On living in the age of disruption

Honeysuckle vine

On any given day I find my head spinning from the disruption of our times. From a wrecking-ball approach to governance to people taking their own lives to rapidly evolving concepts/technologies like cryptocurrency and blockchain to threats of nuclear war, each new day offers an opportunity to live in fear and uncertainty, unmoored from tradition and an established order that once seemed perpetual.

Jill Lepore, writing in a fascinating piece published in the June 23, 2014 edition of The New Yorker titled, “The Disruption Machine, What the gospel of innovation gets wrong,” said, “Our era has disruption, which, despite its futurism, is atavistic. It’s a theory of history founded on a profound anxiety about financial collapse, an apocalyptic fear of global devastation, and shaky evidence.”

Today, it seems, each new disruption (whether in the fields of politics, finance, religion, technology, or more) is accompanied by calls to fight the change. One could spend every minute of every day fighting the change or wrongs brought about by the dizzying array of disruptive efforts. We seem to live at a time when up is down, left is right, friends are foes, and hate triumphs over love.

How does one live during this unsettling time? Can one fight every battle? Can one bury his head in the sand? Does one voice matter?

I don’t have the answers to those questions other than to say that I think we humans aren’t wired to be constantly engaged in chaos. With recent national focus on mental health, my takeaway is that it’s unhealthy to fight every fight coming at us (and who can possibly keep up with my country’s president’s Twitter feed). We can’t sustain the constant engagement and confrontation. It leads to anxiety and depressive thoughts and hopelessness. But to completely disengage also seems wrong, creating a false sense that everything will turn out okay.

Today’s disruptive forces appear staggering, and it’s tempting to think the phenomena is new. I suppose its volume and scope is new but it seems history is rife with examples of disruption as a means to change the world. Is there “anything new under the sun?”

How did past generations handle it? I imagine there are myriad examples of ways to live through disruptive times that are unique to the specific disruption. My mind goes back to an Old Testament story of a people having been led to captivity in a new land. If I remember the story correctly, rather than wallow or worry about the future, their leader encouraged them to plant trees and to garden right where they were and to live life.

I think there’s a principle in that story that applies today. I can’t possibly sustain anger, fear, outrage, and battle positions 24/7. That approach leads to negative outcomes and, in my opinion, weakens one’s ability to engage long term in selected areas of concern. I need to withdraw for a bit each day to my journal or a book or a piece of visual art or to our garden. I need to rest my eyes and hands on the beauty of natural things like honeysuckle vines. I need to recharge my ability to empathize by reading literary gems, or expand my soul’s capacity for recognizing beauty amidst chaos by lingering over a piece of challenging and compelling visual art. I need to work my heart’s muscle by writing, even if only for my personal benefit.

We live in an age of loud, in-your-face disruption. It has the power to overwhelm and destroy individuals and groups. Some disruption, as it always does, will shepherd in positive changes. Other disruptive forces will challenge our capacity as human beings to live alongside each other with love and compassion. I can’t live on Twitter or other media sources 24/7 and maintain my human capacity for discernment and compassion and awe and wonder. For that, I must go to our garden with a book in hand.

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