We live in a noisy world. We have coming at us in any given moment: telephones that no longer sit quietly next to our bed or on our office desks (they now follow our every step into movie theaters, churches, and romantic dinners with our lover); mail that no longer comes once a day on the eagerly awaited footsteps of our postman (now it beeps its electronic announcement night, day, and every moment between); news that no longer slaps at our doorstep at dawn or arrives from Walter Cronkite’s lips at dusk (it comes at us 24/7 from so many contrary and irritating voices that it’s hard to know whom to trust).
Yes, we can turn off the cell phone, the computer, and cable TV. But they remain a demanding, addictive call to arms. We are sorely afraid that we will miss something.
There was a time when we missed nearly everything, and never felt the loss. Never gave it a thought – so fully preoccupied were we with our immediate human relationships and the unavoidable life in our faces.
I can almost hear my elder son, some 6,000 miles away, laughing his head off at these thoughts. He is mocking my words – calling them nostalgia, accusing me of being an old geezer.
Permit me to clarify: mine is neither a judgment nor indictment of the abundant gifts of technology, the miracle of instant communication, the demanding world we’ve created.
But rather, how can we discern? How do we decide, among the Google of accessible information: What holds water?
Many years ago, the Hawaiian grandmothers told ‘Iokepa: “When you’ve heard all the lies, you will know the truth.” Daily, in these years, he has been strenuously tested.
There is so much knowledge, so little wisdom. In every niche of the internet, we find voices of ignorance that will affirm our own. There is no longer a need to be alone in our nightmares, fantasies, conspiracies, or falsehood. Everywhere there is a chat room or a website to keep us from feeling the occasional, well-deserved loneliness.
In the early days of cell phones – when it still felt outrageously intrusive to have the person standing in line with you at Starbucks answering classified ads or in the toilet stall next to yours arguing with a boyfriend – there was still the remaining hope of an agreed-upon civility.
‘Iokepa used to laugh and say of that invasive cell phone usage: “Yes, we know you’re not alone. We know you have someone who will actually speak with you.” It did, at times, sound like the point of it all.
So there is Rachel Maddow and there is Bill O’Reilly. There is Wikipedia and there is Amazon. Newspapers disappear but there is no escaping Google. Publishers and bookstores fold; Netflix flourishes. Choose your weapon.
We fill ourselves with endless trivia. We have no protective sensory screen. Infomercials pour into our ears and eyes, and then undigested, out of our mouths. It is a terrifying national version of the childhood game of Telephone – so many distortions in the repetition.
We repeat what we hear, but have no ability to explain what we have repeated. We are marionettes, and someone – many, many someones – are pulling the strings. We pass as literate when we are really puppets. We spout opinions that won’t hold up to challenge. We heard it, we read it, and it sounded true. The plethora of source smothers any likelihood of independent observation or idea. How do we know what holds water?
Without exception, my authentic thoughts and feelings (mine, not Keith Olbermann’s) emerge from complete silence: in my walks along a beach, down a country lane, or in an urban forest – those places where my gut drowns out the stuff my mouth spouts reflexively. My answers matter, it seems, only if they’ve traveled the full length of my looping intestine.
Yet I realize that even a walk in the park demands a certain confidence – and its corollary, courage. We must fully believe that we are capable of independent thought. Then we must exorcise the noise that passes for consensus and conventional wisdom, in favor of our own quiet knowing. ‘Iokepa says: “We owe it to our souls.”
If it holds up alone on top of the mountain, it will very likely hold water.