A special feature post today … Enjoy!
I recall that when I was a fit, young and vaguely ambitious man – a man always in a hurry – I didn’t have time … nay, I didn’t make time … to open my mind, my eyes and my ears a little more often. I didn’t make time to read more widely, to see things more clearly and to listen more attentively to those, who had something meaningful to say. I guess my thinking was muddled by the testosterone coursing my veins. Whilst I did have a thirst to understand the world, scientifically, and humanity, philosophically, my quests to do so, particularly for the latter, were brief and too often supported by sound bites and misunderstandings, both of which I think are inextricably linked.
The trouble is that life is too full of sound bites – quotations and neat little epithets – and light bites – pictures and particularly imagery – all of which bear influence far more than we consciously give them credit, in those brief moments we spend giving them glancing attention. It is tempting to use these bites to act as the cornerstones of our thinking, easy meat for our cluttered memory banks and agitated minds, which can provide, at a moment’s notice, a convenient prop to any conversation that occasionally transcends our mundane and ordinary existence. But it is likely that they will be cited too often and probably well beyond their use by date! Look no further than our Facebook News Feed, and count the number of quotations to see how popular these bites of information are!
All of this would be well and good, if it weren’t for the fact that life is far more complicated than we’d like it to be. It is for this reason that these bites are so convenient, easy to digest and recall. In my early adult years, I was kept far too busy working to survive and support my family, feed my material ambitions and improve my financial status. This trail I blazed didn’t only inhibit, but also prevented me from spending more time delving deeper into life’s mysteries and, more importantly, examining my own conscience and coming to terms with myself. In a perverse sort of way, it serves the paymasters, marketeers and our representative political leaders well for us not to have time to think and ask questions that really need to be asked, like “does it really have to be this way?”.
That each of us is unique, almost goes without saying. That we are all connected, doesn’t. A problem arises when I realised that each of us has a built-in human instinct, a genetic coding, not just to do our best for the furtherance of our race as a whole, but primarily to ensure our own survival; a built-in selfishness, if you like. How that selfishness is channelled is crucial to what happens next. If we are fortunate enough to have been born with the right genetic coding, into the right environment and economic circumstances, then the temptation to use this to our own personal advantage, for a vast majority of human beings, is almost impossible to resist; we cannot control that urge, because we are never fully in control of our lives. Only a few exceptional human beings ever manage to resist this selfish urge.
These facts may seem to be a deviation from the theme of this essay, but at its core is a truth that each of us is a victim of our circumstances. If those circumstances place us within that ninety-nine percent of the population, who are not independently wealthy enough to determine their own lives and become their own ‘masters’, by virtue of their financial means, then we need to become worker bees. Now there is nothing wrong with this position, nothing at all, in fact there is much to recommend it … unless, and I repeat unless we allow our own conscience to be overruled by someone else’s conscience, so completely imbued with the ‘culture’ that envelopes us in our working, religious or political environment that we permit someone else to dictate the way we think, consciously or unconsciously. This is a perennial conundrum.
I place myself firmly in that section of humanity, commonly referred to as the ninety-nine percent, who are dependent on working for their living or on the performance of others for it – whatever that living may be. We are always in danger of allowing our lives to be controlled by ‘others’, directly, for example by corporate masters, or indirectly, by the advertisers and marketing men, who strive to fill our brains with ‘needs’ we didn’t know we had and anxieties about our status, health, looks and dietary needs … that we wouldn’t otherwise think we had. This forces some of us, maybe more than a few, who are gullible enough, into spending endless amounts of our hard earned income on products that purport to make us better, richer, more attractive, more talented, more admired people. Primarily, this makes the creators of products ‘for the promised land’ wealthier and even more powerful.
So beware of sound bites (notably from politicians, but increasingly from marketing people) and light bites (dazzlingly attractive imagery, primarily from those corporate marketing men) – or the combination of both – and beware the effect they will have on your mind, your thinking and your conversations with others: you know, those casual conversations, which are based on our original instincts for survival, but which have been perverted by those clever PR people, so that, deep down, they make you feel you have to be the one who has the edge; who has the bigger house in the better area of town, the more upmarket car, the better class of friends and acquaintances, the more exotic holidays. All of this is just what those marketing people – and politicians bent on ensuring economic ‘growth’ – continually like to nurture in our minds. This is a kind of envy and an ‘addiction’, which leads us to keep on buying and upgrading. Political leaderships like to play the same tricks, for their own reasons, plying us with those little bites of information, extolling their virtues and wooing us for our votes.
So, I am trying to stand out from the crowd, but not in a show-off kind of way. Rather, I want to be a free thinker. I am trying to achieve a deeper understanding of the human condition and my own conscience; in other words, I am trying to come to terms with myself, discover more about what lies beneath the superficial surface of life, over which it is easier to skate too hastily towards our terminus. I realise that it is a journey that could transport me to places, from which I’ll not wish to turn back and which will bring me previously unimagined joy and fulfilment. I suspect there will be some discomfort on the way, but one thing is for sure. I wish someone had offered me this advice when I was a young man … or perhaps they did and I never listened!
Text: © 2014 John Anstie.
Photo Credits: Main Images ~ © Catherine Drea, Foxglove Lane Studio, under CC A-SA License – Small Image with caption ~ © Randi G Fine (http://randigfine.com/life-meaning-picture-quote-2/)
[This was, in part, inspired by the fact that The Bardo dedicated most of the month of May to International Photography Month. The subject of light (and shade), particularly important in black and white photography, is ever present in our consciousness, but at no other time in history has photography, as well as digital sound, been so important in the world of politics, commerce and art, as it is now. The mood of this essay has turned out slightly darker – or should I say ‘more in the shadows’ – than perhaps it should. I hope that this doesn’t push a potentially younger audience further away from the Bardo, because there is so much here, from my fellow contributors, that is of so much value to all ages. I’d like to make special mention of Catherine Drea, and to thank her for allowing this blogazine to have access to her very special collection of beautiful photographs on Foxglove Lane Studio]
P.S. On the subject of ‘bites’ in a piece that could run parallel to this, extolling the virtues of short poems, I thoroughly recommend reading a post on ‘Poetry and Zen‘ over at Jim Murdoch’s excellent blog, “The Truth About Lies”]
JOHN ANSTIE (My Poetry Library and 42) ~ is a British writer and poet, a contributing editor here at Bardo, and multi-talented gentleman self-described as a “Family man, Grandfather, Occasional Musician, Singer, Amateur photographer and Film-maker, Apple-MAC user, Implementation Manager, and Engineer”. He has participated in d’Verse Poet’s Pub and is a player in New World Creative Union as well as a being a ‘spoken-voice’ participant in Roger Allen Baut’s excellent ‘Blue Sky Highway‘ radio broadcasts. John has been blogging since the beginning of 2011. He is also a member of The Poetry Society (UK).
John has also been involved in the recent publication of two anthologies that are the result of online collaborations among two international groups of amateur and professional poets. One of these is The Grass Roots Poetry Group, for which he produced and edited their anthology, “Petrichor* Rising“. The other group is d’Verse Poet Pub, in which John’s poetry also appears The d’Verse Anthology: Voices of Contemporary World Poetry, produced and edited by Frank Watson.
* Petrichor – from the Greek pɛtrɨkər, the scent of rain on the dry earth.