#92   Instead of

I'm taking an art class from an inspiring teacher. When Joe Doyle talks about his art, he is passionate about it. When a gallery curator "gets" his art, he is always surprised, happy, and deeply gratified, because so many people don't get it. There is one stunning painting of his, with a red toy rabbit and two black steel perfectly rendered hand-grenades. It is large, about 6 x 6 feet, and it is a statement about war. Joe hates war, and the stupidity of it, and the mindless waste of lives. The bunny-rabbit represents innocence, and the hand grenades are icons of war and destruction and death.

For me, that's not so hard to get. War is an ugly and hideous thing; there is nothing good about it. Death and violence and hatred never make anyone happy, so it’s very hard to understand why so many people love war and are fascinated with it, and why so many other people are able to just ignore it. But the reason is simple when you drill down to it. It is insidious and endemic the world over. People are not stupid or blind; we are simply ignorant by choice.

People play video games of violence and murder and they give these games of mutilation and murder to their children as rewards and gifts. They just don't "get it" that killing is real and death is terrible and hideously wrong. It's not a thing to play with for casual amusement. But millions of people do play with death and destruction for amusement, habitually and addictively, and teach their children that this is normal life, without even giving it a thought. We have brainwashed a whole generation and programmed them to kill as a first resort.

“But it’s just pretend” you argue. "It's not dangerous; Kids know it’s not real.” Subconsciously, it doesn't matter Whether they do or not, because the brain interprets images the same way as all other information: It does not differentiate between images that are “real” and images that are realistic. Since the 50’s Olympic athletes have used visualization to greatly improve their performance, and the research literature shows that viewing or imagining images is as effective or in many cases better and more effective than real physical practice! This is how we program ourselves, and the way the brain works. A child’s brain is even more affected by violence training because he or she has not yet learned discernment.

Studies have shown that by the age of five or six, the average child has already spent thousands of hours practicing how to kill people in a wide variety of horrible, brutal ways. And yet we are surprised when a teenager commits mass murder at school in revenge for some fairly minor resentment against a teacher or a classmate. How can we be surprised? After all, this is the most common and ordinary, normal, everyday thing he knows about. This is what his surrounding culture, games, TV shows and commercials reinforce as being normal. TV shows, both cartoon and realistic, have shown him all his life that the obvious normal way to handle any challenge or dislike in life is to attack and or kill it. And If he feel wrongly mistreated, he has the right to kill a whole lot of people. Get his "rightful" satisfaction as the good-guy he feels he is, and be celebrated on national TV news for weeks. Killing makes you a standout, a winner, a misunderstood hero, it makes you famous; it makes you somebody.

About 80% of what children learn about life these days comes from television and video games of the skills and practice of violence, destruction, assault, mutilation, and murder. About 18% of what they learn comes from schools, teachers, and peers, and about 2% from parents. Most parents pass off the responsibility of preparing their children for life, to the schools, video games, and the TV set. Most people just don't get it. But what's worse is that so many people don't even want to get it. They don't want to think too much, and they don't want to know.

A majority of us don't want to wonder about the mysteries and depths of being human and being connected to something vast, like life with a capital L, or God. If they were to consider that, and consider taking on the joys and challenges of living a great life instead of the common superficial fantasy substitute – that might require conscious thought. or work, or involvement with life. So they choose something else instead.

They choose fantasy and substitution because it seems like a pleasant easy way to go. In the beginning, they don't even realize they are making a choice, that they are choosing something else instead of life. They just don't get it, so they figure they have no obligation to life. But the choices they make instead of life take them deeper and deeper into emptiness, because instead of life, there is really no place else to go.

An ever-growing number of people are making the choice not to get it. They are afraid to get it – to get close to the heart of things. They just want to get to the next meal, the next drink, the next mind blowing exploding-in-flames movie, or the next hit of heroin or meth or cocaine, or the next corporate takeover, or the next work project on their job, or the next new fantasy-world techno-toy. To be fair, many of us are just trying to get through to the next day, pay our bills and feed our children. So nstead of engaging with life and with living people, they are busy trying to escape. Techno-toys are everywhere you look, proliferating as rapidly as rats, and they seem to be the perfect socially acceptable escape. There is nothing inherently wrong with technology, but there are some serious consequences to the misuse of it.

When you see all those tattooed kids with earbuds and wires dangling from their faces, it's not about music. It's mostly just loud shouting of obscenities and mindless babble, backed up with throbbing drums. I's not about music; it's not about anything; it's just about killing time. They're not wondering about the meaning of life for the mystery of God and the universe; they’re not thinking about the future; they are just trying to escape to someplace else that's not the real world they live in. All of this, all of the avoidance-moments that turn into a avoidance-years and avoidance-lives, all of these have one clear and obvious thing in common: addiction.

Before you get all upset and outraged that someone has attacked the toys ypu love, think for a minute: just for a minute, consider these simple facts: All addictions are essentially the same thing – they are what people do instead of life. The longer you ignore the truth of this, the deeper you sink into your addiction, whatever it may be, and however harmless it may seem. And the ultimate outcome of every addiction is always the same: death. Some deaths are slow, like heroin or alcohol. Some can be quick – a brain blown out by Methanphetamines, or a bullet. Some deaths are simply a matter of living your life time and dying without ever having been fully or consciously alive.

Nobody chooses that on purpose. Nobody says "Nothing else is as important to spend time on as my games." And yet they spend thousands of hours a year, essentially, wasting time. No child says "When I'm a teenager, I want to be a mass murderer" And no high school student plans "When I get out of school, I'm going to build a career as a homeless drunk." No businessman thinks "My 5-year plan is to become addicted to expensive daily doses of heroin and cocaine." But it happens. It's all too easy to slip into addictions or addictive behavior without really noticing it until you're up to your neck in it. Financial problems, emotional wounds, even illness and prescription medications can drive a person to seek relief and escape. And once in the quicksand, it's terribly hard to get out.

The best way to be free of addictions of course is to not get in. The way to not get in, is to pay attention to your life each day, be aware of the choices you're making, and intentionally live as if it really mattered, because it does.

The choice is always ours. The life you have has been created by your own choices, whether knowing or unknowing, and every minute of your life you are choosing, including right now. What are you really choosing? Do you know? In this life, you can have anything you want, and the realty, the catch-22 is, you do.

If what you have in your life right now is not what you really want, you're going to seriously have to make some different choices.

this Month's New Thought Essay, Poetry, and Blog. Darkhorse Press New Poets