It is no small matter to consider the tempests of passion within men, when left untampered by the classical sense of virtue. We have only to look to the current state of national—even international– dialogue to conclude that social interaction through technology, alone, will often result in imagined ill-will and vitriolic response. How can the art of diplomacy, with its delicate nuances and oratorical skill be possibly conveyed well in 140 words, or less? More and more, social etiquette and the Judeo-Christian attitude of giving the “other” the benefit of good intentions has given way to immediate gratification of technologically-based, impersonal interaction. Indeed, hiding behind the keyboard one may easily suspect the unknown “other” of the most abhorrent designs, offensive and unreasonable. Pairing this anonymity with the immediate, sensual gratification that comes as an attribute of technology has dulled the wit and sharpened the senses—making men thin-skinned and peevish. The point of this article, however, is not to lament the advent of technology—which has brought so much convenience and opened doors to new and incredible connectivity with the world– but to engage a practical answer to the question, “how might we reverse, with real impact, the tide of sociopolitical strife overwhelming our culture?” Indeed, there is a real need to counteract the culture of death, despair and overwhelming, irrational anger. Or we risk, as General Kelly recently lamented, “nothing left sacred.”
In order to change the world, one might consider the Classical Realist School of International Relations, which believes the foundation of socioeconomics and politics on the world stage is the struggle of individual men for power and prosperity. Pope Benedict XVI, in his March, 2007 response to the EU’s choice to overlook the Judeo-Christian cultural foundations in ratifying the union, lamented “A community that builds itself without respecting the true dignity of the human being, forgetting that each person is created in the image of God, ends up doing good for no one”. It could be reasoned, then, that from the microscale of society, goes the balance of men’s appetites on the world stage. In addition, philosopher Joseph Peiper, in his book “Leisure the Basis of Culture”, writes, “Relationship, in the true sense, joins the inside with the outside; relationship can only exist where there is an “inside”, a dynamic center, from which all operation has its source and to which all that is received, all that is experienced, is brought.” From this, the reader may conclude that, in order to have a true relationship outside oneself, one must build upon an interior, rightly ordered.
Upon observation, one may find within our culture, an incessant narcissism– the antithesis of this call to right-ordered, selfless relationship towards the “other”. We often talk over one another—but do we take time to hear the other? Assumption of intent is a byproduct of pride, and what is the epitome of pride by an incessant interest in self-promotion, especially at the expense of others? It is here, and not technology, that the reader should focus his first “push back”. What must be, fundamentally, a combat against a miserably self-centered culture. What will draw others from their mirror-gazing stupor to begin such a profound journey?
Could it be that the beginning of countering this culture of miserable narcissism, and thus the culture of death and even the world culture steeped in strife, starts with setting aside time to encounter the other? Could the world be impacted by such a simple act? Of course, there is also the risk that “other” may not be receptive. That’s fine—the lovely thing about freedom is that one has the ability, sad as it is, to reject what is good. The fact that you make the first step outside yourself will result, inevitably in others responding in kind. Consider the phenomenon of “paying it forward”. A simple scenario could very well occur: I can choose to pay for the order of the person behind me at Dunkin Donuts, and the result may well be that this person, in the good mood such an act produces, chooses not to react angrily at an employee’s mistake. This employee may, in turn, recognize a major error in the way the business is being done that saves his and his coworker’s livelihood, which could very well impact the education of their children. This may, as a result, educate the future doctor who discovers the cure for cancer. All from a cup of coffee. Too farfetched? It is interesting to note that, while George W Bush was President, he invited Vladimir Putin to his ranch for horseback riding, fishing, cigars and steak. This simple show of hospitality, meeting on common ground of masculine interest, was the foundation of respect, cordiality and diplomacy between these two men—and thus reflected in the warming of relations between both countries…a warming that was, unfortunately, short lived, but allowed for cooperation between our two Nation-States that trickled down to real impact on multiple fronts. Similarly, our efforts could begin, simply, with family dinner—but to make an impact, they cannot end within the circles we have built or our comfort zones of familiarity. We must venture out into the community where we live. This is the real test of our desire to wage war against this culture bent on narcissism. As the title of this article suggests, the reader should consider revisiting the lost art of human interaction. This may mean rebalancing our social networking and opening our homes and hearts to those to those who are starving for authentic affirmation of their value. That, or simply using our technology to arrange a coffee break (or wine…wine is good!) with our coworker or friend, and share our commonality—our personhood. If even a small percentage of readers took on this challenge, the impact on this arid, selfish culture would be immediate—and who knows? Maybe, over that glass of wine (or a cup of coffee), the world as we now know it, will be forever changed.