We live in a rather unique age. If you’re middle class or poor in America, you can choose your stimulus. You can go to school if you want to. You can exercise. You can have fellowship. You can read a book. With the right attitude, life in America begins to look like a buffet of experience.
Yes, it is true that many of us in America are poor, relative to the elites. We let them write the laws that favor them, so we can’t just blame it on them. But once we take responsibility for our part in what has brought us to this point in time, once we accept our circumstances without reservation, we can begin to change them.
I once had a stand up comedy teacher who told his class, “Practice will beat talent every time.” What do we want to practice? I want to write, so I practice writing every day. I’m a father, so I practice being a father every day by spending time with my kids, cultivating them and learning from them. I enjoy working with technology, so I have a job in tech. As much as I like my job, I still like writing more. I am aware of what I want, and that is half the battle.
They say that we have an opioid epidemic. Alcohol is legal. Pot is becoming legal in more states every year. Metaphorically speaking, these are stimulants. We can expose ourselves to them for a different experience, and that is our choice. But who wants to be stoned all the time? Who wants to be drunk all the time? Who wants to sleep on oxycontin, all the time? Every stimulus has a consequence.
We can choose to watch TV or read a book. We can choose to go to school or go to the mall. We can choose to participate in government, or protest in the streets. I know, board meetings are boring. Time tends to dilate in meetings.
On a personal level, I’ve even seen it myself. I can watch Netflix or exercise, or read a book or write an article. I can choose to create or consume. My writing suffers with Netflix, is nourished with exercise, and flowers with practice. I can choose to destroy or create.
No matter what I choose to do, I learn from it. The human brain is made to learn from experience. There is no escaping it. You can expose yourself to stimulus to reinforce behavior or to discourage behavior. You can expose yourself to stimulus to learn a new skill, to experience pleasure, displeasure, or whatever floats your boat.
When I interact with people, I am well aware of my choices. I can choose to create drama, or foster cooperation or collaboration. I can have a conversation and develop a genuine interest in my fellow human beings. In the age of the screen, this is becoming one of the hardest things to do. For in the age of the screen, people can withdraw into their screens. They can check out to Facebook, Twitter or the news.
Intimacy is the most powerful stimulus. It was and is the first stimulus. For most of us, the first thing we saw after birth was our mother’s eyes, and her bosom. We felt her skin against ours, and we could feel her chest rise and fall with her every breath. When we were born, we were accepted, unconditionally. That is a very powerful stimulus.
The Jews that survived the Nazi concentration camps proved that we can choose our stimulus. They held out hope against hope. They managed their minds despite intense adversity. So too, can we, the poor, the sinking middle class, in America.