The first most dangerous thing happening to us is the number of people who seem not to care and who also seem to relish this confusion as a payback to the educated, the compassionate, and to all those who look for the good in other cultures and societies.
This did not happen overnight. It has been some time coming, riding on the airwaves of self-proclaimed authorities and saviors who came to control a major TV network, assassins of the human soul who learned to dress up ideologies as news, bullies of power seeking violence who appealed to the lowest instincts of human nature by parading aggression as the demonstration of leadership. Shame! May God forgive them for their reckless manipulation of our worst yearnings, and may God forgive us for sleeping while the charade of false truth-telling poisoned the public mind.
But here we are on this Memorial Day, May 29, 2017, which also happens to be the 100th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's birthday. Perhaps it is a synchronistic happening that I should be on Cape Cod while some reminiscing of the Kennedy years occurs here on the Cape in various venues, in the local as well as national newspapers. For example, the New York Times today has included a thoughtful reflection on Kennedy, including his self-description as "an idealist with no illusions." An "idealist with no illusions." This is a provocative description, is it not? Our present-day leader could very well describe himself as an "illusionist with no ideals"!
Consider what these words mean:
- illusion: a kind of perception that is mistaken. I perceive the crowd as I look at it to number 100,000, but it is actually only 50,000. This is an illusion. Or again, I perceive the scraping sound on my front door as a burglar attempting to break into the house, but it is actually a tree limb rubbing against the door -- an illusion.
- delusion: a false belief that the great majority of people would recognize as false. I believe the earth is flat, or I believe the icebergs are not melting, or I believe the earth was created in 6,000 years -- delusions. The great majority of people would look at these beliefs as false.
- hallucination: A perception that has no basis in outer reality. For example, I hear the wind and perceive it to be calling my name.
- Fake News: (1) Information that is presented as truthful information, but is intentionally false. There is an intention to mislead for some ulterior reason. (2) The labeling of truthful information or news as fake, in order to compromise the impact of that information and confuse the public.
Illusions, delusions, fake news -- these dominate our social media, as does an occasional hallucination. How confusing this is. How disorienting, and how disruptive to our conversations with each other about everything from personal family sharing to the shaping of public policy.
And how difficult it makes the formation and sharing of ideals. Swimming against the strong current of cynicism, mistrust, self-serving rants of political ideologues, the fear-mongering rumors of conspiracy theorists, and the fanatical threats of fundamentalist preachers, the speeches of a John Kennedy, or even a Barak Obama, are received with derision and counter-attack.
But at least for this Memorial Day occasion, and in remembrance of how we once responded to a noble declaration of idealism, I will leave you with this long poem still worth the reading. It was written by Max Ehrman in 1927, another time of darkness and uncertainty about our way. For many of us in the 1960's and 1970's, Desiderata offered a light to go forward.
Go placidly amid the noise and the haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly, and listen to others,
even the dull and ignorant,
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons;
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter,
for always there will be better and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble.
It is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs,
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals,
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself. Especially do not feign affections.
Neither be cynical about love,
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment, it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe
no less than the trees and the stars;
You have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive God to be.
And whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life,
keep peace in your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.