Just a Thought: September 28, 2016
Taking a cue from autumn.
The autumnal equinox arrived on Sept. 22: a day of balanced light and dark with endless metaphorical potential.
Autumn inspires emotional balance, too. The giddy excitement of summer might now be tempered with melancholy; but the change reminds us to pay attention to the moments as they pass.
What is this? A New Age greeting card?
But truly, it is so much easier to appreciate a shimmering afternoon, a warm breeze, and a blooming sunflower if you know your opportunities are waning.
Perhaps the greatest gift autumn brings, though, is its gentle encouragement to slow down and reflect.
It's so easy to get caught up in summer's go-go-go mentality. All of that extra light keeps our circadian rhythms rocking; but by late August, we might just want a breather.
Then arrives shining September's magical skies. Even at high noon on a perfectly clear day, autumn's light is soft. Dawn and dusk are less edgy, too. They don't have summer's urgency or propulsion of life forward. It's a relief, really.
We don't exactly live in a culture that values softness, if you hadn't noticed. Or slowness. Or careful, methodical deliberation. Instead, we're hyped up from all directions. From entertainment to elections (if there's still a distinction), the message is that softness equals weakness and slowness equals stupidity.
About 10 years ago, I saw a TED talk by Carl Honoré, called "In Praise of Slowness." I used to show it to Gannon University students, already exhausted by their resume-building, constantly-connected schedules. Most of them longed to live in a less-pressured world, but couldn't imagine such a thing was feasible. And many, at 19 or 20 years old, were already deeply nostalgic for simpler times.
Honoré explores how we got so rushed, arguing that "speed becomes a way of walling ourselves off from the bigger, deeper questions. We fill our head with distraction, with busyness, so that we don't have to ask, am I well? Am I happy? Are my children growing up right? Are politicians making good decisions on my behalf?"
That last one haunts me, come election season. Of course, the fact that numerous Americans only make time to notice what our elected leaders are up to once every four years is alarming enough.
So many more of the decisions made by state and local elected officials will have direct, everyday effects on our lives. The quality of our regional air, water, schools, roads, economy – these are being determined each day by officials elected by far too few of us who bothered to get to the polls.
And the reality that countless Americans have so little time, since they're working multiple low-wage jobs just to get by, is even more disheartening. But inevitably, many Americans whose lives are devoured by work will vote for the national and local candidates perpetuating the very conditions oppressing them.
Yet online, as accessible as the latest on Brangelina, are breakdowns regarding how elected officials actually vote on issues. PennEnvironment, for one, just released an exhaustive document regarding our Pennsylvania officials' environmental priorities.
Also available are resources regarding how "truthy" politicians' statements are, at politifact.com – an invaluable tool come debate season.
We are all products of a culture addicted to busyness and compulsively filling every waking moment with distractions. But we're also a culture endowed with the responsibility to elect those whose decisions will largely determine the quality of our lives.
Surely, we can find time for that.
Katie Chriest can be contacted at katie@ErieReader.com.