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A PTSD from Community Service

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Second semester has its unique challenges, none of which a college freshman would anticipate. After a stressful first semester of social, academic, and mental hills that had to be overcome, one would think that second semester would be a breeze. Once adjusted to a new living style, workload, and diet, the second semester was supposed to be just like the first except for new classes. However, the anxiety that I knew would develop at one point or another crept up in an unexpected manner. I think it has something to do with the spring semester’s mindset; there’s no rush to teach students how to become a college student anymore. That being said, the delayed assignments never seemed to be assigned. Without a familiarly dense course load, I grow anxious.

In a similar fashion, service at Mercy Neighborhood Ministries began to take its toll. The routine never changed. A few newcomers have joined the wolf pack that we met with every Tuesday, but I can’t blame any one individual for such a dramatic change in pace. On reentering the tunnel that we call a daily routine, you become familiar with your surroundings. The newness of space and time restraints fades as the tunnel becomes grayer and goes by unchecked as ordinary.

It’s not all that dreary, though. Familiarity allows for my service partners and me to develop deeper relationships with the clients at MNM. This opportunity is great when thinking of service in terms of being “for and with others.” Nevertheless, on the way back from service, my service partner and I simultaneously experienced a jolt of anguish. Oddly enough, she verbalized our shared feeling right after I thought, “This area is like a war zone. These people are fighting the odds here; it’s an uphill battle for them.” I couldn’t help but think of those melodramatic scenes in war films where the company is returning from the front. The troops are battered from what they’ve seen.

Yet, what I’ve seen is not just the neighborhoods in this part of Philadelphia. I am not belittling these people by depicting their environment from my perspective. That’d be cynical. This PTSD, if I may, seems to have been slowly developing like my anxiety for the workload of this second semester. The breaking point, this past Tuesday, came when my service partner and I both realized that at some point on our return trip, our relationships no longer exist with the clients at MNM. We don’t have the luxury to Facebook ‘em or shoot them an email. But we are somehow still expected to develop a relationship, which is becoming increasingly difficult during the time we spend away from them.

Within the restraints of being volunteers, we obviously don’t have access to clients’ personal or medical information. I’m not saying we should either, but it would be nice to know where Mr. Paul has gone. He was something to write about…How are we supposed to ask about him? If they wanted us to know, they would have shared. If we had access to some basic information, we wouldn’t have to ask. The last thing we heard was that he was in the hospital. And not to call out the blatantly obvious, but working with individuals of a certain age inevitably leads one to disregard a certain thought and place in the back of his or her mind.

Still, all the while, we go to service just the same. Our service is about relationships, no doubt, because we aren’t cleaning, cooking, preparing –or any type of physical labor. We found that out last semester. We don’t need to be constructing some physical memorabilia to point at after we have finished it, kicking back to relax saying, “Ah. We’ve done something good today. Check that off the list. Better yet, let’s take a photo.” What my service partners and I are left with, then, is spending time with the individual. On learning that clients at MNM, like Ms. Gladys, spend time all alone until they return to Mercy the next day, we experienced the significance of our time spent with the clients.

But where has Ms. Gladys gone off to? My service partner discovered by indirectly asking around that she hasn’t been able to attend MNM for various reasons. The fluidity of not only the comings and goings of the clients, but our coming and going causes a lot of disruption in developing relationships. I’m not sure what really can be done other than talking about it. The system won’t change for deeper relationships; I think that ranks pretty low, ironically, on the priority list for a company that has to be systematically run. I mean to say that, while idealistically, stronger relationships would be great, the structure of not only service learning would have to change, but MNM would have to somehow give some basic information on the whereabouts of the clients that we year-round volunteers have befriended. I know that may be crossing the line for the volunteer-administration relationship, which is business like, yet, how are we to just cross our fingers and hope that the same individuals will be there next week? We are prohibited from progressing in our relationships. And in that fifteen minute car ride back home, we just sit and hope that the person we just shared a joke with will be there next week.

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Written by Jack Viere

February 5, 2012 at 9:30 am

Map vs. GPS

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Today, there’s a readiness and willingness to accept information from machines at face value with no discernment. Technology is just a machine, a computer at best. There’s no human judgement values, personal experiences, or wisdom in technology. Specifically, GPS’s are not really giving you an actual destination. It’s a computer that is taking you from point A to point B in the GPS’s system. A simple equation. (We use to be able to solve it with a thing called a map.) The problem arises from our believing that the GPS is really depicting an actual, tangible place. It has the undetectable illusion that is presenting the driver with a real place by showing qualities of the destination. Just because a computer can intake data and spit it back out to the user does not mean it discerns like a human mind.

Google has the ability to run specific search engines that evolve regularly due to its tracking bugs that automatically find new data to intake.  A person had to preprogram the logarithm for that bug to have the illusion of working self-sufficiently. Technology is the extension of human discernment that is propelled by our seeming growing need for convenience. Technology is NOT its own entity that should outweigh or completely for stomp out the individual’s ability to make decisions, especially those affecting him or herself.

