It boggles my mind sometimes to think that Thomas Paine’s pamphlet, Common Sense or Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison’s Federalist Papers were aimed at ordinary men and women. Do you know anyone who thinks their modern equivalents would achieve best-seller status if issued today, as they did in their time? I think it more likely that most Americans, longer schooled than the populace of colonial times, are incapable of understanding these writings. The American Revolution and our system of government were not initiated by those who looked to late-night comedy shows for insight.
Nevertheless, that is today’s reality. I am not immune. I look at substantial books I once read, both fiction and non-fiction, and am somewhat in awe of my previous self. Too often, when looking for something to read, I reach for something light and distracting rather than weighty and valuable. I’m even nervous about watching classic movies I enjoyed years back for fear that I will find them ponderous and slow moving.
I sat at a Shabbat table this past weekend where the discussion centered on what was happening in Ukraine. While I quickly looked up the news after Shabbat was over, up until that point I didn’t know that anything was happening in Ukraine. (This was before Ukraine became front-page news on Sunday.) Admittedly, keeping track of crisis points in the world could be a full time job, but still, how could I be so out of the loop? At least if I watched late night comedy, I might know that there was something to research.
Like all of us, the more personally affected I am by a topic, the more I pay attention. In today’s world, however, almost anything, anywhere can get personal very quickly. I can’t be the only one who cringes when late night TV hosts send proxies to ask people on the street to name a Supreme Court justice and Judge Judy’s name is the answer. Part of the cringe factor, however, is self-directed. How much less do I know than I should, and to what in my life should I devote less attention so that I can spend more time keeping current? How much worse do things need to get before ignorance and misinformation lead to a reality that is too painful to ignore? At that point, how many of us won’t have the attention span necessary to make a difference?
There is still time to give the gift of life-changing messages
(at a reduced price!)
(no Hebrew knowledge necessary)