The City That Raised Me - People are Not Machines
In the dystopian novel “Brave New World,” Aldous Huxley describes a future where people are grown in pods, each person specifically farmed for a certain role in society. It was suggested that you can manipulate a society as you manipulate machinery. Throw a social program cog here, toss more education gears over there--how much value something provided determined how many resources we dedicated to it. Things that contributed less were quickly weeded out. In reality, when we carry over that mechanistic mentality it consumes our paradigms, meaning it’s also people that are viewed strictly in relation to their social utility.
Take todays elderly as a chilling example. It wasn’t that long ago that being an ‘elder’ was a sign of status. The wisdom of the elderly was sought out--meant to mentor the young and ambitious. They were greatly respected and revered for the Yoda-like truth bombs. “Do, or do not. There is no try.” They were a class of Mr. Miyagi’s training up the next generation of karate kids.
Despite the insistence of 80’s pop culture, we seem to have recently replaced the wisdom of our elders with the Google search bar. Siri is the newest oracle of truth. We can find answers more quickly, with a range of opinions to suit our paradigms in a matter of milliseconds. The more we rely on Google, the less we seem to value Grandpa Joe’s thoughts. So we move Joe into a senior’s home, hoping it has fluffy pillows and decent meals to let us silently ignore him while we use the valuable tools of today to build our worth.
Pope Francis said “Where there is no honour to the elderly, there is no future for the young.” Truth-bomb. What is the cost to well-being when we shuffle away the inconvenient?
I mean, when was the last time Siri nursed you through a broken heart? Or when did Google sit up with you all night after you lost your job, pouring whiskey tea and just listening? By distancing ourselves from the elderly, are we taking away a necessary key to emotional well-being?
It’s true that any scientific knowledge can be better found with a quick Wikipedia search. Yet, those with wisdom born out of the lessons of life, teach our young something that the smartphones cannot: character. The combination of virtues, mentoring and personalized coaching that far outweigh any sort of bland Pinterest quote.
Treating our problems like machines to be tweaked can develop a sickness of the heart. We have no idea what virtue is anymore. We replace heartfelt advice with empty information. We substitute the heart behind understanding for the gears of strategy. Our role models that used to be men and women of honesty and integrity have morphed into those who take the most for themselves. Without heart to heart influence, it’s no wonder anxiety, depression and insecurity are on the rise. It’s dangerous to believe that there are no sick people, blaming only sick societies. Because societies are built with the bricks of individual people. To fix society, we must focus intently on forging stronger bricks.
I’d love to blame government for the lack of empathy, or blame social programs for their inadequacy. But, the more I examine the issue, all I find at the core, is me--all too often playing the role of the bustling passerby in the parable of the Good Samaritan, walking by the injured man on the way to do other, more important things.
Maybe what I actually need is a cup of coffee with Grandpa Joe.
“Those who work for love proceed on the principle that the rich need the poor more than the poor need the rich.”
—Ven. Fulton Sheen