The Paradox of Our Time
Claim: A widely-circulated essay known as "The Paradox of Our Time" was penned by a student who witnessed the Columbine shootings.
Example: [Collected on the Internet, 1999]
The Paradox of our Time
The paradox of our time in history is that we have taller buildings, but shorter tempers; wider freeways, but narrower viewpoints.
We spend more, but have less; we buy more, but enjoy it less.
We have bigger houses and smaller families; more conveniences, but less time;
We have more degrees, but less sense; more knowledge, but less judgment; more experts, but more problems; more medicine, but less wellness.
We drink too much, smoke too much, spend too recklessly, laugh too little, drive too fast, get too angry too quickly, stay up too late, get up too tired, read too seldom, watch TV too much, and pray too seldom. [Carlin would never worry about people not praying enough. He thought prayer was bullshit!]
We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values.
We talk too much, love too seldom, and hate too often.
We've learned how to make a living, but not a life; we've added years to life, not life to years.
We've been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet the new neighbor.
We've conquered outer space, but not inner space.
We've done larger things, but not better things.
We've cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul.
We've split the atom, but not our prejudice.
We write more, but learn less.
We plan more, but accomplish less.
We've learned to rush, but not to wait.
We build more computers to hold more information to produce more copies than ever, but have less communication.
These are the times of fast foods and slow digestion; tall men, and short character; steep profits, and shallow relationships.
These are the times of world peace, but domestic warfare; more leisure, but less fun; more kinds of food, but less nutrition.
These are days of two incomes, but more divorce; of fancier houses, but broken homes.
These are days of quick trips, disposable diapers, throw-away morality, one-night stands, overweight bodies, and pills that do everything from cheer to quiet, to kill.
It is a time when there is much in the show window and nothing in the stockroom; a time when technology can bring this letter to you, and a time when you can choose either to share this insight, or to just hit delete.
Variations: Numerous versions are prefaced with this:
What a difference a sad event in someone's life makes.
GEORGE CARLIN (His wife recently died...)
Isn't it amazing that George Carlin - comedian of the 70's and 80's - could write something so very eloquent... and so very appropriate.
Origins: In May 1998, Jeff Dickson posted the 'Paradox of Our Time' essay to his Hacks-R-Us online forum, loosing it upon the Internet. The essay has since been attributed to comedian George Carlin, an unnamed Columbine High School student, and that most prolific of scribes, Anonymous.
GEORGE CARLIN VERY EMPHATICALLY DENIED HE HAD HAD ANYTHING TO DO WITH "PARADOX," A PIECE HE REFERRED TO AS "A SAPPY LOAD OF SHIT," and posted his comments about being associated with this essay on his own web site. With reference to the "His wife recently died" line found in many of the forwards, Brenda Carlin, the comedian's wife, died on 11 May 1997 of liver cancer.
The true author of the piece is neither George Carlin nor Jeff Dickson, nor is he anonymous. Credit belongs with Dr. Bob Moorehead, former pastor of Seattle's Overlake Christian Church. (He retired in 1998 after 29 years in that post). The essay appeared under the title "The Paradox of Our Age" in Words Aptly Spoken, Dr. Moorehead's 1995 collection of prayers, homilies, and monologues used in his sermons and radio broadcasts:
The Paradox of Our Age
We have taller buildings but shorter tempers; wider freeways but narrower viewpoints; we spend more but have less; we buy more but enjoy it less; we have bigger houses and smaller families; more conveniences, yet less time; we have more degrees but less sense; more knowledge but less judgement; more experts, yet more problems; we have more gadgets but less satisfaction; more medicine, yet less wellness; we take more vitamins but see fewer results. We drink too much; smoke too much; spend too recklessly; laugh too little; drive too fast; get too angry quickly; stay up too late; get up too tired; read too seldom; watch TV too much and pray too seldom.
