Seeking a Counterculture of Commitment in an Age of Infinite Browsing




  • The Polish philosopher Zygmunt Bauman has a great phrase for what I’m talking about: liquid modernity. We never want to commit to any one identity or place or community, Bauman explains, so we remain like liquid, in a state that can adapt to fit any future shape.
  • Nobody wants to be stuck behind a locked door—but nobody wants to live in a hallway, either. It’s great to have options when you lose interest in something, but I’ve learned that the more times I jump from option to option, the less satisfied I am with any given option.
  • That’s a real teacher—demanding more of you but committing to you if you commit to learning.
  • Folks such as Mrs. Gatley and Mr. Ballou—and icons like Dorothy Day, Fred Rogers, and Martin Luther King Jr.—aren’t just a random assortment of people. I’ve come to think about them as part of a shared counterculture—a Counterculture of Commitment. All of them took the same radical act of making commitments to particular things—to particular places and communities, to particular causes and crafts, and to particular institutions and people.
  • The dominant culture pushes us to build our résumés and not get tied down to a place. It pushes us to value abstract skills that can be applied anywhere, rather than craft skills that might help us do only one thing well. It tells us to not get too sentimental about anything.
  • They’re citizens—they feel responsible for what happens to society. They’re patriots—they love the places where they live and the neighbors who populate those places. They’re builders—they turn ideas into reality over the long haul.
  • They build relationships with particular things. And they show their love for those relationships by working at them for a long time—by closing doors and forgoing options for their sake.
  • That’s what life tends to give us: not big, brave moments, but a stream of little, ordinary ones out of which we must make our own meaning.
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