Last weekend, I took a road trip with my 82-year old mom to visit Slab City near the Salton Sea in Southern California.. The abandoned World War II marine base is home to a small group of residents that have chosen to live “off the grid” without law-enforcement, running water, electricity, trash service, or sewer. The snowbird population approaches 1,000 but there are only 150 year-round residents that brave the simmering summer temperatures that can exceed 125 F. We were drawn to the sculpture gardens of “East Jesus” where discarded material has been recycled or repurposed into art. We were encouraged to imagine a world without waste, in which every action is opportunity for self-expression.
An artistic display of broken television monitors reminded me of one of my best decisions of this decade. After walking the Camino de Santiago in 2012, I came home and cut the cord to all cable news. I continue to read newspapers, but have sworn off the talking heads. The major cable companies have designed targeted programming to appeal to our predisposed political beliefs under the guise of being informative. These are business that sell advertisements designed to make you drink more Coke or achieve the Pursuit of Perfection after acquiring a Lexus.
In a previous incarnation as a businessman, I remember barging into my mentors office with an abnormally long list of complaints. He patiently listened before teaching me a lesson of life. He said, “Kurt, you know how many people come through my door and do what you just did? I call them problem identifiers and you are quite skilled in that department. If you want to succeed in this company or in life, become the rare person that walks into my office with a solution.”
The cable news companies are happy to put us on the hamster wheel and then lull us into a sluggish pace with the following repetitive plot. Scene one identifies the problem. Scene two identifies the villains. The intermission is a reminder that our lives would be much better if we were driving a Lexus. Wash, rinse, repeat…..
For you to be right someone else must be wrong. The us and them mentality is a very quick path to separation. These news stations fortify the divide. The exact same thing happens when we surround ourselves with like minded people. How many problems are solved when all of your friends agree with your righteous opinions?
Now that I have done a fine job of identifying the problems, here are some solutions.
- Stop watching and start reading. Bonus points are added if you choose newspapers that differ from your traditional viewpoints.
- Turn TV time into nature time by walking outdoors.
- Get to know a neighbor by helping them with a spring yard cleanup.
- Spend more time getting to know yourself. You cannot export harmony when your inner light is unknown.
- Shatter one routine.
- Volunteer at a local humane society.
- Practice yoga.
- Apologize to a person you have harmed.
- Be kinder to yourself.
The residents of Slab City are living in a self-described enclave of anarchy. Somehow they have figured out how to live with diverse opinions and even found time to make some art together.