Friday, October 10, 2014

Not to worry

    My son recently needed to take some food to school for a sort of "cultural potluck"; he chose potstickers--which, of course, need to be cooked.  The morning of the event, he got up, came downstairs, and immediately asked whether the potstickers were ready to go.  His mom and I were in the process of making breakfast, and knew that the potstickers would get ready in time.  And, even though we tried to reassure him that things would be okay if breakfast occurred first, it was clear that, until those potstickers were packed and ready to go, he felt that there was cause for worry/concern.
        In reflecting on that morning's tableau, I concluded that what mom and I had was something he, at his age, lacked:  perspective.  In his thinking, things needed to happen quickly, concretely. There was little room for uncertainty or ambiguity; the consequences (either being late, or not having a contribution for the potluck) were too great.  And I understand!  I remember clearly feeling much the same way when I was his age.
       But wait. . . .
       I don't think that concern over uncertainty is something we outgrow. I know I can't claim that I have outgrown it, and my impatience with him that morning testified to that!  But also, the increase in diagnoses of anxiety disorders, or the prescription of anti-anxiety medications, would suggest that "worry" is not one of those things that has gone away with evolution.  Certainly, worrisome questions abound on a university campus:  "Can I afford tuition?"  "What if I don't get into THAT graduate program?"  "If I don't get that article submitted before the deadline, what will happen with my tenure application?"  "Will we meet our admissions goals?"  "One of our key players is out with an injury; how can we be competitive this tournament weekend?"  "What will I write for my Friday reflection?"
       Neither news, nor social, media help matters.  Whether the reports are of Ebola, the latest atrocities brought about by ISIS/ISIL, failing infra-strucure in the nation's roadways, unethical politicians, crime on the streets, or "shared" Facebook posts, the old journalism adage seems to reign true:  "If it bleeds, it leads."  And that cliché runs hand-in-hand with another (from marketing):  "Create a need, and then meet it."  The "causes" for worry are all around us.
       I certainly don't want to minimize any of those threats (well, maybe some of them deserve minimizing!)   I have to wonder, however, about the question of perspective, that is, what is the "need" that is being created, and then filled?  The uncertainties that we face are subject to manipulation by others for their purposes.  Comparing the reporting on almost any event by Fox News, CNN, Al Jazeera or the Huffington Post reveals clear differences  . . . . with associated (desired), different, responses from us.  The "void" created by the uncertainty can be filled by someone else's answer, probably addressing that person's fear/need. But should that be OUR response?
      An answer to that question seems be well-illustrated in the familiar story of the Good Samaritan.  A mugging victim is left by the side of the road.  Two passers-by leave him there, socially "conditioned" to worry that something "bad" may happen to them if they were to help.  An unlikely third potential helper steps beyond such social conditioning and gives aid.  Compassion compelled him to leave worry/threat/fear aside.  His perspective was different -- a fortunate difference for the mugged victim.
      Fortunately, for my son, Mom's immediate perspective was little different than mine. She had compassion, set aside concern for the "necessity" of breakfast, cooked the potstickers, and sent him on his way.


Chaplain Gary

No comments:

Post a Comment