March 23, 2012

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

That seventh sense of ours is not only valuable, it is necessary

Cynthia DewesGuess what? There is now an app which will warn you if you are spending too much time hunched over while texting or using whatever technical gadget is available as we speak. This posture, if we adopt it too often, gives us backaches or something.

Who knew such devices were harmful to one’s health? One’s physical health, that is, not counting the sneaky sonic wave damage so favored by conspiracy theorists. In my opinion, many of these gizmos are already a hazard to one’s mental health because they encourage us to share every insignificant fact or fancy that comes to mind, thus making us appear somewhat dim-witted.

Then there is emotional health to worry about with these things. While we are told that they encourage communication, I think they do the opposite. There is no face-to-face, no personal interaction, no opportunity to read body language or tone of voice in assessing the need or intent of our “conversational” partner. But then, admittedly, I’m an old fossil.

To me, the idea of physical presence, even by telephone, is essential to true intimacy with another person. I realize that in today’s busy life time is important and we want to use the fastest, shortest route. Not that we seem to use well all the time we save, but that’s another matter. Don’t get me started.

We can learn many things with personal contact, of course, since we have five senses to help us, including hearing, seeing, touching, smelling and tasting.

Some claim we have a sixth sense, too, as in extra-sensory perception. But unlike the original five senses, ESP is not common to all of us, which is too bad because it might come in pretty handy.

Apparently, another seventh sense we don’t all share is common sense.

My favorite example of this lack is the above-mentioned use of electronic devices. The anonymity they provide seems to make some people lose sense entirely, as in the teenagers who send out nude photos of themselves or the unidentifiable folks who bully others online. It’s that human quality known as “if they can’t catch me doing it, it doesn’t count.”

But there are lots of other examples as the evening news tells us daily. Even well-meaning Church people can be guilty of it.

Take substituting in our liturgical language the limited “visible and invisible” for “seen and unseen,” a more beautifully profound phrase. Or changing “one in being,” which is easily spoken and understood in English, to “consubstantial,” a difficult Latin word. Neither example follows Pope Paul VI’s desire after Vatican Council II to translate the liturgy into vernacular language which would be clear to everyone, including children and the uneducated.

Oh, well. Get over it, I say to myself. Is Lent a time to be griping about the current human condition? No, I answer myself.

Lent should be the time to use my own common sense, such as it is, to practice what I’m preaching. As in visiting an elderly aunt or picking up the telephone to call her. Or writing (gasp!) an actual letter to an old friend or inviting a new friend to dinner. Or offering to baby-sit a “grand” or a neighbor’s tot or being pleasant to a surly sales clerk.

It seems to me that Lent should be about learning to love as God loves us at Easter and every other time. All our senses should be alerted to help us with this, but especially that seventh one, common sense.

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

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