In his 18th-century novella, "Hero of Our Time," Russian writer Mikhail Lermontov proclaims: “The disease has been diagnosed! How to cure it, only God knows.” Unfortunately for the reader, Lermontov never spells out what the disease is. He leaves the riddle unanswered, however, leaving it to others to solve.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn, perhaps, can provide the answer. A Soviet dissident who was exiled in the 1970s following his publication of works critical of the Soviet system, he gave a speech at Harvard University in 1978. During this speech, he spoke at length about the decadence of Western society. At one point in this speech he stated: “Hastiness and superficiality are the psychic disease of the 20th century …”
One does not need look far in order to comprehend that, if he was not describing society in 1978, then he was certainly describing society today in 2019.
Drivers anger when the stoplight sits at red for too long, blaming traffic rather than the fact that they partied too long last night and overslept that morning for their lateness arriving at work. Patrons of a restaurant become short with their waiters when the food takes longer to be served than expected. So-called social-media influencers devolve into a screaming child if their sponsored posts take too long to load. If anything goes wrong with the work computer or internet, employees yell at those in the IT department, forgetting about them the moment all technology works, taking for granted the work they do.
This does not extend only to strangers, but also to family as well. How quick is a child to consider her parents bigoted and slow if they do not hold the same social beliefs as the current generation, forgetting that society’s morals change ever so quickly on a dime. How quick are parents to punish their child if she does not immediately get her math homework done, failing to realize that the child might not be a great mathematician, but because that child spends her days reading she may become a great writer.
To speak of superficiality in modern society seems superfluous. Nevertheless, suffice it to say that social media with its filtered, whitewashed view of reality only serves to stoke the ego of the poster and to depress those who view these posts, since the viewer comes to believe that his friend’s lives are a million times better than they are, and he compares the mediocrity of his existence with the social-media-engineered life of his “friends.”1 comment on this story
Hastiness and superficiality are the psychic diseases of the 21st century. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the false narratives of our lives that we spin on our social media accounts. It is also apparent in the news media; in our interactions with friends, where we stare at our phones rather than spending time with those we hold dear; and in the manner that we conduct our daily lives. How to cure the disease, perhaps, we can turn to another Russian writer.
Leo Tolstoy once penned these words: “If, then, I were asked for the most important advice I could give, that which I considered to be the most useful to the men of our century, I should simply say: in the name of God, stop a moment, cease your work, look around you.” These words ring true to the men and women of our century. To find a moment of peace — pray, meditate, take a hike through the mountains — is to cure the disease within the self. And to heal the self is to heal the world.