Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Flyover Country

Flyover Country, 2008

I met a young man the other day who surprised me by being so disconnected from the world around him. I feast on information. It introduces me to places and people. It stimulates my thinking and keeps me from becoming, well, disconnected. So being around someone who is so out of touch was both a challenge and a curiosity.

This young man is happily unaware. He goes about his life, fully faithful to his family and job, but avoids further responsibilities. He rarely reads a newspaper or watches the news on TV. He doesn’t text or Tweet. If there’s something important he needs to know, he figures it’ll catch up with him.

All this insight came about as a result of a simple remark. I don’t even remember what we were talking about. But out of nowhere came this comment:

“Yeah. Right. You wanna know when I last voted? I don’t know when I last voted. I don’t know if I’ve ever voted. Ask me if I care.”

There’s some bliss in being so carefree. It’s the same bliss I find among some extreme Christians; they’ve purposely stepped away from responsibility for the world they live in, a world of such shades of gray that it’s hard to find absolute blacks and whites, and instead focus on abstract notions of bliss in the hereafter.

As nice as it is to drop off the “grid” every now and then, I don’t buy this argument.

Years ago, I had the chance to talk to a lot of people in farming communities across the country. Farmers’ lives are prescribed by the seasons. They had more than enough to keep them busy minding their operations than to be worried also about the world beyond their fences. They had a peace about them, a resignation to their condition, acceptance of the cycle of life and death, and a respect for others and ability to endure hardship that was admirable.

One day it hit me. They were content to be. They didn’t want more than they had or want to be more than they were. They appreciated the beauty of nature, the love of family and friends, the merit of hard work and the value of a good apple pie.

It might seem like they live in an insulated world. But the difference between these people and the young man I was with recently was that when it came time for them to be involved in the life of the larger community of mankind, they stepped up, whether that meant helping a sick neighbor, serving on a committee, voting in an election, or sending a son or daughter off to war.

As you can probably tell, it bothers me when I meet people, especially young people, who chose a life of such voluntary isolation. It’s a coping mechanism for them. I realize that. They’re overwhelmed, and this is their way of scaling life down to something that fits them. And I have no right to inflict my values on them.

So who's the innocent here?


  1. Yeah--I have to admit that that bothers me, too. To me, that kind of attitude just implies a laziness, and a "let everyone else take care of it all for me," rather than stepping up to the plate and helping. Hey--we're all in this crazy thing called life together, and we can make it a sometimes beautiful experience, or we can wallow in the mess that results from no one doing anything. Personally, the latter's not acceptable to me. I also think there's no chance of creativity bubbling up out of an empty well. I just think that's sad.

    And I'm not sure I would call it innocence, Chris--I call it "Learned Helplessness." One's a benign thing, the other is passive agressive.

  2. Whoops--That would be "aggressive." ;)