If we survey the course of human history, the list of accomplishments and achievements is staggering. Innovation has always been a strong component of our existence, and it continues to produce ideas that, not long ago, were viewed as fiction, as impossibilities. Time and again, humans have managed to defy common perceptions and go beyond what was thought to be possible, and in doing so, have made the world a better place, and made our existence much easier to navigate.
We live in a nation where almost 700,000 people do not have a home. We live in a nation where fifteen percent of our population live below the poverty threshold. We live in a nation where one out of five children go to be hungry every night. We live in one of the richest countries in the history of the world, and yet, there is still a large percentage of our population that doesn’t have their most basic needs met each day.
How is it possible, given all of our technological advancements that allow for everything from GPS navigation to space travel to stem cell research to internet accessibility via a plethora of devices, that we cannot take the same innovative approach to ensure that our fellow human beings have their most basic of needs met? How it is possible that, given how the world seems to be shrinking and growing smaller because of our technological advancements, we still have a large percentage of people who seem to not even be a blip on our cultural radar or even register in our collective consciousness? Find any list of problems facing America from any news source, and the homeless and the hungry will (more times than not) be conspicuously absent from the list.
Therein lies one of the many paradoxes of our culture today: we have the means and the minds to provide sound, solid solutions to complex problems and achieve creative success in ways that used to seem impossible, but we direct that creativity into making technological devices that, while making for a more convenient lifestyle for those that can afford them, still tend to focus on their “coolness” factor and entertainment value. As powerful a tool as a computer, tablet, or smart phone may potentially be, they are primarily used by most people as a vehicle for all things trivial. In the process of this, the truths, realities, and facts that make us uncomfortable are pushed far away behind the sheen and novelty of the latest and greatest device that we possess. While we may be able to effectively not think about the problems that plague our culture and turn our attention and focus to a more comfortable place, it doesn’t mean that the problems disappear. Rather, this approach exacerbates the situation, as it creates a situation in which not only are we not acknowledging the problem, we’re not even thinking about it.
Now, this is not an indictment of culture in particular, nor is it an indictment of technology in general. Rather, it is a request that we collectively consider the fact that there are those who exist around us that are disadvantaged to the point of not having their basic needs met, and that we focus our amazing creative inventiveness on generating solutions to problems that need not be seen as unsolvable. If we can create a device that is no bigger than our hand, but is capable of taking pictures and movies, playing music, accessing the internet, and functions as a multi layered communication device, we should be able to create a solution to the problems of homelessness and hunger.
To do that, a few things need to occur. The first (and quite possibly, the most difficult) is that we need to dispel the notion that folks who are in a position to experience homelessness or hunger have somehow “brought in on themselves” and that they have “nobody to blame but themselves” for the predicament that they are in presently. While that may be an easy way to seemingly dismiss the dilemma entirely (even though this take only comes out of the mouths of people who currently are NOT homeless nor hungry), it does nothing to create progress towards the solution and is counterproductive towards problem solving. Are there people who live on the streets that have made some questionable choices in life that have accelerated their descent into their present state? Of course there are. However, that doesn’t make them any less human than those of us who are currently fortunate enough to not exist in that fashion, and being part of humanity is what ties us all together. This sentiment was best expressed in the words of Eugene Debs:
“While there is a lower class, I am in it, while there is a criminal element, I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.”
If we can ever get to the place in which we see the stories of others as being our stories, when we see the trials and tribulations of others as being our trials and tribulations, and we see that what compromises the life of another fellow being as being one and the same with our lives, then we will be on the road to a better understanding of what it actually means to be human, both as individuals, and as members of the human race. In order to begin the journey to such a place, we have to cease rushing to the notion of blame, and instead rush to the notion of understanding.
The next step is the we need to come to an understanding of (and an admittance to) the fact that, while our technology is amazing, it is literally changing the way our brains think, and it averts our attention from the bigger picture and directs us towards places of distraction. (Note: for in- depth analysis of this phenomenon, I would urge you to read The Shallows by Nicholas Carr). We must make the time in our lives as individuals (and then later, collectively) to put the distractions away for some time. Turn off the music (or at least listen to music that gives us space to think and reflect). Turn off the television. Turn off the phone, the tablet, the computer. Be still. Contemplate the parts of our culture that don’t always feel good to consider. Ask ourselves, our families, our friends, our community what can be done to alleviate something problematic in the world and assist our fellow members of the human race who are in need of assistance. Granted, we have to start small, and it will not happen overnight, but at least it is a start. Then, keep at it. Find like-minded individuals and groups to share ideas, share strategies, share anything that will promote the common good. There is not only safety in numbers; there is power, and transformative power, at that.
Finally, we need to remove our fear of and resistance to working as a collective. Unfortunately, that word is too often mistaken for “Communism” and “Socialism”, when it is neither one of those entities. Communism and Socialism are political and economic theories, while working as a collective is simply a group of like-minded individuals working together to achieve a specific goal. However, mention the possibility of a “collective conversation as a nation about X problem”, and you will often be met with immediate resistance. This knee jerk reaction occurs because, in America, we have been indoctrinated to recoil from anything that can be remotely construed as either Communism or Socialism (or both), as either ideology runs contrary to the present systems in place. However, we shouldn’t fear working collectively to try to solve problems that have plagued us for years, especially when there are so many ways in which we haven’t tried to solve them.
So, does a single individual possess the definitive answer that would cure the aforementioned problems? Of course not, and that is precisely why we need to come together collectively, merging our experience, our expertise, our innovations, our imaginations, and our ideas to find a solution to problems that need not (and should not) exist.
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one
Here’s to holding on to the hope that someday, somehow, we’ll see Lennon’s imaginings realized. We are capable, we have the ability, and it’s not too late.