It’s tempting to let that be the whole post.
Courtney Martin, activist, author, and a wonderful spokesperson for the millenial generation, addresses Gen Y’s current state of collective mind: “We are not apathetic. What we are… is totally and completely overwhelmed. One of the most critical questions of our time is one of attention. In a 24-7 news climate, it is all but impossible to emotionally engage all of the stories and issues you are taking in, and then act on them in some pragmatic way. So instead, young people become paralyzed.”
Courtney describes this paralysis as the result of a high level of engagement with political issues and news. Indeed, our unprecedented access to global events and information opens us up to empathic overload and system failure. However, it’s not even necessary to be reading news, looking at pictures of war zones and refugees, hearing new alarming statistics on climate change, calibrating our political affiliations, and so on to be overwhelmed. It’s in the air. We are all socially networking, whether or not we even have computers. We are connected and we share and participate in a unifying realm of feelings, input, and norms. It is our culture, our paradigm, the water we are swimming in.
The saying goes “if you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.” But we don’t really need more outrage. The critical question is one of attention–and how we work with it. The habit of our culture is to be attentively scattered and emotionally removed. When we live this way, we share this norm with our friends and family, our students, the people around us, and throughout our network of connectivity, strengthening a subtle but powerful collective habit. The habit is paralysis. We are not unaware of the world, but we don’t know how to respond to it.
We can thaw this ice of paralysis. Attention does not have to be a gateway to outrage and apathy. We can fully inhabit our own lives by learning to be. We can learn to let our attention rest naturally. We are not actually scattered; we are whole. We don’t even have to “pay” attention, as if it were a finite commodity. We are attention. In our being we feel and we care for the totality of our experience. We already care. We don’t even have to crank it up- though we may have to crank it down. Even if we feel completely frustrated, confused, angry, or bored, underneath and within those frozen feelings, we care about our experience and we care about the world. We can melt ourselves. We can meet the eyes of the people we meet. We can learn to let our caring be the warmth of the sun that melts the frozen culture of overwhelm. We just have to start.