I know that I need to change things in my life. I need to radically change how I eat. Where I live. What I do with my time. Who I spend my time with. Who I love and hope for. I’m very clear about the changes I need to make.
But I’m the King of Excuses. I never deny that the changes need to happen. I always admit it to myself.
Yes, I need to stop eating the diet that’s going to kill me, but I need to get some other things settled first. It’s just self-medication for now. I’ll change next week. Or next month.
Yes, I need to get out of the path of the looming economic and social collapse that I see coming, but I have to find someone to go with me. I have to work out a new financial plan. I’ll get around to it soon. Very soon. I promise.
We’re doing the same things collectively. Many people know that radical change is needed for our communities, cities and countries. Many are uneasy about what we fear is coming. We know something is wrong.
Yes, we absolutely have to make some major changes, but what we’re doing is so comfortable. So familiar. Maybe we shouldn’t rock the boat. Maybe the time of reckoning won’t happen in our lifetime.
You’re probably doing the same thing in your own life. You know you have to make painful decisions. You’ve dreaded them. You’ve known forever that you have to make tough choices.
I was sitting in traffic on the way home the other night when I found myself angry with another driver. I don’t remember what I was so furious about. I probably called him an idiot. I felt anger and even some momentary hatred.
Then I thought of a question. What if the modern society we’ve built simply isn’t compatible with my values? What if it’s impossible to live like a normal 21st century American and to also live the way I believe I should live?
Whether you see humans as created to be what we are or you see us as having evolved to be what we are — or a combination of the two — we are not adapted for the world in which we live today.
We’re adapted for dealing with others face to face. If that driver and I had been walking or riding horses or sitting in slower-moving wagons, we would have seen each other. We probably would have been polite to one another. I probably wouldn’t have been so angry. Instead, I sat in a sealed metal container and he sat in another.
We didn’t have to deal with each other as individual humans.
We’re adapted to living in smaller groups and communities and cities. We’re more likely to treat each other respectfully — or at least decently — if we’re neighbors.
We’re not adapted to interacting electronically with strangers who we will never meet. When we’re online — social media, message boards, whatever — we don’t see the other person. We can be brave and arrogant warriors as we hide behind our keyboards.
When we’re online, we don’t have to see those others as real human beings who can be hurt. We can see them as idiots or fools or enemies — and they can see us the same way.
I want to live in productive harmony with a loving community. My values tell me that I have a responsibility to love others exactly as I’d like them to love me. My experience tells me that I need other in community and that I have much to offer in community with others.
But I don’t know how to live in those ways in the cities and countries and electronic spaces we’ve created for ourselves.
So I don’t end up treating people the way I believe I should. I don’t have the mutually loving connection with a community which I know we all need. And I constantly berate myself for not being the person I need to be — but I don’t know how to live my values in this modern world.
The structure and the ideas of modern culture simply won’t permit me to be what I know I ought to be. And I know I ought to change that.
I know how to live as a 21st century man. This is normal to me. Everybody else around me lives that way. Hardly anybody else is talking about changing this.
So I sit in my car alone. I drive to an office 45 minutes from home. I have opinions about people online, even though I don’t know them well enough to have opinions about them. I become angry that I don’t have the things I need. I blame others for making the world what I don’t want it to be.
The truth is that I can’t change the world, but I can change my own life.
I can change who I spend time with and how I earn my living. I can pick up my worldly goods and move to somewhere that will be safer when this society collapses. I can find people who share my values and who want to live as I want to.
I can do all of these things. I know I can. But…
It’s easier to leave things the way they are. It’s easier not to explain people who wouldn’t understand if I made the changes I need to make. It’s easier than giving up on people who are never going to come along with me on a journey of self-discovery and change.
I need to make changes. Our society needs to make changes. You need to make changes. But we’re all masters of denial. Kings and Queens of Excuses.
I know we need to start making real changes and I know I ought to start making real changes. You know you need to make changes.
In our wiser moments, we do acknowledge this, but we still find a way — so far, at least — to keep saying, “yes, but…”
Note: I’ve kept my thoughts here broad, but if you’d like some more meaty discussion of what I’m talking about, please read “Building a Bridge to the 18th Century: How the Past Can Improve Our Future,” by the late Neil Postman. He was one of the most clear-headed thinkers of the late 20th century about where modern culture went wrong (and why media played a central role in it). I don’t agree with every point he made in every one of his books, but if anything can quickly open your eyes to some of what’s wrong today — and why reconnecting with the ideas of the Enlightenment can change our future for the good — it’s Postman.