Wednesday, February 22
We are in Starbucks, two small tables pulled together, six men around them drinking decaf or tea, and one hardy soul drinking leaded. It’s 9:30 in the evening. The conversation is politics, although it is less a conversation than a carpet-bombing by the three conservatives.
As in: We’re winning the war in Iraq. As in: So what if people are being held as suspected terrorists, but haven’t been charged. As in: The absence of liberal talk shows demonstrates how little support there is for their cause.
The other two men listen and offer an occasional comment, but I can only watch. Not because I agree, but because I feel as if I’ve been ambushed.
Just an hour before, these same members of my men’s group were engaged in a discussion about Eckhart Tolle’s suggestion in his new book, "The New Earth," that we overcome self-imposed limitations and "play in a bigger game." The key to playing in a bigger game? Associating with those who encourage excellence.
The response was powerful and positive. One guy said that when he played tennis with someone better than he was, he played much better. Another had the same experience playing golf. Just that afternoon he had engaged in an impromptu pitching and putting contest with a guy training for the PGA tour.
"I was making the kind of shots I never make," W said. "I played 40 percent better than I usually do."
As spiritually nourishing as our meetings usually are, they are seldom as uplifting or enthusiastic as this one. Which is why the discussion at Starbucks was so disappointing, and why it bothered me still the next day.
It had less to do with our political differences, although I do find it incomprehensible that people I like and admire can come to conclusions so different from my own. And yet if that’s the price of our friendship, I’ll pay it willingly. These are my friends.
What kept coming back the next day, however, was not the words but the emotions. If my friends’ beliefs gave them serenity and secuirity, there would be nothing to say. But instead what I sensed was a dark, troubling undertone, a mixture of hostility and anger, the need to be right and the need to win. It was the negativity that was so disturbing, and so at odds with where we’d just been.
Of particular interest were repeated references to the media: CNN was terrible, too liberal; Fox News was "more balanced." Another guy spent much of his day listening to talk radio.
I could have pointed out that Fox is owned by Rupert Murdoch, who made his fortune with trashy tabloids in Europe and Australia (women in bikinis on page 3) and whose network also seems tuned to the lowest common denominator.
I might also have remarked that the lack of liberal talk radio shows is one of the few good things to arise from their ineffectuality in recent years. Radio talk show hosts are rude and mean-spirited. They have little regard for facts or kindness, and are the polar opposite of everything the our group stands for.
What concerns me about the media is the "corporatization" that has taken place over the past decade or so, largely due to the hectoring of conservative groups and the faint-hearted response of management. The result is a fourth estate we can no longer depend on to engage in the investigative, boat-rocking journalism that protects our rights and freedoms from the corrupt and greedy.
There is also the media’s long-standing addiction to bad news: war, violence, disasters, death, tragedy, accidents, pestilence, disease, etc. Not only is the formula repetitive and deadening, it is also spiritually toxic. A steady diet of "news you can count on" – the slogan of one Atlanta TV station – would exhaust the jolly adrenals of the Dalai Lama himself.
Frequent exposure to the media is not what I call "playing in a bigger game." It’s slumming with the Liliputians of a dying paradigm. It encourages anger, hostility and fear on the one hand, and manipulation on the other.
But how can one be an informed, responsible citizen without turning to the media?
Probably you can’t. I skim the local paper a few times a week, watch Jim Lehrer’s (carefully balanced) news hour, read the occasional story online and browse The New York Times and BBC websites.
But before exposing myself to any of that, I inoculate myself with my minimum daily requirement of spiritual reading to fortify my immune system. And I do my best not to engage with those whose minds are aleady made up.
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