My family and I attended a public gathering last evening in a neighboring city with an estimated 800 in attendance. The occasion was promoted as an opportunity for dialogue. I was disappointed, but not surprised, at the lack of dialogue. The word “dialogue” comes from the Greek root “dia”, meaning “through”, and “logos”, meaning “word”. A dialogue then is to be a “talking through”. Tragically, the factions last night did anything but “talk through” their differences. The host group talked down to the audience, while many in the audience shouted at the various speakers. The chance for honest give and take had been lost when the organizers’ format resulted in a series of lectures rather than a panel discussion with adequate time for reasoned questions and answers. The resulting frustration of some in the crowd was vented via repeated interruptions. This discouraging event was simply one manifestation of our cultural lack of either the desire or ability to really communicate.
We have more means of “talking to each other” than ever in history. But, I am convinced we see less real communication than ever before. Thus, we have national dementia.
The speed of society has driven some of this relational demise. Years ago I read Richard Swenson‘s book Margin. He nails the dilemma squarely by identifying our penchant for overcommitting. This lack of restraint may be well intentioned but is unhealthy none the less. It leads to underperformance as we never seem to get done the things we “need” and want to do. We are attempting so many things simultaneously that we can’t seem to do anything well. We have self or otherwise imposed deadlines that we just can’t meet. We rise earlier and earlier and go to bed later and later. We’re always fatigued. By the end of the day we are totally exhausted, frustrated, and not infrequently cranky. In this milieu, try having a deep, meaningful conversation with your spouse or child!
As a family doc, I see this behavior causally related to a host of health problems. People are so busy without adequate time for sleep, exercise, intimate conversation, or simple reflection. They major on fast food, power lunches, and quick snacks on the run. We did Sunday School survey years ago and were stunned by the abysmally low number of meals shared each week by the “average family”. I suspect today’s families fare no better.
Alzheimer’s dementia is largely irreversible. But, our national plight is treatable if enough individuals are willing to go against the culture and have the courage to lead us out of the morass. Each of us must choose to limit our activities to what is manageable. We must learn to say, “No,” to good things so we may say “Yes,” to the best things. We must return to a time of sitting at meals together with family and friends and eating slowly with pleasant conversation. We must turn our cell phones off for a time and talk to the person sitting across from us. We must go for walks, or rather strolls, in the park or through the woods or around the block. Texting has its place, but real dialogue includes eye contact and body language and tone of voice.
If we choose to live intentionally and well rather than fast, we may regain a sense of balance and margin in our lives. We can connect to our family and friends. We can know what is really going on in the hearts of our loved ones. We can live healthier and happier lives. We simply have to want it bad enough to make some real changes. May God give us the grace to do so.