Rapidly, open spaces in America are disappearing, and our lives are becoming more and more crowded.
However, the majority of this crowding is not a physical one. Carving out a physical space and defending it remains a fundamental American value. It is existential space - a clearing within which you can craft your human existence - that is disappearing.
The result has left us crowded – a huddled mass in the dark fighting over fading warmth from a trash can of values set on fire.
I don’t have a very profound point or a very profound source to blame here. As far as analysis goes, it doesn’t go much further than your run-of-the-mill angry old curmudgeon. But here it goes anyway:
I’ve long believed that comparison of our lives with the lives of others is a real joy-killer but I think that it goes deeper. Real, systematic comparison in a person’s life will stunt that person’s ability to reach a full human existence beyond just joy. And we gobble up comparison in America daily. We are addicted to it. Recent studies conservatively estimate that the average American spends about 5 hours a day on social media platforms. I think that this is a statistic revealing one major thing: American’s are huddling around the same values. We are crowding our existence as we huddle together in a race fueled by meditative comparison.
A simple exercise can really illustrate this: get on Instagram and scroll. See where it takes you – go down the rabbit hole. Do this for half an hour and then put down the phone see how your chest feels. Notice how you feel about your life, your accomplishments, and your identity. Notice your breathing.
Now, I think that comparison is something that will happen in life naturally – it is unavoidable. However, the extent to which it happens today is greatly accelerated. For example, “keeping up with the Jones's” used to mean that you we only caught in this value-arms race with one or two other neighbors…that lived on your same street. Now, our streets have expanding globally and we have million’s of “Jones's” out there to keep up with, aspire to be, and help us feel shitty about our own minor successes.
It has left us lonely, blinded, joy-less, and dogmatic in our determination to acquire whatever it is that it so shiny that we see on social media everyday.
And, thus, we crowd in tighter and tighter and our ability to stretch our legs and really develop into an authentic person becomes tougher and tougher.
We gotta take a step back, folks. We must put the phones down and stop comparing ourselves to the people we see that appear to have more money somehow without having a day job. We have to think critically. We have to replace our neurotic grass-is-greener longings with a will to compare ourselves, not to each other, but to who we were yesterday. And ask the question “Am I any closer to peace? Do I love people better? Do I love myself?”
It seems like deserts are a good place for this. Maybe we can learn from the space and the dirt and the tenacious plants that are vibrant with life and need very little water.