Over at the online Zen community Treeleaf, I found an interesting discussion, that began as a question about self-hatred, and opened up into several other topics. As someone who has a strong interest in education models, ad who has taught both children and adults, I found the following comments blogworthy:
Zen Teacher Jundo Cohen wrote:
Hmmm. I have had teachers in America tell me that, over the last many years, there is such a tendency to tell every child that "he/she is a winner", that everyone in the contest must get "some prize", that "all children are special" ... that it has backfired a bit. These kids, entering school and then the workplace, then insist that they should get rewarded and be treated as a "special winner" without particularly earning it or exerting themselves.
This is something happening in Japan too, as the kids have been a bit more spoiled these last few generations, and there has been more equalitarianism in the society.
Dosho, an American member of Treeleaf responded:
My oldest is just finishing kindergarten and I haven't seen much of that "everyone's a winner" mentality. His school tries to emphasize each kid's strengths and how they compliment those of the other kids. His class seems to work very well together and his teacher told us he will often cheer on other kids having trouble with some activity. He is scheduled to start t-ball in the summer and they have already indicated everyone gets a trophy, so we'll see how he reacts to that. However, when it comes to sports he participates though doesn't really ever seem that concerned about mastery. He just likes being around other kids, whatever they happen to be doing.
And later on Taigu, the other teacher at Treeleaf, said this:
The world has changed, education can't catch up.
Most of the kids I teach are clueless about themselves and the world, drunk with media , games and computers and very negative. And yet, still an amazing light shines through. Japanese education is not better than Western education. We are in a global hazy zone. My job is to tell these kids that the world is not going to end and that there is a place for beauty, love and peace. My job is also to teach them that work has a profound meaning.
Taigu's comments are particularly of interest to me. When I saw the line "drunk with media," the whole conversation expanded beyond education for me. I started thinking about how prevalent media is in many of our lives, and how "drunk" with various forms of it a hell of a lot of us are.
I used to read a lot of social and political comments. Would scour up to a dozen indy media sites daily, trying to keep up with what the alternative voices to the mainstream were saying about the events of the day. Some of it is brilliant stuff. A lot of it is a rushed attempt to have something noteworthy to say about a particular hot issue. And some of it is just plain noise and nastiness. Actually, you don't have to look very hard to find that plain noise and nastiness, and frankly, going down such rabbit holes is quite addictive.
When I first started Facebook, I had similar drunk experience around collecting "friends," offering comments, and reading people's "stuff." Noise is what much of Facebook is about. A lot of people seem to use it for goofing off, smarting off, and just plain getting off in some form or another. None of this is right or wrong really, but if you spend too much time there, you're life becomes saturated with that kind of energy.
Even blogging has this kind of push-pull. I am still quite curious about blogs, and find myself looking for new voices to follow on a regular basis. However, I have had to recognize the same addictive qualities to the noise and nastiness that I experienced with social/political media. It's so easy to get sucked into a good drama and/or head bashing of despised figure or idea X, and once that happens, who are you?
That's what really came from Taigu's "drunk with media" comment for me. Who are you, when you are drunk with media? Do you know? Can you know?
Even though the internet and other tech devices have spread the ability to drink media far and wide, this isn't a new problem. Upper crust English folks were drunk with the memoirs of other upper crust English folks back in the early 19th century, just to give one example. And it certainly goes back long before that.
Going back to the comments above, the point Jundo Cohen makes about the "everyone's a winner" mentality, which has been an undercurrent of American childhood in recent decades, is another piece of this story. Specifically, by artificially propping up the "self-esteem" of children, adults who do so are failing to allow kids to learn "Who they are?" But you know, the same adults who so readily rely on such methods probably don't know themselves well at all either. Because from what I have experienced and witnessed with adults who are more in tune with their "deeper selves" - (oye, language is failing me here) - these adults are much more likely to interact with children as they are, and aid those same kids in seeing who they are, beyond their trophies, test scores, Facebook pages, video game prowess, etc.
These kids of discussions often devolve into sound byte simplicity statements. I don't want to go there. As much as the AA model of total abstinence works for some alcoholics, the reality is that most of us are not out of control drunks. We don't need to abstain from everything that might cause suffering if abused, and go off to live in the woods somewhere.
What we need to do is to keep the question "Who are you?" close. To learn to recognize our drunkenness in all it's various forms, and shift our actions accordingly.
Really, any spiritual practice worth it's weight is about re-educating yourself about the world, using the world itself - as it is, not as you imagine it to be.
When the Buddha spoke of renunciation, I believe more than anything, he was imploring us to renounce our views of the world, all the ways we think things are that we cling to, as if they were the whole truth.