Anyone who has been to or lived in a big city knows the feeling and instinctively protects himself: "Too much input." The swirls and eddies of people and activities are too much for the mind to process in a very caring way. A smiling baby that might be a focal point of delight at a suburban barbecue is noted and forgotten on a packed sidewalk. A naked man walking in the morning rush to the subway is unusual, perhaps, but everyone has to get to work. There is so much going on that some instinctive editor swings into action -- dumbing down and erasing bits of input that, if taken attentively, would bring the tsunami-struck onlooker to a halt. It is overwhelming and the best anyone can do is look after his or her own concerns, his or her own rush to work, his or her own scurried life.
The same process, I think, happens when assessing the news of the day. News, as one-time CBS anchorman and news icon Walter Cronkite once noted, "is not about how many cats did not get up on the garage roof." And there seem to be an endless number of cats that did -- bad news heaped on bad news. A war here, a suicide bomber there, starvation, privation, uprisings, cruelty ... it's a crowded sidewalk. And perhaps it is understandable that those who pause over one sorrow or another can arouse a sense of irritation ... how much does white-whining accomplish? how about the endless list of other catastrophes to address? Get real!
Too much input. There is simply too much, whether good or bad, to process adequately. So there are shorthand ways of coping with it all, ways to indicate caring without becoming mired and overwhelmed. One way is to place blame. Another is simply to stop giving a shit at all.
Too much input seems to press anyone into a smaller and smaller realm of acknowledgment until finally there is just me and my concerns. Some will complain this is small and egocentric. Are we not our brothers' keepers? What one suffers, all suffer? And the list goes on ... sounding good and kind but not really addressing the smallness that insists. Waving brilliant and compassionate flags doesn't accomplish much other than to reassure ourselves that we are, in some unspecified way, capable of being better.
And we are capable of being better, I think. But it requires some courage.
Some, when they feel the noose of input pushing them back, retreat into an ignorance-is-bliss pose: I don't have to read the news or care for my neighbor. I've got my own stuff ... and I have my bible (my biases and opinions and judgments) to keep me warm. My idiocies will suffice. Others address their overwhelming surroundings similarly ... but it sounds better: I care.
But what takes some courage is to recognize that, yes, the tsunami is too much for any (wo)man. Bliss and shit are limitless, but I am distinctly limited. It takes some courage to acknowledge and investigate the only realm in which I have any say-so ... this right-here, right-now me. Up until now, I have relied on the accolades or enmity of those around me. I am in control and the tsunami is not entirely a nightmare or threat. But now, with the noose tightening, the news insisting, the sidewalk jam-packed, it may be a good time to take a look at the expectations I have placed upon my universe -- or, on a particularly egotistical day, the universe.
Catching a glimpse of the tsunami can arouse all sorts of feelings. Anger, fear, a crumbling helplessness, and a vast sense that there must be some meaning to it all. I deserve better than this! And many may curl up with a good bible as a defense -- my thoughts, feelings, judgments. But a tsunami or a crowded sidewalk does not heed even the most piteous pleas, the most dyed-in-the-wool virtues. The noose is the noose (see "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" by Ambrose Bierce) and no amount of imagination can change the fact.
In what way, then, is our courage brought to bear? Misanthropy doesn't work and saintliness doesn't work. Here I am and that's all there is to it. But, gathering what courage we may, isn't this a good time to set aside our bibles and do our best ... our honest best ... without expecting some gold star or pat on the back or acknowledgment from the rushing waters? Isn't it time to do our best simply because it is our best and our best really is enough? Best -- not to the exclusion of anyone or anything; not to the inclusion of anyone or anything. It's just the best, a nonpareil of is-ness or is-not-ness that does not accede to 'is' or 'is not.'
I don't know.