We have become so self-absorbed that we have little time to think about anything else. We live also in an age of info trivia worship that has become a new art form. Australians have become preoccupied with keeping up with the Jones than helping their next door neighbour. The craving to possess the latest info trinket that promises to give you the latest thrill in techno satisfaction is almost insatiable.
The irony is that our hip and info savvy generation appears so disconnected from the real world and unhappy. We are connected emotionally and socially only to our immediate family and friends. The yearning for more on-line games, info gimmicks and toys hasn’t satisfied a deeper need. Depression among our youth and young adults is rampant and private household debt NOT public debt has reached very high levels.
So where do we go to gain a deeper and meaningful understanding of life, is it sport, the pub or club, music or conventional religion? Perhaps, but more people are turning to pop science/psychology, self-help TV programs, New Age gurus or become Game of Throne or World of Warcraft junkies. If we are detached and isolated socially, we may even join a dangerous, destructive, cult. The search for a way out from the madness of modern life can also lead us to an obsession for self-improvement or suicide.
The individualistic, positive feel good culture and self-obsessed, self-actualisation society has reached epidemic proportions in most Western nations. The gurus of self-improvement from Anthony Robbins to New Age navel gazers are promising life changing experiences if only you follow their prescriptions for a new life. Many New Age gurus have taken out of context, some of the traditional spiritual practices from Western or Eastern religions that eventually don’t deliver lasting satisfaction.
Therefore life just becomes one big techno-gimmick game or a constant search for a new form of personal self-actualisation. The important public issues in life are trivialised and we become like mice on a treadmill lusting for more and more new forms of entertainment.
It is true that we need to love and respect ourselves before we can love and respect others, but no society has ever survived that became so self-absorbed that it lost touch with reality. We face climate change, environmental degradation of our natural resources, inequalities of wealth and income, housing crises in major cities like Sydney and Perth, growing poverty in outer suburbs of our capital cities and major challenges about employment creation for the future.
We can decide that we have a moral and social responsibility beyond the boundaries of family and friends and somehow this helps us to realise that we live in a connected global village, locally and internationally. The level of volunteering in Australia has never been lower and community needs have never been higher. Isolated and lonely people among the young and old are just down the road from us. A smile a good day or even the sharing of a meal can make such a difference in someone’s life. Local councils need volunteers for environmental community programs, youth clubs need volunteers to work with young people. These are the activities that give meaning to lives.
So we have choices we can amuse ourselves with our info games, or contemplate our navels, or start to relink with our community, in a myriad of ways. If we don’t reconnect, we will be amusing ourselves to death while our children and grandchildren watch Rome burn.
Wayne McMillan is an ordinary, concerned citizen living in Whalan NSW. He has discovered over 30 long years that any lasting social change only happens when individual change starts first.
(See Beyond the Myth of Self-Esteem: Finding Fulfilment by John Smith with Coral Chamberlain.Acorn Press)