Are we losing the spirit and purpose of quietness?
Quietness and privacy are intimately linked. We need that space inside us that can’t be intruded upon. It’s a place to go when we must make the most important decisions of our lives.
Are we are losing the art of privacy? Perhaps even losing the idea of a right to privacy? The result is that we are further enmeshed in the ‘machine of society’ that appears to be the world ‘out-there’; something that, from a spiritual point of view, is deadly, for it robs us of the only true source of knowledge about our real selves.
Much of this is fuelled by the digital age. Most people have far more digital connections than actual friends. Spending time with our digital friends is easy – we just sit down with our device and that cup of coffee, and message, share emails or even video-talk face to face… There is another sense of ‘needing to’ here. There is an expectation that, since we are part of this or that group, we need to spend time within it, to help keep it functioning.
It’s not the real thing, but it’s a significant part of the real thing. My son’s family live in Australia, just about as far away as you can get. We have visited, but not recently, due to Covid. The years are passing, and the joy of being face to face with our two young grandchildren is deeply missed. But at least we have the ability to make video calls, which maintains some semblance of connection. In this sense, the connectedness is a good thing. We are choosing to use the only link we have to connect. Privacy is not an issue.
But our relationship to social media is a much more complex thing. If we have achieved a stable adulthood we have the discrimination to know when to ‘pull back’ and live in the real world. But our children are growing up in a world where the expectations in digital space are just as powerful as we used to have in the school playground. There is, in the child’s mind, very little differentiation between a conversation in reality – with all its subtleties of non-verbal communication – and one carried out in cyberspace.
Recent allegations about social media have revealed an institution that is alleged to take a middle-ground opinion and steer it towards an extreme view; and this deliberately designed into the algorithms that govern what we see. To an adult this is dangerous – few of us have the time to really research a political situation, so we look for a ‘trusted’ source of condensed research. To a child, it’s deadly; forming early views that can become fanaticism: like the shooting of others in a college gardens… Once, again, the healthy mature mind is not in danger; but a mind nudged towards an extreme is.
With governments, the position of social media is even more scary. Good government is by consensus and encouragement, not the imposition by authority. The police, as tools of the state, walk a fine line between the democratic and the overbearing. With social media, we have the authoritarian’s perfect tool: a mechanism to sway opinion to a degree that will ensure a manipulation of democracy – with lies, of course; but lies wrapped up in memes that appear to make clarity of complex situations.
Life is complex. The patterns of the truth, like those of lies, must be arrived at with long consideration, for they will form the basis of how we make decisions that affect the rest of our lives.
We are not just sponges that absorb other people’s hatred. We are complex beings who take in information in a variety of subtle ways. The truth is part of that distilled information if we let it be so. If we are consumed by the prejudice inherent in whoever is paying the social media big bills, then we are not using what nature has provided us with – the ability to think, feel and decide for ourselves.
It may be that the digital age was always going to be a pathway to doom. But equally, it can be democratic and ‘info-cratic’. It need not reflect the lower part of our individual humanity – the base reactions and unthinking, inherited opinions. Most of us are not like that, anyway – except when we’re lazy and don’t take the time to value truth. Some don’t want the truth; they are happy with the sideswipes and sleaze of the ever-present gutter-press and the new gutter-bytes.
All the world’s a stage, Shakespeare wrote; now perhaps a loud concert. With the volume at max the chances of having a deep relationship with our own thoughts and true feelings is minimal. But we can ‘package’ that external noise into a single ‘thing’. And by seeing it like that and seeing that it is not ‘us’, we can push it away to a safe distance… and spend some time with the loving and deeply considering being we really are.
©Stephen Tanham 2021
Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.