Thursday, March 30, 2006

Technology and Humanity in Tension

Every morning I walk two to three miles with one of my dearest friends, an accomplished historian and eclectic thinker. The fact that I choose to do my morning regimen with someone almost two decades my senior and with a hip replacement may say more than I would like to admit about my physical conditioning. Sometimes the cardiovascular stimulation comes more from the vigor of our conversations than the pace of our walk.

Today my friend ranted about technology. I say rant advisedly because he is always open and reflective. But still, it was a rant. He took on cell phones, text messaging, email overload, phones that shoot not only pictures but bullets, kids plugged into MP3 players, and all manner of other technological beast. Bear in mind that in his career he was an early adopter of computers and maintains a home network and an active email life. He's no Luddite. Doesn't answer his cell phone much though.

Our walk extended to the full three miles as I tried to stand in the middle ground between the views of my friend and those of my 27-year-old son--a generational bridge to be sure. It was my son who lured me into this blogging world and who has since barraged me with HTML codes, social bookmarking tags, and FTP sites. I introduced him to the computing world when he was young and he has since left me in the dust. Technology is both his career and his passion.

I'm just old enough and young enough to see both sides. My friend is right--technology can be dehumanizing, rude, obsessive, and destructive of community. My son is right--technology can be liberating, fulfilling, expansive, and a builder of community.

The answer is not in microchips, software encoding, digital music, or celluar transmissions. The answer is in the human heart and in the ability of society to repel the technological profiteers who show no capacity for understanding cause and effect, social relationships, or human consequences. Gadgets must not shape us. Instead we must make gadgets our slaves in building a world that cares for the well-being of all.

Beam me up, Scotty! But please have a warm bath, sharp cheddar cheese and crackers, and a good book waiting for me when I arrive.

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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

On Finding What You Weren't Looking For

I mentioned earlier that my son and I, both of us baseball enthusiasts, went to San Diego for the final games of the World Baseball Classic, the first truly international baseball competition. The event was significant in its own right, but I had an experience with my camera that reminded me of an important principle.

Prior to the championship game I noticed Tommy Lasorda on the sidelines. I figured that Tommy, longtime Dodgers manager and a baseball legend, was worthy of a picture. I pointed my digital camera at the crowd around Lasorda and got a nice shot of his portly frame.

The stadium announcer then declared that the first pitch would be thrown out by Hank Aaron, Major League Baseball's all-time leader in home runs, and that Aaron would be escorted to the field by Sadaharu Oh, manager of the Japanese team and the all-time home run leader in Japanese baseball. I knew enough baseball history to remember when Oh passed Babe Ruth's long-standing record, albeit in the Japanese professional league, creating quite a stir among baseball purists. What a unique moment to have Oh and Aaron on the same field.

That's when I looked down at my camera and realized that in shooting a picture of Tommy Lasorda I had unwittingly captured Oh and Aaron side by side, Aaron's arm draped affectionately around Oh. No offense to Tommy Lasorda but suddenly my photograph had evolved from a celebrity shot to capturing a moment brimming with history and human relationships. I had found something I wasn't even looking for.

The experience reminded me that life is serendipitous. Every moment carries within it the potentiality of richness and insight. Often it is about having the eyes to see what is truly there. We frequently give too much attention to the moments that are hyped and declared to be extraordinary. Give me instead the ability to see what I wasn't looking for at all. Those moments are gifts to be truly treasured and explored.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

First Steps

My great nephew, Parker, the first of the next generation for our family, just took his first steps. This picture captures that moment and it carries with it several intriguing images.

The first is what one would expect. He's oh so tentative and looks for all the world like he's going to fall on his face. But still he comes.

Secondly, he's holding out his arms, confident that the one awaiting him will safely receive him and save him from the risk of trying.

And third, he's carrying a digital camera in one hand, as if to assure that this moment will be preserved for all time. Maybe he hopes it will be blogged or something.

Not a bad metaphor for life. What if each of us had the courage to try something new and so far unimagined, confident that loving arms will catch us if we fall, and hopeful that whatever we do is worthy of being preserved and remembered, if only by one or two people who care about us?

Life can be a gutsy, trusting, Kodak moment. Keep walking, Parker. We're here. Count on us. And say "cheese" as you stumble, okay? The camera of our hearts is proudly ready to capture your next steps.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Fear of Blogging

You know, when you think about it this blogging thing is a bit unnerving. I'm kind of a private person, even though I've lived something of a public life. But in public speaking and other such endeavors there is a kind of distance from others that you are able to control. You're playing off other people, measuring their responses, modulating your words as necessary. It's a dance, but you lead.

Here it's just me and a blank computer screen. That's a pretty intimate relationship as you try to move your amorphous collection of thoughts into words and phrases on a screen. You have no idea who will read them. You can't see their eyes. You can't adapt to their responses. It's kind of scary.

So we'll venture into these occasional musings with a modest set of expectations. I'll use it to help myself formulate a few ideas that I might use here and there. If I achieve that I'll call it good. Mission accomplished! No aircraft carrier needed.

If others find a kernel of a worthwhile idea that's a bonus. Thanks for reading. Maybe eventually I'll even be able to imagine a few eyes out there. And then a new dance will begin.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Baseball as Community?

Last weekend my oldest son (a baseball fanatic) and I (a baseball fan) attended the semifinals and finals of the World Baseball Classic in San Diego. Besides being a wonderful time of father/son bonding (even at ages 58 and 31 respectively) it was also a lesson in creating community.

Imagine this: The first truly international competition featuring "America's National Pastime" led to a final between Japan and Cuba, the latter team requiring some kind of federal dispensation to even cross our borders. Pehaps more perplexing, the team of America's major league superstars didn't even make the final four--surely a blow to our assumed dominance of the game.

But here's the thing. Sports bars were filled with people of diverse ethnicities and languages, all of them chattering in a babel of baseball. Many Americans held $70 tickets to a final in which they anticipated seeing Derek Jeter and Roger Clemens. But now they were cheering for the same team as Fidel Castro, or for players with long names they couldn't begin to pronounce. The stands were filled with Koreans and Dominicans, Cubans and Japanese, many of them now with "American" as a suffix following their native country's name.

But in the midst of the waving national flags and the handcrafted multilingual posters there was something magic happening out there. Historic enemies and contemporary foes toed the rubber or stepped up to the plate. It wasn't about politics or tribes or military threat. It was the high hard one on the inside corner that held everyone's attention.

It's only a game. Keep repeating it over and over. It's only a game.

Promote or Pursue?

Hmmm, I think I've decided the third leg of the stool is "pursuing peace" rather than "promoting peace." Feels more active, more personal, and perhaps more humble. Peace work requires humility. Promoting sounds like a salesman. Pursuing sounds like an explorer. This is a personal statement, after all. It's got to be about what I do, not just what I think. Embracing, valuing, pursuing. I like those legs better.

The Three-Legged Stool

At 58 and going through a transition in my life focus, I've been trying to distill the essence of meaning for my life. I've pondered the rather trite metaphor of a three-legged stool. The three central values of my life each represent one leg of the stool. The first is embracing heritage, which means using our individual and collective stories as resources for the future. The second is valuing diversity, the awareness that human differences are not just to be accepted, but treasured. The third is promoting peace, a principle that has both individual and global dimensions.

The seat of the stool is community, which is where we place ourselves. Community must have all three legs, equally strong, or it will topple.

I hold the legs of the stool in my hands. But where is the seat? Where is my community?