Out of Our Depth

by CYNTHIA E AYERS November 12, 2012

At a time when our country needs depth in domestic and foreign policy issues, the shallow nature of celebratology and the soundbite reigns supreme.  At a time when we need jobs, economic stability, and entrepreneurship, the American public seems to have voted for the continuation of superficial tax and spend, nanny-state policies.   I don't know about you - but I'm sick and tired of shallow and superficial.  I'm looking for depth-in anything worthwhile-but it's getting harder and harder to find.  In fact, we seem to be completely out of it.

Depth in leadership?  Not much.  Leaders are too often chosen based on looks, political correctness, and celebrity potential, if not celebrity status.  They are supposed to look good and sound good-and of course, never to offend (offense as defined by the politically correct).  Those characteristics seem to increasingly extend to political appointees, both civilian and military.  There are consequences for those who disagree with the administration in charge, so the questioning of authority rarely occurs.

Depth in perspectives?   I suppose it depends on your viewpoint.  The politically efficacious mainstream media keeps us wallowing in a shallow perspective of domestic and global events, perhaps because that's where they are most comfortable themselves.  Only a very few of either the anointed (journalists) or the elected dare go beyond the superficial aspects of their duties-venturing out into rough seas to check on questionable programs and practices; swimming against the tide by bringing potentially catastrophic, life-changing situations to the public's attention; and diving into the deep end by learning about and considering the objectives of enemies while seeking information about infiltrators.  These intrepid individuals are all-too-often held up for public scorn, which the media ensures is piled high and (ironically) deep.  As we have recently seen, the ability of the truly brave to win the next election is continually at risk because of bad publicity due to non-conformance to the will of those who do the reporting for the masses-that is, they didn't resign themselves to the shallows.

When people, children or adults, learn to swim, they start at the shallow end of the pool, or at the edge of a body of water.  It is, after all, very difficult to learn to swim when you are thrown (or jump) into deep water.  It can be done - but it's definitely not the least stressful, most pleasant way.  Few parents would push their small children in over their head and leave them to sink or swim.   Yet regardless of how one initially learns, the challenge of conquering one's fear of deep waters should be compelling-at least to those who would lead. 

Still, some prefer to remain in the shallows.  In youth, one can be so fearful of deep water that it is avoided at all costs.  As adults, those who never-before ventured forth may simply be too embarrassed to go further, tending to stay where they are more comfortable-where fragile egos will not be damaged by the feeling or appearance of being "out of their depth."

Analogies to life are myriad, but perhaps Warren Buffett brought it all down to one sentence:  "Only when the tide goes out do you discover who's been swimming naked."  Indeed.   To put it a bit differently, those who are in the shallows are the first to be exposed when the tide deserts them. 

We're out of our depth in so many ways:

Children are used to being coddled and kept from any possibility of danger-never allowed to go beyond shallows.  After all, there could be bacteria, snakes, alligators, and other "warriors of the water" out there.  In fact, they may never even enter the water-it's dangerous enough on land.  (And scary -can you imagine a future where salt is sold on the streets as contraband, and people who smoke [cigarettes, that is - as opposed to marijuana] lurk in the shadows?)  Why put yourself at further risk by entering more foreign environments?

We can no longer think "in depth," let alone safely express opinions.   Over the past 40 years, political correctness has kept education (at all levels) in shallow waters.  Critical thinking skills-necessary to advance to deeper waters-have been discouraged in favor of simple acceptance, repetition and adherence to specific (usually biased) perspectives.  Few dare to consider (at least out-loud) what is right and what is wrong.  The ability to see the reality of adversarial intent is severely restricted.  Calls for "hate-speech" laws-with one-sided views of the definition of such-are on the rise.

Technological depth has replaced cognitive depth. Technology has taken society into a time-managed world laden with tweets, texts, soundbites, PowerPoint bullets, "elevator speeches," and quick downloads (preferably 2 minutes or less).  Movies and television shows must be packed with action. Conceptual innovation (depth) is limited to technological marvels that capture and maintain attention.  If seconds go by without some striking, sensory stimulating event, boredom sets in and soundbites from critics determine the production's fate.  Those who fund such endeavors learn that the money is found in engaging the listener/viewer to clips of nine seconds or less.  Thus, there is no depth in conversation, culture, or virtually any sort of social interaction-you can't get depth in nine seconds.

Cogitation (thinking in depth) in decision-making is passé-it left the scene with the introduction of The One-Minute Manager.  Memos are too long if they exceed one page, articles won't be read if they are over 1000 words, books are purchased, but rarely opened (Harry Potter books may be the exception)-nobody has the time.  Gone are long love letters, let alone the (previously believed to be fascinating) snail-mail discussions of social and political issues by great leaders such as Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.  If we do write, we can only hope that at least a few people actually take time to read beyond the first sentence of the first paragraph-if we do read, we habitually skip over most of the material and confidently assume we caught the gist.  At a time when there is more written material available than ever before, few have the time to read and truly THINK about what they can learn from having done so.  Thus, we continue to think and act based on whatever superficial nonsense that manages to capture the brain's attention long enough to make an impression.    

So what, you say?  Why should you care? 

  • Have we just elected the leaders of our country based on the soundbites that dominate the media in shallow, seconds-long snapshots of a challenger's character, conviction and achievements-many of them simply lies and innuendos?  Did we really put the survival of Big Bird over the financial sovereignty of our country-or was that just a bad dream about drowning in debt?
  • Have we, through the electoral process, given the shallow impression of a mandate for more of the tactics that have been used to divide us-and to keep us mired in the shallows of government handouts and union jobs in order to survive?
  • Have we agreed to a mile-wide and inch-deep pool full of albatrosses (e.g. Obamacare)?
  • Have we allowed our principles to be ignored by cutting deals with cruel, dictatorial and adversarial regimes while throwing our allies under the bus?  Have we further denigrated the bravest of our elected leaders for attempting to call attention to the gravest of threats to homeland/national security?   Are we REALLY-as a nation-THAT SHALLOW?

 

I could go on and on - but few would ever finish the article.  Suffice it to say that if we continue to live in the shallows, history will reflect us as shallow.   Our legacy will, in fact, BE shallow.   How will we be remembered?   If you have enough depth within you for "the Dark Ages" to come to mind, you get my point. 

As a nation, we're about to be exposed by low-tide.

*The opinions noted within this article are those of the author, and cannot be attributed to any government or non-government entity to which the author has been associated.

Family Security Matters Contributing Editor Cynthia E. Ayers is currently Director of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security. Prior to accepting the Task Force position, she served as Vice President of EMPact Amercia, having retired from the National Security Agency after over 38 years of federal service-a period that included 8 years at the U.S. Army War College's Center for Strategic Leadership.


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