Learning patience in a fast-paced world


Looking out their prison’s windows, father and son, Daedalus and Icarus, planned their escape. Waxing feathers to their arms they would fly their way to freedom. Daedalus instructed Icarus: “Whatever you do, do not fly too low … for once you pass the seacoast, the salt spray from the waves of the sea will wet the feathers and make them too heavy to lift. Nor should you fly too high otherwise the heat of the sun will melt the wax, the wings will collapse and you will plummet into the sea and die.”

Father and son leaped into the air.  However impulsive youth that he was, Icarus ignored his father’s advice and soared higher and higher, drunk on the pleasures of flight. Higher and higher he flew and just as his father had warned, the sun’s rays melted the wax and he plummeted to his death into the sea.

Daedalus, the brilliant inventor erred as he emphasized his invention’s efficiencies, but ignored the naiveté of his son’s use of the waxed wings. Daedalus had put his invention in the hands of someone unable to understand the limits of that power.

Our obsessive devotion to speed today can be compared to any of Daedalus’ remarkable inventions. Rather than falling into the ocean, could it be that our mindless speed forward represents several steps backward in our moral or spiritual development?

It is a story as old as the discovery and development of nuclear fire by 20th-century scientists: will such fire be utilized to burn away cancerous cells or will it be used to incinerate innocent populations?

Regarding such a question, some years ago, then presidential candidate for the United States Adlai Stevenson said, “We have wrested from nature the power to make the world a desert or make a desert bloom. There is no evil in the atom … only in our souls.”

Addicted to moving swiftly without much reflecting on questions of “ought,” we become impatient with workmates or playmates. Our impatience means we are much less likely to devote time to any activity without an immediate reward, forgetting that some of our most significant relationships require a prolonged investment of effort and time — being a good teacher, being a steadfast friend, being a devoted mother or father — in fact, doing anything competently involves such a time investment.   

The speedy transfer of information — not knowledge — is at the expense of wisdom, because the now counts for everything and the then — past history, great literature, noble traditions are the first casualties. Some experts suggest that in our information society, we may have “surrendered our historical consciousness,” a consciousness now replaced by a computer “culture,” leaving us starved of existential meaning.

Jane Jacobs’ “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” makes a similar point when she argues when people collectively lose their memories and suffer a “cultural amnesia,” such suggests a “dark age ahead.”     

The most important questions are moral questions and no technology, even a very sophisticated one, can provide answers to moral questions.

   The unfinished nature of our development, learning and of our society means that an ever thoughtful community can best reflect on and articulate the worrying consequences of our many choices. But most important, our quest will pose many moral challenges, chief among them how to create a civil and humane society.

   And those insights will mean not only accepting our profound strengths but also acknowledging our many vulnerabilities, as we navigate a cautious course between the two — neither flying too low (where the ocean’s salt spray may soak our feathers), nor soaring too high (where the blazing, unforgiving solar heat may melt the wax on our wings).


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