Thursday, June 13, 2013

Learning Patience In A Hyper-Culture World

SCRIPTURE: Colossians 3:12
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: June 13th, 2013

"Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. (Colossians 3:12)

Have you noticed how your teen has become more easily bored? Even with the latest apps or technological gadget, not only are they less easily satisfied, they are also more ready to jump from one latest-and-greatest thing to the next even greater and even later thing. Welcome to the new world. A world in which people are increasingly overstimulated on their visual senses, that they are demanding things faster, more sensational, and more dramatic. One example is the movie. In the 60s, acts of violence are pretty much a slap on the backhand compared to what we are seeing nowadays. Previously, violence is about cowboys in a gunfight with Indians, or people engaged in fist fighting, etc. Nowadays, the violence on TV and the movies show gruesome images of heads blown off, bodies smashed up, and whole groups blown up with a horrific terrorist attack. I find sci-fi movies like "Starship Troopers" particularly difficult to watch. In the film, the director is quite liberal in the showing of human soldiers being literally ripped apart by alien insects. Video games are also increasingly more violent and visually bloody. "Common Sense Media" has listed the Top 10 most violent video games here. One does not simply fire a round of bullets. The player has in his possession, digital arsenal from bombs to splattering cannons, missiles and ferocious knives, anything to enhance the pleasure of killing the enemy. It seems like winning is not the only objective. Annihilation is. 

This week, I will reflect on the plight of an over-stimulated, hyper-saturated, and quick-gratification culture.

A) The Narcotic of Sensationalism

You see them everywhere. At the supermarket tills, at the convenience store, or at newstands all over the city. Sensational news reporting is here to stay simply because people are quickly and easily attracted by them. Sensational headings sell. Many of the biggest culprits are tabloids that substitute the ordinary with the sensational, making something bigger than what they actually are, just like plastic and cosmetic surgery on the face.  The purpose of the sensational headlines is to sell more papers. The problem is, it works. On the internet front, modern news websites entice people to click with engaging titles that deal with sexual scandals, death defying acts, violence and gore, out of this world headings, etc.  I have fallen victim to some of these attractive ads as well, some knowingly while others unknowingly.  For example, on AOL Mail, each time one logs out of his account, he will be automatically sent to a AOL front page containing multiple news sources from A to Z, from business news to sports, from celebrity gossip to weird happenings around the world.

Snapshot of (June 13th, 2013) (Credit: AOL)

Just take a look at the snapshot in the picture above. Sex sells. Beautiful women and large busts too. Even adding in some juicy stuff to an ordinary thing and you get additional clicks to please your advertising friends. With social media like YouTube and Facebook, sharing "Fear Factor" or "You Must Watch This" videos is so easy and convenient.

There is a friend I know who likes to post sensational videos on social media. He posts it so much that I begin to wonder whether he is addicted to such stuff. I call this the narcotic of sensationalism. Such a drug basically numbs us from feeling anything much about the ordinary. No longer is one satisfied with plain words. One needs pictures. One looks for multimedia offerings. One prefers stuff that goes straight into the bloodstream of hyper expectations. One expectation then leads to a higher expectation. One bullet is not enough. One expects a stream of bullets. In the movies, one missile is too gentle. One needs a ballistic missile that splits into multiple intelligent heat seeking devices that not just blow up, but wipe out entire cities. Hit TV series like 24 is another example of how violence becomes more and more pronounced with each season. I shudder when I watch how the hero Jack Bauer is able to take more hits to his physical body, and how the enemy is able to come up with more and more out-of-this-world feats.

With viral videos increasingly being linked to profits, Youtube currently hosts many videos that makes sensation the staple diet of many, relegating the ordinary pretty much to the sidelines, to be the exception rather than the norm. My concern is this. Are we becoming so hyper-saturated that our learning has become dependent on such narcotic of sensationalism?

B) The Death of Patience

The problem with sensationalism is this. It window dresses the ordinary with artificial stuff. The second problem is, it leads to the demise of patience. One popular quip marketed by certain medical professionals is this: "Be patient, not a patient." Having dealt with many cases of people speeding or driving recklessly, causing accidents along the way, they advise motorists to exercise a bit more patience on the roads. This is simply because many of these road accidents could have been easily avoided if people are a little more patient. That way, it reduces the number of patients that hospital staff have to deal with each day. My medical friends tell me that weekends are notorious for drunk driving incidents and road accidents.

