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Progress and Decline at the Same Time

A name calling President who regularly insults others in public doesn’t seem like progress. Yet, we continue to advance medical technology to the point of AIDS being more treatable than before. We can detect certain cancers earlier and life expectancy is higher. This is promising.

The leading cause of death for adults 25-45 years old last year was drug overdose. In fact, the leading causes of death in all adults under the age of 50 is, for the most part, self-inflicted. Drug overdose, suicide, and heart failure all compete for number one. This doesn’t seem like progress. Earlier I took a train from London to Paris which travels underneath the water. I ate breakfast at a preserve in Australia with Koala bears and Kangaroos and had a soft drink and wrote in my journal while sitting in Tiananmen Square, in the heart of Beijing. Some of this seems like progress.

The difficult part is that the progress seems to be catered to individuals, while the collective mindset seems to be in trouble. The rich are richer; the poor are poorer. We are making progress and are in decline at the same time.

Community is no longer primarily face to face. Life together seems to take a back seat to partisanship and prolonged cynical monologues. Congress has never had a lower approval rating and our ability to self-govern, peacefully, as a community, seems to be in trouble. Yet, individual liberties, mobility, and opportunity is kind of staggering. There are really cool things to do in this world. There are beautiful things to see and extraordinary people to hang with. Yet, individuals should find each other sooner than later. We do need each other whether we can admit it or not.

A couple years ago, my son and I were walking in downtown Chicago together. This was a father/son day out. We were taking on the Windy City, just the two of us. So, we ate lunch at a Chinese restaurant and my son talked, we laughed, and it was fun. He was 12 years old at the time. 

On the way out of the restaurant, the nice lady at the counter handed my son a dessert, just because. So, that was just cool. As we walked down the street, a weathered and weary looking man came up to us asking for food. Without hesitation, my son handed him the dessert, still untouched, still in the container. The stranger said thank you. My son said 'you're welcome'. We exchanged a few pleasantries and went about our day.
Increasingly, people are looking for answers, food, and work. People are also looking for other people. To make progress, we will need each other. Apart from one another, sometimes feels like decline.

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As a University director of study abroad in Central Texas, ideas and stories matter. These reflections are for pilgrims making progress.