Thinking Critically in a Spontaneous World

Good early morning,

It is 3:43 a.m. And I went to be around 10:00 or so, and in a pattern that is more normal than what I have done lately, I am awake though it is early. This past week I have had nights where I have slept more than 8 or 9 hours straight, which is beyond rare for me, and one night, with little more than opening my eyes and rolling over, I slept 13. That has not happened  without the help of alcohol (which was earlier in life) for probably 40 years. Yet, I do feel rested and after reading the news and pondering the rather bizarre range of events for this day, I find myself waking up on this 4-20 completely unadulterated, which again is a change from earlier in my life. Spending most of my days around late-teens and early 20-somethings, I can assure your many will consider the significance of this date in a rather fuzzy state. In spite of that fact I was in Hawaii in the service, where more potent herbal matter was available, I think our options for vegetarian smoke were not nearly as dynamic or capable or changing our day as the current green matter readily obtained for general usage. I should also note it is 8 years ago today I interviewed before and with my current colleagues. The plethora of events and significant changes in my life during this time make it seem much longer. I might also note that 4-20 was my parents’ wedding anniversary. In addtiton, if you do not know the origin of the present 4-20 celebratory rationale, it might be interesting to look it up. Fox News, ironically, had a news clip on it today.

The connection, and conversations of late, which transport me back to my Iowa town have also been reminiscent of a sort of time-warp experience (and I am not a sci-fi person – am not, nor was I ever a Trekkie), but that has been helpful, revealing, healing, cathartic, and simply enjoyable. It has taken some thinking and careful (but not difficult) reflecting. Amazing how some of our most essential traits never change, but we can understand how they affected behaviors or actions from our earlier life. While somewhat, at least initially, shocking, time and distance allows the rose colored glasses to lose their tint, thereby exposing our pitiful failures in those moments we were most vulnerable. As noted in a previous blog, the maturity aspect of my being always seemed to be bringing up the rear in my human development. Perhaps what is happening in this current situation is the opportunity for me to make amends for my earlier deficiencies or my completely irrefutable bungling. What I know is it has been helpful to accept or own that significant defalcation from 40 years ago.

Understanding or accepting our missteps or inadequacies is never easy, but I believe that is because introspection is frightening. True introspection leaves us bare before ourselves, and when we are completely, totally, unabashedly honest, there is no where to hide. We are simultaneously frightened and freed. We are allowed to come face-to-face with both the inadequacy of our humanity and yet understand the miraculous nature of what and who we are, something given by a creator, and you can understand that in whatever terms you find most helpful. It is sort of like those students who will be walking across the platform receiving degrees. The number of seniors who have come into my office a bundle of emotions and thoughts during the past few weeks is substantive. They are frightened. They are excited, but most of all they are sort of laid bare. They are uncertain of their futures and this uncertainty forces them to think a bit more intentionally than some will during this Block Party Weekend. The world into which they “launch their little barks” (and they are Huskies) is a very different world than the one I was entering in 1983 as an undergrad. We were in an economic downturn as I was graduating. In spite of the misguided belief that the Reagan White House had us economically humming, reality was something quite different. Look up the interest rates or unemployment and a few other things. What students are understanding is their missteps in that EGGS’s class, or PSYCH class, or MATH class has come back to haunt them. That GPA was hurt more than they expected or imagined. That semester where they sort of took a dive did not disappear and the long-term result of those extra beers or other mind altering issues, or perhaps the stress of external factors, took its toll.

The past couple of days there have been actual articles in the national news about the complexity of being a millennial. It is true that it is harder to be an 21 or 22 year old now compared to 1977 when I was there. An article noted that “[i]n 1975 only 25 percent  of men (which is an interesting gender note) ages 25-34 had an income less than $30,000 per year. By 2016 that share rose to 41 percent of young men” (Ali 2017). Articles I have read note that more than 1/3 of all college graduates “plan” to return to their parents house to live after graduation. This is something we would have never considered. Living at home was the worst of all possible options. I was so determined to not be at home by the end of high school graduation (1973) that I entered the Marine Corps,  not a typical decision for a 12-year-old-looking-17-year-old-barely-100-pounder-with-overgrown-ears. While there was little critical thought that went into that decision, I was fortunate that the long term consequence was much more optimal than I ever anticipated. I had opportunities because of that decision never thinkable Even to this day, that honorable discharge from the Marine Corps means something more powerful than I ever perceived possible. In my rhetoric class this week, I noted the rhetorical concept of proairesis, the power we have of “considered decision making.” That considered decision has been demonstrated to me again as I continue to manage some things that have been a long time coming. That considered decision as I watch from 1,000 miles away as my mentor and friend somehow manages to wage war against that which works so hard to take him, but he wages that war in a manner that all I see is grace, strength, and inspiration. Mary noted how they are supporting Dan in every aspect of his remaining moments. It is so difficult to read and yet, I know how important it is for them at this time. Life is the most amazing oxymoronic thing we have. We love it and hate it. We wish for it and deny it. We plan for it and we neglect it. As some of you know, my dissertation was a rhetorical analysis of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer is an interesting theologian for a multitude of reasons, but when he was a pastor in London, he noted the following when speaking about death.

