New! Lead Op-Ed in The New York Times on the Ethics of Robot Caregiving

These Great Sorrows

Is hyper-busyness a form of sloth? It seems beyond paradoxical to consider our efficient, connected, mobile days even remotely… lazy. But both medieval philosophers and early Buddhist practitioners warned of restlessness and busyness as slothful, because amidst such hyper-ness we tend to avoid what’s deep and important.
Think about it. Madly ticking items off our agenda, we easily avoid depth of thought, the discomfort of ambiguity, or the type of thought-experiments that Einstein undertook. Look around – isn’t our addiction to gadgets perhaps a form of avoidance not only to what’s concretely going on around us, but to the deeper bigger issues going on around us?
Taming busyness, we can begin to confront … the blank page. Or we can turn and face our fears, rather than fleeing once again at the sight of them. I’m not advocating navel-gazing, or wallowing in grief or thought without action. But since avoidance of pain, discomfort, difficulty seems to be a specialty of our times, I do believe that a little confrontation with the deeper issues is medicine we could all use.
Here are some thoughts on the subject by the German poet Rilke, as he advises a young protege to be patient with a sad time in his life.
“Do consider whether these great sorrows might not have passed through your very center? Whether much inside you has not been transformed, whether you did not change in some part of your being during those periods of sorrow?”
He goes on to say that moments of sorrow perhaps should be welcomed, “For those are the moments when something new centers into us, something unfamiliar; our feelings grow more out of shy diffidence; everything in us pulls back, a stillness descends and the new that no one knows stands mutely amidst all this.”
Those are words that I wished I’d been able to call forth when, in a recent time of deep sorrow, I was so quickly advised to get on pills or find a shrink. All well-meaning advice. But I couldn’t help thinking that this advice came from a wish to muffle or abolish my pain, rather than an acceptance of my right to listen within, and hear out my pain, and grow stronger as a result.
Sometimes when others are grieving, the best thing we can do is accept their right to be in pain. Instead of saying so quickly, “Get over it. Move on. Get fixed.”

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  1. Dec 16, 20115:27 am