I remember driving along the highway, observing the speed limit as best as I can. Along comes a speeding car quite a distance away behind from me. The driver swerves from lane to lane and finally tailgates me with flashing lights. It seems like he cannot wait for me to change lanes, and so he moves dangerously in and out the other lanes in spite of the lack of safety distance among the various vehicles. His action causes many other drivers to tap their brakes. You can tell that one act of recklessness leads to many drivers getting worked up and irritated. One bad thing leads to another.

Another case was that of an impatient driver waiting for a parking lot. For some reason, something made the driver very angry and he decided to do a speed reverse without much thought. As a result, he smashed at another vehicle that had just entered the car park. Society has a big problem with impatience.

C) Patience and Wisdom

The Great theologian Augustine of Hippo once said, "Patience is the companion of wisdom." Not only that, Jesus says in Luke 21 about the trials and tribulations that will come in the last days. Being able to wait upon the Lord's perfect timing is not only a virtue, it is survival too.

"In your patience possess ye your souls." (Luke 21:19, KJV)

What has patience got to do with wisdom? I believe there is something to do with time as well as the way that we are created. Life is not simply about listening. It is about intentional listening for things that truly matter. Recently, I watched a closing scene of the hit series "Castle." The current series had the two stars, Kate and Castle having a dating relationship. At the end of one episode, after cracking a difficult case, Kate asked Castle the question: "Castle, where are we going?"

Thinking that Kate was asking about what activity to do next, Castle proudly introduced his willingness to do a full body massage for his beloved Kate. If only Castle had listened more carefully at what Kate was asking. Like many women, Kate wanted to know what the future of their relationship is going to be. Will it be a just-friends relationship? Will it be leading to marriage? Where actually is their relationship going?

Unfortunately, Castle amid his cheeky smile missed everything by a huge mile. He had rushed too quickly to see things from his own perspective, that he had missed seeing things from Kate's perspective. We have a lot to learn when it comes to living as a responsible member of the community. Part of the problem in our culture is that we have replaced the important things with the less important stuff. Rabbi Harold Kushner writes with great insight about the purpose of life:

"The purpose of life is not to win. The purpose of life is to grow and to share. When you come to look back on all that you have done in life, you will get more satisfaction from the pleasure you have brought into other people's lives than you will from the times that you outdid and defeated them."

If in doubt, choose Community
We fail to practise patience enough because we have misunderstood life altogether, caring for ourselves instead of looking out for one another. Life is not about accumulating more and more possessions. It is about caring and sharing. It is about living for the sake of others. It is about looking out for one another. Instead of climbing up the ladder of independence, we need to be spending time building bridges of interdependence. For us in a hypersaturated world of sensationalism and quick-fixes, we need to pace ourselves by spending more time with one another. We need to learn inter-dependence and to cultivate the virtue of relying on community to help one another. Move away from the deceitfulness of self-reliance and independence. For if we fail to live as community, we are planting the seeds of loneliness. Patience can be cultivated when we live together, fight together, and learn together. Sensationalism paints over an artificial veil over human beings. Community living through patience and goodwill removes the artificiality and encourages authenticity.

Patience is a virtue. With patience, we are not easily enticed by the worldly and the sensational tabloid style reporting. We do not need to catch up frantically with the latest and the greatest. If we have patience, we will see less honking on the roads or reckless speeding. We see less heated tempers at carparks, and more livable lifestyle even in busy places. With patient listening, we see less misunderstanding in relationships and more communications and connections among loved ones. With patience, we cultivate a virtue that not only helps build bridges in communities, it pleases God.

If the future kingdom of God is likened to a garden, we will know that like gardening, relationships need time to build up. Patience is a virtue to help us do just that. So my friends, in a hypersaturated with of information and over-information, pause regularly. Take a step back. Smell the flowers. Turn off your internet. Notice your neighbourhood. Say "Hi" and pause to listen for conversation starters and bridge builders. That is how we grow to love a culture of neighbourliness.

THOUGHT: " Faith, and hope, and patience and all the strong, beautiful, vital forces of piety are withered and dead in a prayerless life. The life of the individual believer, his personal salvation, and personal Christian graces have their being, bloom, and fruitage in prayer." (E.M. Bounds)


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