I am beginning to worry that ours may, in retrospect, be called “The Age of Obliviousness”. Worrying studies show that the almost 18/7, if not 24/7 barrage of “noise” (via cellphones, Ipods/Pads and whatnot) are producing people with a reduction in the literal ability to hear (an almost 20% reduced ability in some cases). Everything is on “full blast” — nothing gentler need apply. So too with garish visuals that numb our appreciation for subtler visual nuance, increasingly explicit movies where the visceral nature of the guts and gore on display somehow are acknowledged as “realism” (though the action scenes are almost cartoonish and outlandishly caricatured and only the destructive aftermath has any realism at all), and even cable channel “news” shows that resemble a bout of extreme fighting (an actual debate requiring attention to ideas would be doubtless far too onerous).
Last night my wife and I attended the 25th anniversary celebration of the musical Les Miserables at the O2 Hall in London (which usually hosts rock concerts)…over 30,000 people attended, it was beamed live around the world…quite an occasion for those of us who love this exceptionally stirring, evocative, powerful, edifying, musical masterpiece. Alas, the mike volume was at times so high that I wondered if everyone had a hearing problem…or would leave with one otherwise.
But far worse, at the end, when the original cast came on, and various songs were reprised, with current cast stars and the original stars singing together, no sooner would a song begin but the crowd would start clapping and cheering, thereby drowning out the very song and performers they were cheering for!
Though they were utterly drowning out key parts of the songs, yet people had a euphoric look on their face! It almost begged the question of whether they came to hear themselves scream or to enjoy extraordinary performances at an historic event.
Some of these original artists may not ever be heard again in these portrayals — certainly not in concert (pun intended) with younger stars at such an occasion. Rather than revel in the moment, to drink it in, to swoon (silently) over the performances being lavished on us, why scream, clap, and holler, competing to outdo everyone else in terms of frenzied volume, as if the main aim was to participate in an orgy of squealing delight? Let the performance conclude, and then indeed, let’s give back our appreciation and share our joy for all we’re worth if we’ve been overwhelmed.
To me this was a microcosm of forgetting at many junctures where we are and why we’re there. We tap distractedly on our “Crackberries” while allegedly with those we “love” in intimate moments. We listen half-heartedly at key moments when customers tell us what they need — though these same customers may well hold keys to our livelihood and flourishing. We arrive at a stunning spot for an unforgettable sunset, and are too busy posing in front of it for pictures, to take in the fullness and majesty of the experience. We kiss someone wondering how to progress romantically to the next step, rather than making the kiss worth lingering over and carrying on from in itself. We speak not to communicate but to project, we listen not to understand but simply to polish our own response. We have to manically look and act like we’re having a good time, rather than relaxing enough and being open enough to actually have that good time.
Our fascination with our own tastes, peeves, selves, as projected by twits who twitter endlessly, and Facebook-induced self-absorption, is producing a culture in which the exalting of who we are, rather than evolving and developing who we are, celebrating our egos over our potential, and wanting desperately to bask in the reflected glow of someone’s celebrity (rather than becoming justly celebrated among those who matter in a calling of our own), exemplified by the artistic obscenity of drowning out those whose talent you’re there to bask in (as at the O2 Les Miz performance), is becoming worryingly pronounced.
So what to do? Let’s remind ourselves that we are here to experience life, to experience and express our own potential, to learn and teach, to receive and to give, and to thereby meaningfully connect with others. Our sense of isolation and irrelevance is not dispelled by drowning out our doubts with unremitting loud noise, or dissipating consciousness with every pop-cultural or technological distraction out there.
Rather, our sense of existential futility is better transcended when we can fully engage and commit — to things we care about, to areas we are seeking excellence in, to those we love, and to purposes that require our genuine commitment. We grow up and outgrow our haunting fear that we are the sum of all things…and worrying perhaps the sums don’t quite add up. We instead tap into the generative, multiplier benefits of passion, community, love and engagement.
We will shout less, and enjoy more. It may be time to reclaim aspects of our sanity and our souls from all the bedlam. As we pay more attention to where we are and why we’re there, we’ll also be less easily duped and manipulated, in tastes, in ideals, in decisions.
And more people fully present and engaged, “here” and knowing where here is and why it matters, is something the world, the business world no less than the world-at-large, could really use. Let’s join that crusade!