ostensibly been in school or teaching school for nearly 25 years, Learning and academics have fundamentally been apart of the fabric of my life for as long as I can remember. I have always thirsted for both knowledge and structure, and school always provided me with that. I have also spent over thirty years working as an amateur, collegiate, and professional actor, director, designer, and crew member in the theatre, and boast a resume of well over a hundred and fifty plays, musicals, and other live performances. My career was my life for much of my adult life. When I was performing on stage, I was learning how to in class. For various reasons, I no longer actively work in the theatre or are enrolled in any school or classes. My life has lost much of what defined me up until now, and much of my life is occupied by attending to my physical and mental good health and learning coping mechanisms to pursue other interests, diversify my loyalties and pastimes, and find new and productive ways to thrive in the relatively unstructured culture outside academia. I will not lie and try and convince you that I haven’t faced serious challenges over the last three years. I have. I suffer from debilitating depression, mania, and crippling anxiety, and am acutely sensitive to stress and other taxing realities of life. I continue to teach because it gives me great pleasure to educate others, but many of the more social aspects of my life have changed or been eliminated entirely. Although I’m convinced nobody reads my blog, I continue to write, as a way to reconcile myself with my demons, hopes, and desires, as well as challenge myself stylistically, intellectually, and artistically. With few opportunities to engage in the deep and rigorous intellectual debates and challenges to my thinking I once was exposed to in the classroom — and woefully took for granted — writing allows me to play the dialectical, and explore an idea, concept, or feeling with some degree of rigor and regularity. I have a complicated history with social media, and a few isolated instances of frequent and erratic posting, writing provocatively on other’s walls, and generally abusing the accepted standards and rules of the medium. Although not a regular or frequent occurrence, these isolated incidents have been problematic and hazardous to many a personal and professional relationship. I have since mended many fences, but I must be vigilante, and realize I have many of the same temptations a recovering alcoholic has towards drink. The chemistry of my brain demands constant intellectual stimulation and craves nourishing art, politics, sport, and other distractions to feel occupied. Only at the age of 35 was I finally diagnosed with severe ADHD and an overactive mind. Social media is a dangerous elixir, and there are endless conversations to engage in, and things to learn. Nowadays, with a safe and reasonable use of social media, no classrooms to deliberate in, and a an unfortunate absence of friends in my immediate vicinity, I must find healthier outlets to my intellect and imagination. In many ways, writing has become an acceptable substitute for the intrinsically more public and social art form of live theatre. I no longer crave the instant gratification I once did, nor feel as satisfied in the entertainment field. Some would suggest I have become more morose and withdrawn, and while that may be true, I have also become more reflective, accountable, and healthy in my approach to the world. As the list above demonstrates, I have daily frustrations with much of the state of the world, and my perception that much of our cultural and technological progress often comes at the expense of other things. I worry about the world, yet still engage it, in my own modest way, and believe it or not, have proud hopes for its future. But first, we must wrestle with just some of the many concerns I expressed above. I often wish I could find employment in a think tank, where I would be spoiled by constant stimulation and debate, while also serving a more practical and applicable function. My sensitivity often leads me to want to save the world from itself, and all its sundry ills. My epistemological, sociological, metaphysical, and ontological observations and thinking prompts are far fancier than my solutions and answers. My remedy and absolution of guilt stands at the center of most organized religions, and is nothing more than love, empathy, abstaining from judgement, communication, common sense, and faith in the intentions and good faith of others. I say that these are the backbones of many world religions, but the application and follow-thru has historically been fatally flawed, misguided, and corrupted by the acts and motives of humankind. Nevertheless, they are words and ideals to live up to, and with considerably more vigilance and commitment, we might be able right half this world’s wrongs. If we could only see ourselves in our foe, we may make more concerted efforts at peace and reconciliation, rather than empty promises and posturing.