He wrote, “Why are we so afraid when we think about death? … Death is only dreadful for those who live in dread and fear of it. Death is not wild and terrible, if only we can be still and hold fast to God’s Word. Death is not bitter, if we have not become bitter ourselves. Death is grace, the greatest gift of grace that God gives to people who believe in him. Death is mild, death is sweet and gentle; it beckons to us with heavenly power, if only we realize that it is the gateway to our homeland, the tabernacle of joy, the everlasting kingdom of peace. How do we know that dying is so dreadful? Who knows whether, in our human fear and anguish we are only shivering and shuddering at the most glorious, heavenly, blessed event in the world? Death is hell and night and cold, if it is not transformed by our faith. But that is just what is so marvelous, that we can transform death” (Bonhoeffer). Can we transform it? Can we see it as an ally rather than an enemy? To make this transformation requires more than merely faith, or so it seems. It takes thinking, planning and accepting. It requires us to imagine something better than what we know in our partial and limited perspective. There is something good about knowing the hour or the time, but, if we are aware, we often retreat to denial of the inevitable. We would rather imagine anything other than our finitude. Perhaps the gift of these past months for me has been to consider the reality of beyond life as we know it. Perhaps the gift of seeming to regularly question my mortality of late is to be less frightened of what many feel is the alarming question of “what if?” Before you think I have fallen off the deep end of morbidity, please reconsider. I still have plans, and even long-term plans, but I think what the last months have reminded me of is that adage of no guarantees.

The spontaneity of our world should work to remind us of this very adage. Things are changing, progressing, or reconstructing so quickly that we are generally unprepared for what is coming. As a consequence, we will grasp onto anything we can, hoping for some sense of security. Yet through our grasping, our desperate gropings, we miss the significance of the moment; we fail to realize that it is in that very moment we need to pause and take stock of what is essential. We need to think. Too many would rather we do not think. Too many would rather we get caught up in our desperation, merely trying to survive. Without critical thinking, which requires time and effort, we are like the bottle that has been tossed into the proverbial sea. Without critical thinking, we are simply bouncing along, hoping and praying someone else will find and save us from our lack of thinking. From our obsession with needing to know everything at every instance, we have little time to step back and consider what is important. Through our capabilities to know almost everything, anywhere, anytime, we find ourselves overwhelmed with data and information. Ironically we know very little, almost any place, and at every moment. When we are overloaded with images, words, sounds, and (you can add the next thing), we have no time to think and ultimately we have even less time to realize either who or what we are. We are more interdependent than we think. We can listen to nationalistic pronouncements of putting  ourselves first, but there is a consequence. We can claim we have things under control, but seldom is that the case. While I am sure this sounds a bit cynical to some, I believe there is something within us that offers a different option. There are times when we find our way to see the bigger picture, and thank goodness we do. There are times when we realize, by thinking, that all is not lost. There are times we can be reminded that there is goodness in both the other and in our creation. Those are the moments to which I cling. Those are the moments when I am compelled to dig down and, in faith, believe there is something larger, better, and more salvific than we might readily see. Indeed, I believe in, and have, hope. I am reminded of a video and an amazing group of musicians that once remembered our responsibility to each other. That is the video I offer. It reminds me to once again think, and to think critically. In the midst of our spontaneity, take time to pause; take time to think critically, and then believe in the better. The artists here have reminded me of the amazing life I have had.

Thanks as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

Author:

I am a professor at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and the director of the Digital Rhetoric and Professional Writing minor, a 24 credit certificate for non-degree seeking people, and now a concentration. We are working on a 4+1 Masters Program with Instructional Technology. I love my work and I am content with what life has handed me. I merely try to make a difference for others by what I share, write or ponder through my words.

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