I felt motivated to write out the above reflection as a reply to a classmate’s self-righteous exclamation: “Do you even know how to use a map?” Directed at my professor, I couldn’t help but smirk at his idea that maps are already outdated. Maybe they are, but I thought it was quite the assumption to make. Anyways, to me, it sounded like someone saying, “Don’t you know that 2+2=4?” to a college professor. Of course it was said with the tone inclining some sort of rhetorical question. Our professor said he preferred maps over GPS’s; I concurred at which the classmate proceeded to say that maps are susceptible to being outdated. I don’t think you need Garmin and MapQuest to tell you that, buddy. I think the cartographers  back in the day were well aware of the fact their product was susceptible to change when new information and details were procured from further research. On reflection, this gradual process of receiving and editing new data seems more plausible (in my opinion) than the GPS saying, “Turn left now,” leading you into a ravine, which (I’d argue) most people would do as they have their heads down, texting away on their iPhone 4s’s. When the smoke clears, and we crawl out of the ditch, we would then proceed to say, “Stupid GPS! It did not update itself!”

So basically that argument is whether you trust a map that will become outdated or you trust a voice on a GPS. That’s really not my point because it boils down to preference. (I don’t think a map has ever misled its user into a ditch though…even if the roads are rerouted, we don’t follow the road as intently as a GPS, hunched over, waiting for Mr. Australian Accent to lead us to the next point within the list of directions.)

My point is to question why or how do we find ourselves so ready to accept information from technology. Why do we have a desire to let things take control (like machines) as we sit back and take the passenger seat? Is it really out of convenience? If it is, how are we any better than animals if our rationale is only to make our life more convenience? (Medicine, machines, weapons, computers-making everything a little easier for us, allowing everyone to take the passenger seat and let technology take us for a spin.)

I think Buddhism, Hinduism, and Christianity all point to being in control of one’s own actions and one’s own mind.

Buddhism: the Eightfold Path has a few points worth mentioning. Falling under a broader category of Mental Development, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration all speak of  self-control. There’s really no presence of those three in our lifestyle when we take the backseat with technology.

Hinduism: the Eight Limbs of Patanjali’s Yoga; I’ve been reading a lot into this in one of my courses. Pratyahara, control of the senses. Dharana, concentration and cultivating inner perceptual awareness. We might be shutting down our senses (and survival skills at that) when we choose to allow technology dominate our decision-making. We really have no shot of cultivating any type of awareness, more or less the inner perceptual kind that many faiths shoot for.

Christianity: this could prove to be a little more difficult since there aren’t many lists in mainstream Christianity. I’d point out that in the Catholic context (which has many a good list) the Seven Deadly Sins has a little something-something called sloth and gluttony. While that may be a bit extreme in the instance of the GPS, taking the back seat in faith (which is a part of every day life, even when we choose to make it not,) is still letting other people”’ and other things do our work.

On a final note, in summarizing, I don’t think technology is wrong at all; that’d be to argue that all the scientific advances (like medicine-that does fall under that category) were for the worse. Absurd. But in the field of something like medicine, it’s not the meds that are making advances on its own. Its the researches, scientists, and physicians that propel medicinal advances.

So why, then, do we take the back seat?

Written by Jack Viere

November 16, 2011 at 4:47 pm

The Like Button: An End to the Evolution of Human Discernment

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“To innovate is to introduce the new, to engage in a process of change. To invent is to produce a different variation of the old…Yoga tries to help us to truly innovate, to develop the intelligence that allows us to create a new relationship to our ego and our world. This new relationship is dependent on perceiving the world objectively and truthfully and on making choices, discerning what is best.” -B.K.S. Iyengar

Whisper away Facebook...

                Quite feasibly, we could take the concept of Facebook and its Like Button and interchange them with yoga in the above thesis. Or technology for that matter. Facebook gives us the false illusion that we are pushing the boundaries. We are somehow inventive with our ability to create an online identity, whether it is true or false. Not innovative. We are not introducing something new with a status update or an upload of a new photo. We are merely inventing a “different variation of the old.” Technology and its advances are not propelled by our signing in and logging off. If that discretion was common knowledge, and I think it can be when most people take a moment to absorb it, we would still fail to see that we “create a new relationship to our ego and our world.” A sickly relationship with our festering ego. A half-hearted, half-born relationship with our world.

        All Facebook does is cater to our desires and occupies mass amounts of our time with worthless information. It hinders our ability to innovate, especially outside of the technological world. It would only take an individual to pull the plug on the whole apartment complex of the world, and every tenant would be without their Facebook. It’s intangible if you haven’t noticed. (That isn’t to say that for technology to be innovative, it must be tangible.) Yet, society is crippled by the effects of the amount of time we spend on a virtual social networking site.

          “This new [decrepit] relationship is dependent on perceiving the world objectively and truthfully and on making choices, discerning what is best.” Maybe that is the origin from which youth lack social skills that older generations like to harp on.  We cannot perceive the world objectively or truthfully when our relationship to our ego is out of synch. It’s almost as if Facebook whispers to our ego to let go of our capacity to socially function outside of the means of technology.

                Our ability to discern is therefore thwarted by this new, damaged relationship our egos have created. We don’t “know what’s best” since we no longer discern properly, but we sure as hell know what Bob’s feelings are on the Monday night football game. We can Like his status and add our own witty comment, all of which are inventive, yet we impede our capability to innovatively evolve in order to foster a healthier relationship with our egos. We don’t have to make anymore decisions save for “Do I like, or do I not like.” Not a lot of discernment involved there. It seems like Facebook hit this crossroads between inventive and innovative, and many of us are under the impression that this medium of technology proves to be the latter of the two. If so, it’s only a matter of time until…

 

Written by Jack Viere

October 31, 2011 at 9:33 pm

Posted in B.K.S. Iyengar, yoga

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