I realize that I see the world in simplified terms, and perhaps have no business interjecting my thoughts. At the same time, I also know that somehow my mother raised me in such a way that despite my many given flaws, I have a unique capacity for empathy, forgiveness, and resolution through open and honest communication. I have damaged many relationships over the years, and some irreparably, but I never stop trying to repair past wrongs and look to within myself for lessons learned and chances for self-improvement. As such, I have a considerable number of friends and family, each from very different national, cultural, educational, vocational, and religious backgrounds. What they all have in common is me. Because for one reason or another, I have a sizable capacity to accept and tolerate a wide spectrum of beliefs and cultural value systems. I have always traveled widely, sampled foods enthusiastically, and greedily embraced new and foreign cultures. But that hasn’t always meant leaving the country. America is packed full of its own multicultural challenges, and these days, there are plenty of chances for cross-pollinating with ‘them’ and the ‘other’ than ever before. Sometimes without scarcely leaving your own hometown. Yet still, we are rigidly guarded in our beliefs and interests, and myopic in our stilted view of the world, and what it takes to peaceably coexist and even work in collaboration, towards one common goal. For some reason, although I have very firm beliefs and values about certain inherent rights and civil liberties, I make an effort to understand the motives and animus that fuels another person. I practice concerted empathy and do my very best to see the other person’s side. That may be surprising to some, given my aggressive debates on social media, and seemingly steadfast opinions on how things ought to be. And I still feel that way. Love, freedom, unconditional acceptance, and empathy are my guiding principles, and must underly every choice we make as a society. However, I recognize that as humans, we all more or less share the same feelings, wants, and needs. Sometimes educational inequities have stood in the way. For some, poverty and abuse were mitigating factors. Others are simply willfully ignorant and combative, but even for them, I try and hope that clarity and egalitarianism will one day knock on their door. However noxious their beliefs and ignorance may be, I’ll never accept that most humans are beyond saving. Having said that, I am also a realist, and at least superficially, a cynic and pessimist. Yet still, my eternal and deeply buried optimism will not allow me to deny someone redemption, the right to change, and opportunities for personal enrichment. I’d rather be called naive and unreasonable, than to stridently and emphatically deny someone their capacity for change and progressive socio-evolution. As I said before, though we may all talk a big game (myself included!) about acceptance, love, and a deniability of prejudice and bigotry, in practice, most of us fall far short of our stated goals and beliefs. In fact, most of us are intractably territorial, selfish, suspicious, and unyielding in our relations with others. Or rather, those who look and feel different than us, and who we presume holds none of our cherished morals and values. Therefore, most attempts at peace and reconciliation are ceremonial, at best, and neither party is a trustworthy negotiator. How could they be? When we bring all our grudges, prejudices, and inability to humanize those who sit across from us at the bargaining table, we betray ourselves as actors not in good faith, and essentially only present to uphold certain beliefs and ensure they lose no ground to their enemy. There is rarely an atmosphere if trust, respect, compromise, humility, or accountability for one’s own actions and culpability.

I am by no means a saint, or some charismatic figure of peace and social justice. I’m just a simple man who was raised a certain way, with perhaps a unique perspective, and the sincere desire to negotiate peace and understanding between all the valued and polarized groups in my life, and in the world around us. Although I fail quite often, I always attempt to see both sides, and find strengths and weaknesses in each tenable side. As a theatre artist, educator, and writer, I always strive to seek compromise and find common ground amongst cultures, and value the building of bridges, rather than burning them. That being said, many of my best laid plans and good intentions were thwarted by my own troubled mind, insecurities, stubbornness, and sometimes combative nature. More often than not, my abject failures have been impulsive and irrational outbursts of hurt and anger, and seldom ever premeditated. Invariably, time and distance provides me with empathy, understanding, and a renewed desire to make peace and find helpful solutions moving forward. If only I could always be successful in my application of collaboration and compromise, and if only our world’s most intractable and disingenuous community leaders, clergy, politicians, corporations, scientists, and other players could show an honest commitment to peace and negotiation. Perhaps we’d finally be able to live in a world where everyone can feel safe, supported, respected, and accepted. I firmly belief that once those needs are met, the rest more easily falls into place.

My philosophy and world outlook aren’t complex, but nevertheless, ask a lot of people. Such stark nakedness and vulnerability might frighten most people, and the trust and faith it takes to surrender beliefs and assets for the sake of compromise may just be too much to ask. And yet, I firmly believe that there is no other viable way. The cost of Peace is embracing humility, adopting respect, parting with those things that most likely divide you, and ultimately, committing to finding a way to put faith in your foes, and turning them into partners. It takes good faith and steel resolve. Only then can we ever hope to learn that we share infinitely more in common with out enemies, than the vexing thorns which have for too long kept us apart.

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