Today I had a couple of meetings at the farm, so as usual I had to borrow a bike to get there. I found out quickly, to my surprise, that the bike I had picked had no brakes. Have you ever gone through somewhat hilly terrain with no brakes on your bike? It’s not very much fun, I can assure you. If you ride along on a bike with no brakes, even if you don’t think you use brakes that often, you become aware of just how much you take the brakes for granted when you are trying to stop yourself from rocketing down a hill into a blind intersection using only your shoes.
Being the sort of abstract thinker that I am, I often think of my experiences in terms of their metaphorical importance. While trying furiously and at least mostly successfully to guide my way along the peaks and valleys of the route to the farm this morning I pondered what it is like living in a world with no brakes. I wonder if the politicians of the European Union felt like I did, trying to brake and realizing, to their shock, that there were no brakes, just a rapid gain of speed into deep trouble.
As a person I tend to both think and feel very deeply (something that is not always entirely obvious to other people), but I tend not express my feelings, in large part because I seek, at tremendous effort, to avoid panicking. As long as I can keep a rational (and frequently cynical) eye and avoid getting steamrolled, there is at least the chance at avoid being stampeded by others. It’s not always possible to avoid problems, but at least thinking clearly allows you to avoid following a crowd into folly by letting you think for yourself and not act like a herd animal.
And that is something that many people seem to lack. This is a world that does not reward thinking and musing and deliberation. It wants everything to be instantaneous and rapid, forgetting that wisdom requires rumination, chewing thoughts and reflections like a cow chews its cud. It requires not merely instantaneously reacting to others (though sometimes this is necessary), but in sometimes (when the thought is deep enough) to keeping the matter in mind and reflecting about it. Reflection and insight cannot be hurried, and they require time, the one thing that is the most scarce in our hurried and impatient world.
And that is why it seems as if our disasters mirror our society. It appears as if life leaves us with no breaks, no deliberation, only rushed and hurried choices that change at a moment’s notice, like we are living in a world with no brakes. There is no loyalty, only exigency; no reflection, only superficial and immediate commentary. We see this in our politics, we see this in our relationships, in our religious life, and in our businesses. If we could slow ourselves down, to keep our feet out of our mouths (far easier said than done) and to keep ourselves from acting in panic and haste, we might have the chance of creating something lasting. But time appears very slim, and I am not sure that we have the patience to foot brake, seeing as our own society seems to be rushing headlong into disaster down a steep cliff with no brakes. Let us do the best we can anyway.