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Rabbi Irwin Kula

Rabbi Irwin Kula

Posted: October 15, 2010 11:24 AM

The Chilean Miners and Reality TV

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Over the past 69 days we have been witness to reality TV at its best. Not the faux reality TV staged to titillate or humiliate which leaves us entertained but needing to take a shower, rather a media experience that elevates and inspires and leaves us believing we are capable of no less than miracles. For 69 days the world has increasingly been captivated by the drama of 33 miners trapped more than 700 meters underground. For 17 of those days the miners did not even know if they would be discovered, yet alone rescued. As news of the historic rescue unfolded, people around the globe increasingly followed the story and in these last days, as the rescue became imminent, more than 1300 journalists covered the story. Projections are close to a billion people tuned in to some part of the rescue operation. Three months ago if we heard the word Chile, most of us would have either thought about the food or about some terribly poor country. Today, say the word Chile and the immediate associations are courage, heroism, faith, collaboration, awe, responsibility, commitment, hope, and love.

It is not difficult to understand why this story is so compelling -- far more compelling than the celebrity scandals, political mudslinging, fetishistic, and dark stories that dominate the 24/7 media cycle. After what seems to be an endless run of bad news, tragedies, corruption, greed, polarization, anger, cynicism, and the ongoing failure of all sorts of leadership to address complex problems, for once, the headlines are filled with a positive story that speaks to and reflects who we know we can be when we rise above our often manipulated fears. In these first hours of processing the meaning of this redemptive drama it seems pretty clear that though we always hear that dark and fearful stories sell far more than hopeful and loving stories -- since we are hardwired to be more alert to and engaged by fear -- that actually, paradoxically, we have the choice about what to be compelled by. We choose whether hopeful stories are considered newsworthy. We choose whether they grab our interest and attention in the same way as fear provoking stories. Watching the rescue of these 33 miners, most of the time simply seeing that same image of inside the mine, waiting for that same scene to repeat itself 33 times, of a narrow capsule -- the Phoenix 2 - to emerge from the ground reminds us that there is no such thing as "the news" rather we decide what is news.

There are myriad of stories competing for our attention in an interconnected globalized world. As viewers, we choose whether Lindsey Lohan, the balloon boy, incendiary politicians, and raging and demonizing media personalities are newsworthy or not. As consumers of news, we help determine what the media will select, and what will be ignored; what will appear on the headlines, and what will get relegated to the back of the page. There is no -- "just the news." We help construct what becomes the news by the choices we make. Similarly, producers and editors have the power to decide what is worthy of being reported and commented upon -- one more trivial poll, another political spin, an insane pastor who represents no one, a lone disturbed blogger, reputation ruining gossip. We -- consumers, viewers, readers, users, curators, producers, editors, journalists -- all share responsibility for creating what becomes the news that shapes our public culture, our emotional landscape, our water cooler conversations.

In the weeks to come, swarms of media will report and analyze the next chapters of this story. How healthy it would be to hear about the discipline, routine, and shared responsibility the miners exhibited that kept them mentally and physically fit and working together. How interesting it would be to learn about the schedule the miners lived by that combined what in our polarized culture seems so incommensurate -- twice-daily talk with psychologists, group therapy, and twice-daily prayer sessions. What wisdom can we garner from how these 33 miners -- with no formal expertise, with no degrees in political science, organizational psychology, or conflict resolution -- spontaneously generated a method of collective decision-making and the ability to control and self-regulate their instincts and appetites? What can we learn about people's unrealized capacities from how leadership emerged for the benefit of all: leadership that included an "official" electrician, pastor, doctor, assistant paramedic, biographer, poet...

How informative it would be to understand how government and private companies came together to actually accomplish something neither could have accomplished alone, and how educative it would be to understand how serious national pride of Chileans combined with the transcending of political boundaries to create an unprecedented rescue in the history of mining. We need to learn about the types of collaborations of the more than 300 above ground team of doctors, psychologists, communication experts, cooks, engineers, launderers...

And why was the decision made that neither personal music players with headphones nor any handheld video games be sent down to the miners, and how did this effect the way miners spent their time and the quality of their relationships to each other? Why was tobacco reluctantly permitted but alcohol ruled out? What can we learn from seeing the combination of both cutting edge engineering technology and inspiring human courage and perseverance without which this rescue would not have succeeded? What lessons are there for us about working class solidarity and commitment to one another in the way these miners lived together under unimaginable stress? And what does the way we have been compelled by this story say about our ability to be free from or at least less possessed by fear, negativity, aggression, anger, and banality?

Eventually, this story will start to fade. What will replace it? Will "Chile" be iconic and evocative of an empathic leap? Will we at least take the safety of miners more seriously, given that in the euphoria of saving these miners we ought not forget that the owners of this mine, the San Esteban Mining Company, had flouted safety regulations as recently as one month before this accident? Can the image of a human created system designed to lift people that are at rock bottom and bring them up be a metaphor for what deep down in the caverns of our own hearts we know we need to do for so many people in our country and across this planet?

A billion people in a networked world had a shared experience of life, as it should be. God or no God there must surely be some sort of obligation that comes with having been gifted to witness this "miracle" in our day.

 

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