We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values; we fly in faster planes to arrive there quicker, to do less and return sooner; we sign more contracts only to realize fewer profits; we talk too much; love too seldom and lie too often. We've learned how to make a living, but not a life; we've added years to life, not life to years. We've been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet the new neighbor. We've conquered outer space, but not inner space; we've done larger things, but not better things; we've cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul; we've split the atom, but not our prejudice; we write more, but learn less; plan more, but accomplish less; we make faster planes, but longer lines; we learned to rush, but not to wait; we have more weapons, but less peace; higher incomes, but lower morals; more parties, but less fun; more food, but less appeasement; more acquaintances, but fewer friends; more effort, but less success. We build more computers to hold more information, to produce more copies than ever, but have less communication; drive smaller cars that have bigger problems; build larger factories that produce less. We've become long on quantity, but short on quality.
These are the times of fast foods and slow digestion; tall men, but short character; steep in profits, but shallow relationships. These are times of world peace, but domestic warfare; more leisure and less fun; higher postage, but slower mail; more kinds of food, but less nutrition. These are days of two incomes, but more divorces; these are times of fancier houses, but broken homes. These are days of quick trips, disposable diapers, cartridge living, thow-away morality, one-night stands, overweight bodies and pills that do everything from cheer, to prevent, quiet or kill. It is a time when there is much in the show window and nothing in the stock room. Indeed, these are the times!
Those intent upon taking inspiration from "Paradox" should consider the following: during Bob Moorehead's tenure as pastor of Overlake Christian Church, seventeen members of his congregation reported that he had sexually assaulted them. These allegations, which surfaced in 1997, prompted his resignation in 1998. After a year of publicly supporting Moorehead the church elders withdrew their support, their own investigation into the charges having led them to conclude their pastor had indeed been guilty of molesting a number of male
Its true authorship aside, the piece picked up its attribution to an unnamed student who witnessed the killings at Littleton in the aftermath of 20 April 1999, while America was still struggling to make sense of that day's horrific events. The killings at Columbine shook us deeply, leaving behind a nation of survivors looking for the one set of answers which could begin to explain the horrifically inexplicable. Having this essay flow from the pen of an unnamed student who bore witness to this unspeakable act of violence made sense — surely such a teen would have valuable words of wisdom or cautions we all should heed. The oft-repeated header "A Columbine High School student wrote" infused the essay with the significance and meaning folks thirsted for. (This belief that witnessing a tragedy or losing a loved one imbues a person with special insight into the causes and cures of society's ills also fuels the Internet version of the testimony given before the House judiciary committee by Darrell Scott, father of Rachel Scott, one of the teens murdered at Columbine High School.)
It felt right that this essay emerge from the horror that was the Columbine massacre. Certainly someone somewhere had to be able to make sense of all this. Certainly some good, some protection against future acts of random insanity, had to come out of all this grief and loss, else what had it all been for? Yet that was not the case. The essay which has come to be called "The Paradox of Our Time" was written at least four years before the killings in Littleton, Colorado. There was no association between the essay and the shootings, though many felt at least momentarily comforted by the notion that there had been.
We like pieces such as "The Paradox of Our Time" because they summarize all the problems of modern society into a neat laundry list of "What Has Gone Wrong" while presenting possible solutions by way of juxtaposition. The pairing of "We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values," for example, implies that increased affluence is responsible for a decline in morality and carries the underlying implication that if we turn our backs on the almighty dollar, our kids will no longer murder one another.
Clear-cut cause-and-effect pairings provide far more comfort than does accepting the harsh reality that we live in a world of no assurances at all, a world where bad things can happen at any moment, to anyone, for no discernable (and thus no preventable) reason. Our ancestors coped with that feeling of powerlessness by inventing myths about petty, lust-filled, vengeful gods who, even if they were capricious in their actions and insensible to the human misery their warring caused, were at least tangible entities who could be identified as the cause of otherwise unfathomable catastrophes. Our sophistication has loosed us from our belief in those myths, leaving us vulnerable to a sense of a world careening out of control.
Barbara "chaos theory" Mikkelson
Last updated: 1 November 2007
The URL for this page is http://www.snopes.com/politics/soapbox/paradox.asp
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Sources: Macdonald, Sally. "Lawsuit Against Pastor Explained." Seattle Times 19 August 1998 (p. B1).
Moorehead, Bob. Words Aptly Spoken. Kirkland, WA: Overlake Christian Press, 1995. IBSN 0-9639496-6-7 (pp. 197-198).
Associated Press. "Overlake Elders Reverse Earlier Stance on Pastor Case." 21 May 1999.
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