Friday, January 14, 2011

Clinging to Trees

Frequently, news reports of flash floods will feature someone clinging desperately to a tree while the waters roar and roil past. And as I watched such a scene the other night, I had another of my little metaphorical epiphanies: each of these scenes is a pretty good metaphor for life. The churning waters are the flash floods of events and situations beyond our control that so often come upon us suddenly and threaten to sweep us away. And the tree to which we cling is hope.

Over the course of our development as a civilization, societies have tried to build dams to prevent the flooding of situations and events from carrying us away and destroying us. But too often of late, it seems, certain sociopathic individuals, for their own reasons, insist on deliberately opening the floodgates for the sole purpose of creating as much damage to our institutions and disruption to our individual lives as possible. That there are so many of our fellow human beings not only willing to but intent upon sweeping away everyone with whom and everything with which they personally disagree. It is hard not to despair, as the rushing waters engulf us, and not to lose our grip on the tree of hope.

Like many old sayings, "those who cannot create, destroy" contains a strong element of truth. Take a moment right now to seriously try to remember the last time you heard a truly positive, conciliatory, inclusive statement or proposal from the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck, the far-right media, or the more extreme members of congress, who base their power on destroying rather than creating.

Where does this obsessive need to play to our negative emotions come from, and why? The impetus for this blog came from an e-mail forwarding sent me by my cousin, a kind, loving, decent human being I adore. Yet the article she forwarded was devoted to a new Fox "poll" so egregiously and obviously divisive and inflammatory in intent that I couldn't believe she or anyone could possibly give it credence. But because it appeared on the internet, I assume her assumption was that it had to be true. Here is the gist, taken from the forwarding: "Fox is running a poll about whether the flag should be banned in schools in order not to inflame Hispanic students."

Dear Lord, dear Lord!! Who in their right mind could possibly, possibly believe this could be true? "Inflame Hispanic students"??? By what possible logic could anyone assume that the presence of a flag could "inflame" anyone? The implication that "Hispanic students" are not also American citizens is not only totally without merit but beneath contempt.

Remember Ray Bradbury's classic Farenheit 451, in which books were considered dangerous and the primary job of firemen was not to put out fires, but to start them, to burn books? We have a frightening and increasing number of those firemen among us today, whose purpose is to fan the flames of ignorance, intolerance, and hatred solely for the purpose of increasing the ratings of their radio and TV programs. Attention is far more important to them than truth.

I of course realize and truly regret that so many of my own blogs dwell on the negative, and that by so doing I am in effect feeding into the general atmosphere of negativity I condemn. But the more sensitive we are, as individuals, to the world around us, the more disturbing this exponential increase in negativity becomes. We are increasingly becoming desensitized to negativity to the point where we simply accept it and shrug it off. Yet to not recognize it for what it is, or not to consider the harm it is doing is to perpetuate and accelerate the problem.

I see, on rereading the above, that I have once again stumbled into the trap of mixing metaphors and thereby risked diluting the power of any of them. I began with water, and ended with fire. But it is the third metaphor, of hope as the tree we cling to to survive, which is the one that matters most. Water can drown us; fire can destroy us, but hope is the only thing which, when all else is lost, can save us.

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