Can we fix this?

My early morning cardio sessions are always accompanied by a documentary of some kind. I’ve been making my way through “No Direction Home” on Netflix, which is mostly about Bob Dylan. I have always liked his music – I’m a sucker for meaningful lyrics. A seemingly random 30 seconds of the documentary caught my attention and I ended up watching it several times over.

“If everybody really listened to his own conscience and really acted upon what he thought was right and wrong rather than being so hopelessly passive, which I think every, just about everybody is. I think it’s probably the main disease, the passivity where we’ll listen to whatever anybody else says. It’s daddy, mommy, and schoolteacher, and Sunday schoolteacher, and president.” Joan Baez said it. I had no idea who she was before watching this documentary and honestly it doesn’t really matter who said it. It was the words that struck me.

She said those words 60 years ago and they are as true today as they probably were then. She calls into question our willingness to think critically about the issues of the day. She puts the blame squarely on the individual, essentially calling those unwilling to think for themselves lazy. It’s hard to argue with her sentiment, isn’t it?

It’s easy to blame people. It’s also very difficult. I don’t think we are actively trying to avoid thinking. I think it has become the defining characteristic of our culture today. We have gone out of our way to create enough distractions to ensure we never have a spare moment to think.

Most of us have turned ourselves into robots. We feel nothing as we spend our days taking in massive amounts of information in real time. Others have visceral reactions to every clip and to every tweet. Every clip, every tweet, every comment is life and death. The information comes to us so efficiently, so effortlessly.

In both cases it is clear there isn’t time to think. There isn’t time to question the validity of what is put in front of us. There isn’t time to question if you have looked at the story from all angles. And there certainly isn’t time to question why we think the way we do.

The point in all of this that I have been stuck on and have been stuck on at various times in my life is the idea of independent thinking. This idea can easily be expanded to a conversation about free will, but I think it is best not to go there yet.

It’s hard for me to conclude that most of us aren’t sheep, following the herd this way and that. Never taking the time to question our thoughts, ideas, and beliefs. To fix what may be the most significant problem we have in this country begins with a simple question, are the thoughts, ideas, and beliefs you hold dear even your own? You are responsible for them to be certain, but are they your own?

Over the years, this idea about what you believe and are these beliefs your own has driven me to be turned off by important ideas/groups. Specifically, religion and politics, but also something as simple as sports in this country. If mom and dad are Catholic, then I am a Catholic and my way of life is the right one. If mom and dad are Republicans, then I am a Republican and my view of politics is the right one. If mom and dad love the Tigers, Lions and Pistons, then I love them to. How can I not, I live in Michigan after all.

Allowing myself to simply ignore very important topics like religion and politics because I was turned off by how people come to believe this or that was the wrong decision. It was lazy. That decision allowed me to become disengaged and not pursue my own thoughts on very important issues. Issues that plague our country and our communities today.

We must have the courage to think critically about our beliefs and what we are willing to stand for. What really matters to you? What are you willing to expose to the world because it means that much to you? Your religion? Abortion, immigration, the environment, guns? Have you thought deeply about these things that matter so much to you? Are you willing to listen to others that may disagree with you? These are the first steps in rebuilding our country.

It is true that we live in a free country and we can do whatever we want or more likely not do anything at all. It’s also true that everything we do, or not do, has consequences and these consequences will have long lasting effects. Our actions and inactions will be passed on to the next generation. They will use what we did and didn’t do as a playbook for how they should live their lives. I wonder if we will be proud? I won’t be. I desperately want the next generation to think deeply, to find ways to a common ground on topics that are so polarizing today. It’s starts with us and it starts now.

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