The American culture is intense. It values incessant motion and strobe-like flashes of hard words and simple ideas. No matter what privacy policies say, it's a culture of little privacy. Why do you think we like gated communities so well? And, for all the advantages, like the freedoms we enjoy moment-to-moment, it's a culture of such chronic busy-ness that it's inching over the threshold of pathology. Look at your friends. How many are exhausted? Yet, I believe we can choose the gods we worship; exhaustion or another one. Freedom is, after all, among our dearest values.
Last month an online magazine published one of my articles. I was, without exaggeration, excited to the point of shouting, "Yyyyyippeeeeeeeeee!" I was so happy and proud. The journey of building a business acquaints one with valleys, peaks and extended uphill grades. Getting that article published was a peak. So, I giddily announced the news to my friends and got some interesting responses.
A few people called to share my joy. Some sent congratulatory emails. Those emails and calls were like sharing pieces of celebration cake across the vast distances that keep us from touching one another physically – allowing us to touch internally, in the deep, private places where we keep the crown jewels of our beloved relationships. Several people wrote to say that upon following the link to the website where the article was published, they decided not to go so far as to read it because the site required that they subscribe. They said they didn't want to subscribe because they get enough email already. I could feel them bristle and I felt sad.
What struck me was how the hassle of subscribing to a newsletter trumped bearing witness to a friend's success. Having witnesses to our terrestrial successes and spiritual magnificence is a primary fuel for our existence. The utmost loneliness and lost-ness is felt by people with too few witnesses to their life experiences, however mundane.
I could see them wilt from the thought of getting one more unwanted email. I also saw these decisions as strong efforts to maintain boundaries against overwhelm. Outstanding! Healthy boundaries are a big part of navigating everyday life maturely. They create a personal space and inner spaciousness in a crowding culture.
What struck me saddest was that the system scored a victory; the 800-pound gorilla of commercialism had won. Stress kept people from going to a new place to have a new experience (and maybe even enjoy the article) because their radar told them danger lurked there. I couldn't help feeling a little frustrated as I do when I see people worshipping too-small gods. I thought, "There are more options here." There was greater freedom available than I saw driving those decisions.
Many people are so overwhelmed by our culture's notorious commercial pressure that they avoid connection. I feel sad that companies are so desperate for more money that they bust through the dinnertime communion of families, many connecting for the first time all day, to pitch the newest mortgage product. I feel sad when I hear people blast the American culture for these things without remembering that an equal, if not greater force lives within us and is available within the very culture that feels oppressive. What forms could this force have taken in the case of reading my article? The form of perhaps the greatest human freedom; the freedom of creative thinking.
One creative option was to sign up for the newsletter, read it, accept the usual, "Welcome, New Subscriber" emails and promptly unsubscribe. Unfortunately, for the rejecters, some form imminent pain was top of mind. Another creative option in the category of alternatives usually scoffed at was to simply decide not to be frustrated by the solicitations and ignore them. I have spam-killing software on my computer. I've trained myself to delete and not think about whatever new youth potion or anatomy-enhancing product they're hawking these days. Another option, which I'm so glad two people saw, was to request the article be sent in the body of a regular email. This demonstrated a wondrous blend of participation, selfishness and generosity. These folks kept important boundaries in place and still shared in the party. Another option is for (them to tell) me to chill out and not think so much about these things. After all, it is Saturday, and I do live near the beach!
We don't have to be a victim to this If-It's-Breathing-Sell-It-Something culture. We can worship bigger gods. We can cultivate inner peace instead of junk-mail induced malaise. We can choose community over resistance. We can choose to ignore the phone's bleating during the dinner hour, or all evening for that matter, and be determined to create an uninterruptible space for togetherness. We can use the web as a tool and selfishly employ its technology to protect against its intrusions. We can create openness for more peacefulness and vigor in our lives by resisting dualistic thinking – thinking that leaves us with the unfortunate and too-limited choices of either/or, this or that, on or off, up or down. Envision a dimmer switch instead of an on/off lever when seeking options. When it comes to finding ways to have it all, a dimmer allows greater freedom, wider range. Or, think in terms of a prism. Put the question or quandary you're experiencing through a prism and see how many options split out. As with light, I find that there is always a spectrum of available avenues. We can be freer, and therefore more connected in this culture than is often imagined. Don't succumb. Participate fully by making more creative choices than ones that leave you (and maybe us) separate.
I love my family and friends. I am grateful that so many of them shared my little victory. I can't wait for them to read this month's article. Another one was published! And don't worry…I promise to paste it into an email.