DAVIDS DESK #118 – FLYOVER STATES
DAVIDS DESK #118 – FLYOVER STATES
Back in the days when I was regularly traveling to give lectures and workshops, I always tried to drive to wherever I needed to go. If time were an issue, then I would take a plane, but otherwise, I loved road trips. I loved seeing the various parts of the United States and getting to know my country from the ground up; after years of cross-country trips, there are only three States I’ve never had occasion to visit. The United States lives in me in my memory of all the different landscapes that I’ve seen. When I think of America, it’s all there for me, from Maine to California and from Washington to Florida.
As my family grew, my travel time diminished. I didn’t want to spend so much time on the road away from Julie and the kids. So, I began flying more. I enjoy flying, too (or I did when it was a more comfortable and less harried and crowded experience). There was a thrill to looking down and seeing countryside through which I had previously driven. Still, I missed the closeness with the land and with places and people that I experienced while driving. I had become a “flyover” person.
I don’t know when the term originated or started to become popular, but I became aware of it last year during the Presidential Election: “Flyover States.” These are the States in the middle of the country that air flights between the large urban centers of the East and West coasts regularly fly over. To be a Flyover State is at one level a simple description of a fact of life as more and more people live on the East and West coasts and take non-stop flights back and forth. But especially last year, the phrase took on additional meaning. Flyover States were the homes of the “forgotten Americans,” the ones whose opinions and activities were not as important when compared to what goes on in places like New York, Washington, Boston, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, the large metropolises on either side of America. To be a “Flyover State” carried connotations of being ignored, overlooked, not seen, or even disdained as being of lesser importance. Certainly, if a person’s only view of America is from 30,000 feet, he or she is not seeing and connecting with the country in the way a person does who is driving from one coast to another.
There are commentators who describe one of the divisions in this country, of which there currently appear to be many, as that between the heavily populated and generally more liberal metropolitan areas of the Coastal States and the less populated and often more conservative Flyover States. I’m sure there’s a truth to this, and the last election would seem to confirm this, showing again the intent of the Electoral College to give political power to States with smaller populations.
However, when I think of Flyover States, it conjures up an entirely different image for me. It seems to me that one of the many challenges facing us in this country, and for that matter in the world at large, is how easy it is to step into a “flyover state.” Such a state is not a place but an attitude that can arise when we encounter someone who is different from us. This difference could be political, religious, ethnic, racial, economic, or something as trivial as a difference in hairstyles or clothing. Unless we are compelled for some reason to engage with this person, we can “flyover” them in our minds and hearts. We can fail to encounter the territory of their life; we can fail to make connection.
I’m sure we’ve all experienced this, both as the one doing the flyover and the one being “flown over” and overlooked. We all live at one time or another in our daily lives in a flyover state. The cumulative effect is that we come to know each other less and less, and spend more and more time clustered mentally and emotionally with those with whom we agree. “Flying over” pushes difference out of our lives or at least diminishes its impact. We see only what we want to see.
I believe that our hope lies in our ability to connect, and this requires that we walk into each other’s territory, at least enough to appreciate another even if we don’t agree with his or her positions and beliefs. Turning each other into flyover states will not help us going forward. The future depends on understanding. The major problems and challenges of the world are systemic and cannot be solved except through collaboration and cooperation. If we can’t go so far as to love each other, we must at least know and respect each other. This requires looking at our differences directly, up close and personal, and not dismissing or ignoring that with which we do not agree.
At this time, our country is embroiled in problems caused by our various differences. If we hope to solve them, we must work to connect and live in our hearts and minds in united states, not flyover ones.
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DAVID’S DESK #129 – LIFE EXPECTANCY
David’s Desk is my opportunity to share thoughts and tools for the spiritual journey. These letters are my personal insights and opinions and do not necessarily reflect the sentiments or thoughts of any other person in Lorian or of Lorian as a whole. If you wish to share this letter with others, please feel free to do so; however, the material is ©2018 by David Spangler. If you no longer wish to receive these letters, please let us know at info@Lorian.org.
February, 2018 – LIFE EXPECTANCY
My friend and Lorian colleague, Rue Hass, an exceptional counselor and teacher, sent me an interesting email the other day in response to some writing that I’m doing. Here is what she said:
I’ve been hearing on the news that for the first time in a long time the life expectancy rate is going down in the US, especially for men, as the opioid crisis continues to ravage the nation.
When I hear this news, I am captured by the phrase “life expectancy.” Of course, in common usage it means how long people can expect to live, on average. But the poignant deeper sense cries out to me of our diminishing expectations of what a life can hold. I think we as humans are losing our vision of possibility for our lives, for life itself. A diminishing life expectancy.
I was struck by this because I’ve been having similar thoughts about how we think of ourselves in relationship to the future. In the early Seventies, one of the first professional futurists, Frederick Polak, wrote an important book called The Image of the Future. It was a historical study of various images of the future and of the cultures that held them. He demonstrated that when a society or a culture lost its image of the future, it went into decline and eventually collapsed. He warned that this was the situation in which our culture was finding itself. We were losing—or had lost—our image of the future.
What Polak meant by an “image of the future” was not simply expectations about what tomorrow might bring or anticipation of new technologies. He was careful to draw a distinction between a “true” image of the future and an image of progress. The latter, more often than not, was really an image of the past projected into the future; life would go on as we know it, but it would get better and better. An example would be the television show Star Trek. It certainly presented a picture of a future civilization—and an optimistic picture, at that—but everything in that show was simply a projection of what we already knew. Yes, the technology was advanced, but the people weren’t. The world of Star Trek was a familiar world (necessary, of course, if television audiences in the Sixties were going to relate to it).
Polak defined an “image of the future” not as a prophecy or expectation of any form the future might take but rather as an exuberant embrace of the future itself as a horizon of possibility calling out the creative, exploratory, confident spirit of the society. The form of the future didn’t have to be familiar; it didn’t have to be simply a continuation of what was already known or being done. The power of the image of the future was that it opened doors of potential; it confronted the society with the unknown but in a welcome and anticipatory way. The future would be better not necessarily because it would be filled with improvements over the present but because it was the product of the society’s creativity and spirit of discovery. Who knew what wonders might unfold? Who knew what people might create? How exciting to look forward to finding out!
Polak was confirming through his historical study what common sense would tell us: a society grows when people are filled with a spirit of possibility and potential, when they have, as my friend Rue pointed out, “life expectancy.”
We are plagued in our time by a sense of diminishing possibilities. Climate change, political dysfunction, economic disparities, dwindling resources, the sense that our children and grandchildren will not inherit a better world than the one we were born into: all these things drain away our image of the future, in Polak’s terms. They reduce our expectations of what life can bring and of what can be accomplished.
The key behind what Polak observed through his studies is that possibility does not lie in the realm of events alone but in ourselves. A powerful image of the future that inspires and excites is not about what we can expect in the world but about what we can expect of ourselves. Hope is not wishful thinking of what we would like to happen; it’s about opening the doors of imagination and creativity to bring new ideas and new behaviors into being. It’s recognizing that we can embrace the future because we can embody and bring forth possibilities.
Whatever our physical life expectancy, we can expand our expectancy of life and of ourselves and in the process transform our world with a new image of the future.
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