I spent the last few days camping and biking in the hills of rural Slovakia. For whatever reason, I got to thinking about the past and all the things I have enjoyed in the country that I now call home.
Following many dark decades of oppressive Communism, theirs was still a vibrant culture. Much of the Slovak culture is rooted in the ancient past, but also I suppose that, through a strong sense of culture and togetherness, they survived the evils of Communism and made life worth living. Families and friends knew how to come together, work together, celebrate together, drink together, and even sing and dance together. The discos were filled with so much enthusiasm for life. People lived fully and did things together.
As the 1990’s and 2000’s wore on—and the country became subjected to commercialism and tasteless, trash entertainment—everything gradually changed. Increasingly, people would avoid meeting or doing anything together. Far easier to stay home, take care of the house, go to the mall, and post dishonest projections of your life on social media. No more weekends at the cottage with family. No more unannounced visits. Nobody cared much about music or cultural events.
The quest for material comfort and success has led directly to more financial stress, loneliness, and isolation. During these past many years, life here became a competition to appear cooler, better, or more successful than others. A so-called “hipster” culture even emerged—which has nothing to do with the real, open-minded, fun hipster culture that I experienced in Seattle in the early 2000’s. No, this hipster culture is built upon the terrible music and art thrust upon us by mainstream culture, involves no free-thinking, no expression of emotion, and thoughtlessly rejects all of history and culture as cliché. Boring.
At the same time, the population has become so overwhelmingly elderly and dying. Right now, it all feels like a massive letting go of the past. Coronavirus was the death blow to anything cultural that remained. Sure, a few of the newer restaurants are thriving, but all the old establishments are essentially dead. Villages are now only private homes and there is nothing to do publicly other than go to church (with masks of course…so never mind).
I could be wrong, but I believe Slovakia is a microcosm, and that what I have observed here is happening around the world. I wonder what will come next. If we are to thrive again as individuals, families, and as a culture, I know that we will have to start by becoming rooted in what is real. This will require a letting go of ego—so that we value connectedness, having fun with people, appreciating beauty from our own perspectives, becoming vulnerable enough to lead others toward having a good time. We will need to stop competing, stop arguing, and stop judging.
We must rise beyond the limitations of our media / government / school conditioning and brainwashing. The way forward toward a life worth living is with an open mind and open heart. May we remember, celebrate, and keep alive everything vibrant and beautiful from our past as we create a future where everything real and beautiful is valued.
I am grateful for the love and closeness I have with my family, but we are craving much broader and deeper relationships and cultural connectedness. Change must always start with ourselves, and we are committed to doing something about this dreadful situation.