February 10, 2017

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

In today’s world, reality may not always be the reality we’re used to

Cynthia DewesSometimes, we just want to get away from it all. In the winter down time when there’s not much to see or do, we can get pretty depressed. Add to that the craziness of the daily human condition, what with Russian territorial resurgence and trying to keep our jobs and figuring out what the new administration is up to. We’d like to avoid the whole thing.

This is when we turn to “Mayberry RFD” reruns and the “good old days.” We smile at Sheriff Andy and Deputy Barney, Aunt Bee and Opie, and remember fondly the values they displayed. We like to think that’s the way that society used to be, and still could be. But is that really true?

You’d think that reality would be a given; it either is, or it isn’t. But, in fact, it seems to shift meaning over time. Now, the kindness and respect for others we saw in Mayberry certainly did exist, but they were not the only reality of the time. There was also widespread racial discrimination, sometimes systemic, and well-known hypocrisy among political leaders and other authority figures, whose private lives were the opposite of what they advocated in public.

From “Mayberry,” we graduated to other current versions of charming reality in venues like “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and the “Mary Tyler Moore Show,” still laden with good people and good behaviors. You might call it the feel-good version of real life. But time marched on, and before we were aware of it, reality became somewhat sinister.

Popular music became darkly ominous, vulgar and even scary if you could understand the lyrics. Doing drugs, abusing women, even petty crime was presented as amusing subjects that teens and others absorbed from the popular culture. No more feel-good, but rather messages of warning and a kind of fatalism.

But wait! Along came yet another reality as presented in TV reality shows. We had “survivors” stuck on a desert island somewhere, wearing fetching rags and suffering isolation and the possibility of not, well, surviving. Never mind the background camera crews and other TV personnel standing around ready to serve whatever need.

The reality show extended to bad behavior. One show depicted an actual chef competing with another in the ups and downs of running a first-class restaurant. But some shows were more like entertaining travelogues presented as travel competitions. Teams of attractive couples tried to beat each other to assigned destinations, with hefty prizes at the end. Of course, the premise was always “reality.”

So what are we to think? Is nothing real? Is reality something merely in the eye of the beholder? Should we worry about it?

We know that the “good old days” weren’t all good, or that current “reality” is pretty subjective. But if we want to live what we consider an authentic life, we can find reality. Christ mapped it out for us in his words and actions. He gave us the Good News to reassure us on the journey, with saving love and forgiveness as a given.

The reality that underlies Christian principles is the basis for the reality sought by our secular society. Self-help books, touchy-feely advice columns, uplifting talk shows and the like reflect what the Gospels have always said. Doing unto others as we would have them do to us supports every virtue our society values: kindness, generosity, justice, you name it.

Non-religious folks recognize this, too. It’s my fervent wish that someday everyone will realize where reality began.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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