On the last page of the current issue of the "Utne Reader", there is a listing of things that Utne hopes will manifest over the next 25 years. Among them I read this:
"Americans will put the brakes on the growing tendency to "amuse ourselves to death" with constant electronic entertainment (laptops, TV, video games, iPhones, etc.) Instead, we'll grow increasingly interested in the Other--people who are truly different from ourselves, not just those on the opposite side of the globe but the people living next door and across the street as well. We'll use social networking not to find people who are like us ( creating what I call ghettos of like-minded people), but to find people who are unlike us. And we'll invest the time getting to know them until we realize how similar and connected we are after all."
Reading this quote really brought me up short because, of course, I share these sentiments and I also feel increasingly skeptical and, frankly, bored with the prevalence of 'groupthink' in society and organizations. It can't be lost on too many people that we are a very polarized nation, so much so, that I recently heard CNN commentator David Gergen remark that he had become seriously concerned that "this country has become ungovernable." Now, if any of you know who David Gergen is, you know that this is not a guy prone to throwing out the dramatic one-liner--he's a very serious chap with impecable credentials and a quiet affect one could almost call flat. I was quite stunned by his comment and it has led to several weeks of thinking about the way we, as a country, have divided ourselves up into ever smaller, narrower cohort groups that increasingly seem to demand not just conformity but unanimity; it becomes very, very hard to disagree without being censured by the group, or dismissed altogether. Even within Churches, there is a line drawn between those parishes or congregations that are deemed "liberal" and those thought to be "conservative" and I don't recall ever hearing that kind of demarcation in a religious setting as a child or young adult; it's a very recent phenomenon.
I think that Eric Utne rightly terms these groupings of like-minded people "ghettos" because they become places where there is little creativity or energy beyond promoting the ethos of the group, or protecting it from "outside" attack. A large part of my work in the area of "Commonsense Birth and Parenting" is committed to encouraging women and parents to avoid online "communities" and forums devoted to very narrow issues that seem to attract devotees' who require strict adherence to a particular parenting idea or ideal, to the point where any deviation from the path to "perfect parenting" is ridiculed or criticized, often very cruelly, and people are NOT encouraged to think for themselves although there is always this interesting little codicil called "making your own choices" but it assumes a quite strict and limited hierarchy of possible choices with those falling outside the groups' norms viewed as "not choices" or, if chosen, made in abject ignorance ie. those who don't believe or do things a certain way "just don't get it" and the group is "better off not absorbing their negativity". Never mind that there are often good ideas to be found outside our limited internal palette of operating instructions and many, if not most of those, will come to us as a natural part of becoming real flesh and blood friends with someone. It comes of asking the neighbor for her thoughts, or a woman at Church, or in the grocery store or at work. It comes of being open to real people and to the continuity and trust that arises out of having to take them in fully, as whole persons, not as faceless, nameless "ideas" coming through a computer screen that can be taken in as emotional, intellectual or spiritual fast food, leaving the undigestible portions to be dumped into the "trash" with the touch of the keyboard.
Online forums and communities are often intolerant, biased, over-focused on a single aspect of concern or interest and offers up a lot of very, very questionable "data" and information as incontrovertible truth. They are the antithesis of independent thought while claiming to be places of "freedom" and "choice". They aren't. They're ghettos. They are places that shut down real dialogue and lead many, many young women and parents into a kind of frozen despair not to mention addiction to electronic communication which is becoming a very real and pernicious danger for a lot of people. Spending hours on a computer, roaming around the ether looking for a 'fix' of "advice" or "wisdom" or the "answer" when someone has a house with children in it and those children are being left to their own devices except to be screamed at when they interrupt mom or dad while they indulge their "addiction" is unhealthy to the core. It doesn't have to be porn addiction to be dangerous and degrading. Being addicted to approval, being addicted to the attention that comes from having an "online" personality that becomes popular or even controversial, can take a person down the path of addiction and with the same end result as every other addiction! There are people who become depressed or anxious when they aren't getting 'fed' by the computer, when someone isn't responding to their posts or comments. If you feel a little "empty" without a computer-generated "fix" take notice and put the whole thing on 'pause' until you figure out what the emptiness is really about, and what you really need to fill it; I can promise you that it isn't going to be filled here on the computer.
I don't want to be anyone's "answer" to life's problems. I don't want anyone to think of me as having their answer, at any rate. Your answers about how to live out your pregnancy, birth and raise your kids or anything else that's important to you is found only within your own heart and mind. You can read all the books and scan the computer looking for something that resonates with you but at the end of the day, you have to get back to the real work of living, loving and being with real people; your own family. Your mate. Your kids. The computer provides an easy escape from the stress while allowing us to believe we're doing something productive ie. we're "looking things up" or "researching our choices" or "getting information". What we're doing, most of the time, is just sitting there, staring at a flat screen and typing because we are afraid to live our real lives because something in them isn't working. Maybe the marriage isn't really working, or perhaps the choices you are making about raising your children aren't really true and good for you. Home schooling can often become a trap for parents', especially for mothers, if they are doing it out of some idea that "really good, really cool parents" home school. Or you use a particular home school curriculum because your friends do. Maybe you need to put your kids in school. Or, if they're in school, maybe you need to take them out. The point is, you won't find those answers online. You'll more than likely only find more confusion, or you'll find a group to do your thinking for you and then wonder why you are so depressed and feel as though you've 'sold out' to someone else's ideas.
I'll end here with what I will call a little "admonition": I'll continue to post things here for as long as anyone wants to read them but I won't write "advice" articles. You don't need my advice. You don't need my "wisdom". You have your own. I'll write about what I've done and how I've lived it out but that isn't meant to be prescriptive, and shouldn't be taken as anything but my writing about my life. If you do anything at all with my writing, my ideas, let it be in the area of leading you inward. I hope that every post will contain some word of encouragement to "go deeper" into your own inner knowing, your own lived reality. As Educator Parker Palmer says, "Let Your Life Speak" and don't live inside the "ghetto" of the like-minded. Ask the questions that move beyond labels and ideologies to where people really live. Get out there into the world and let go of needing to find people who "think like you do". It's the people who don't think like you do who stretch your boundaries and inspire your growth. A little bit of agreement with others gives us a temporary security; offers a cup of warm comfort on a hard day, but too much shuts us down and limits us into living very unchallenged lives. Remember the old Socratic dictum ~ "The unexamined life is not worth living". That means challenging your beliefs and asking questions from all sides, not just that which feeds your ego and do realize that ego is what is involved if you find yourself making decisions not on the best interests of your children and family,but on what allows you to "feel" a certain way about yourself as a parent and even more so if part of that 'feeling' involves feeling that you are, or will be, "better" than other parents. Be careful! You're heading down a slippery slope.
If you love and enjoy your children, you are a good parent. If you love and enjoy your own life and ideas, then relax and get on with it. Don't let this machine keep you from the hard work of sorting out life's mysteries and predicaments. A computer is a tool to be used wisely, but it's a very seductive tool that can start using you.
Now, shut me off, turn off the computer, stand and stretch, and go outside!