I was struck by the reflective writing in the Post-Dispatch on a slow news day (Tuesday) this week. Both “Heaven is a field for shattered and stolen dreams” and “As Lou Grant, Ed Asner gave hard-working journalists a face” looked back to the 1970’s and ’80’s to describe how the slower processes of baseball, lournalism and publication gave us pause to think about life as it unfolded. Like most nostalgic pieces they criticized explicitly or implicitly the unreflective processes driving our actions and our writing today.
The educational philosopher John Dewey gets credit for theorizing how we re-think or analyze our actions. He coined the concept of “reflection,” ‘the active, persistent and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it and the further conclusions to which it tends’ (How We Think;1933: 9)
The important elements for reflective thinking are time and opportunity, something our culture has lacked for generations. The loss of the institution of the Sabbath, the new institution of the 24-hour news cycle, and the proliferation of news and cultural media are among the causes of overcrowding of thought that deny us time and opportunity for reflection. We do not reflectively choose how to spend our time or with whom we spend it.
Whom do we blame for the lack of reflective thinking in our judgments, actions and writing today? Why is it always the youngest thinkers—currently Generation Z— who get the blame for unreflective action, because of social media and lack of reading skills? What about their parents the Generations X and Y and even their grandparents, the Baby Boomers? Are we off the hook?
In his article “Heaven is a field” David Chartrand mentions Jim Rome, the sports radio commentator, as a critic of the corn and schmaltz of the so-called “Field of Dreams” competition between the White Sox and the Yankees. Rome is an astute observer of sports, but he ridicules those who disagree with him, and his opinions are generated in a 24-hour news cycle, giving sports fans opinions manufactured in short order. Not much reflection in sports-talk radio, a format that tells sports fans what to think. Rome is also a firmly entrenched member of Generation X.
Rome is an astute commentator, who found his niche in sports-talk radio. We could argue that news-talk commentators like Fox’s Tucker Carlson or CNN’s Brian Stelter have offered pre-digested opinions in the same short news cycle. These are not youthful media observers, and their audiences are typically Baby-boomers and Generation X-ers. The same might be said about experts in the fields of fashion, finance, consumerism and religion. Baby boomers and Generation X-ers are told what to think and why we should think it. Time, opportunity and freedom are lost or squandered.
Baby-boomers and Generation X-ers are the models for Generation Z. We abandoned reflective thinking decades ago, when we adopted formats like talk-show radio, 24-hour news and sports analysis, and Dear Abby and abandoned the forty-hour work week, sabbatical practices (rest and reflection), forums for divergent thinking, and in-person church-going. We should realize that the squandering of time and opportunity began with us. Our kids and grand-kids only inherited the social media and 24-hour news cycle from us. In fact we invented the businesses.
It is folly to think we can turn back the clock on these institutions and cultural trends, but it is valuable to own the folly, the loss of time and opportunity. We have not lost the capability for reflection, but we need the motivation to pause and consider our lives, to evaluate who shapes our opinions, and find the time to shape our own opinions and beliefs. The writer David Chartrand says of Field of Dreams: “it asked us to wonder what happened to dreamers whose dreams are shattered or taken away.” We can still avoid becoming those dreamers if we can find time for reflection.