October 31, 2012 |  by

Like many residents of the Mid-Atlantic, Edith and I are picking up tree limbs, small branches, and other vestiges of Hurricane Sandy.  Thankfully, damage to Weather Hill is minimal.

The impending storm caused a flurry of activity at the local hardware store.  Generators were in demand – a friend told me that she was number 61 on a waiting list.  I wonder what Eric Sloane would think of that?  It set me thinking about Eric’s Philosophy of Awareness, and idea that has intrigued me for years – in fact, I entitled the biography I wrote of Eric Aware: A Retrospective of the Life and Work of Eric Sloane.  It seemed like a fitting title and after eleven years it still does.

Eric suggested that the early American was more aware than we are today – an awareness born of necessity because of the way people lived and worked.  The early American man and woman were more aware of the environment to be sure – weather, for example, was a factor that was closely watched because one’s livelihood and indeed perhaps one’s life, depended on a level of awareness that simply does not exist today.  Yesterday you might have to deliver a wagon load of grain to the next village, today one leaves a climate controlled house to climb into a climate controlled automobile to drive to a climate controlled office.  Rain and snow are a nuisance today, yesterday they could prove deadly to the traveler caught unaware.

Eric suggested another, perhaps kinder, interpretation of awareness.  In this second version, the early American man and woman were more aware because so much of what they created they either did so by their own hands, or knew who did.  A pair of socks, for example, take on a different significance when they were knitted for you by your grandmother.  You would treat a candlestand or table differently if you made it with your own two hands.  Furniture like that finds a prominent place in familial lore and is usually passed down from generation to generation.  Can you see the same occurring with a press board table made in China and sold in 7,500 WalMart stores across our nation?

I think Eric was also trying to tease out exactly what this all meant for the man and woman of today.  As we progressed from and agricultural society into an industrial one, we left a lot of things behind – most things for the good.  Yet it is difficult to argue that we as a people and as a nation didn’t experience a loss.  Eric Sloane himself would be the first to argue how unrealistic it is to think that we could or should return to “the good old days”.  But what have we given up?  As humans, we practiced and lived an agricultural existence for thousands of years – we’ve lived an industrial one for one hundred and fifty.  We are arguably more wealthy and have more leisure time than ever before.  How come we are more depressed, less satisfied, more medicated, and less fulfilled than ever before?  What are we missing?

I am not a clinical psychologist, but I can’t help wondering if much of the dissatisfaction of a present age has to do with the possibility that our brains and ways of thinking have not caught up to, speaking in an evolutionary sense, our new industrialized, sedentary, and over-stimulated lives.  Maybe our brain, aware of this drastically quick evolutionary jump, has not yet determined a response to this new shift, but instead manifests it’s lack of comfort with our new ways of working and living in other ways.  How does awareness play a role?  I’ll attempt to explain that tomorrow.  Right now, Edith and I have more branches to collect…

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