A Message from Executive Director
Have you noticed that everything seems to be about winning and losing these days? This year’s Presidential election clearly illustrated how winning and losing have taken center stage, too often at the expense of real dialogue about the difficult issues that we face as a community, a nation, a people, and a species.
It’s not just Presidential politics, either. Look at how we fill our waking hours. We have four major professional sports leagues followed by everything from car racing to mixed martial arts, tournament poker, ultimate Frisbee, bull riding, and more. The amount of television coverage for all these sports adds up to thousands of hours of programming per week. Reality television piles it on with competitions of singing, dancing, dating, cooking, living, surviving – there are even shows about parking garages. All of this is part of a much larger trend of trivializing everything down to its entertainment value. Sports is entertainment, gaming is entertainment, social media is entertainment, news is entertainment, entertainment is entertainment.
I am not immune. I consume just like millions of others, but this trend is not benign. Looking back in time there are eerie echoes of Roman bread and circuses. Wikipedia explains bread and circuses as:
“…metonymic for a superficial means of appeasement. in the case of politics, the phrase is used to describe the generation of public approval, not through exemplary or excellent public service or public policy, but through diversion; distraction; or the mere satisfaction of the immediate, shallow requirements of a populace, as an offered ‘palliative.'”
Roman Emperor Augustus used this tactic combining free grain and elaborate entertainment – think gladiators, chariot races, and the Circus Maximus – to distract the populace and quell dissatisfaction even while the republic was being gutted by corruption and the rising self-interest of powerful private interests.
A more recent take on this theme can be found in The Hunger Games, a tale of a dystopian future in which food and gladiatorial-like contests provide diversion from the reality of the horrific system of subjugation and perpetuation of massive inequity. At the end, we learn that the name of the fictitious nation, Panem, is taken from the phrase Panem et Circenses, or bread and circuses. We are told that the ancient Roman writer who coined the phrase was expressing contempt for the idea that “in return for full bellies and entertainment, his people had given up their political responsibilities and therefore their power.”
We do not live in the Roman Empire. Nor do we live in Panem. We do, however, live in a time and place where there are colossal issues that need our attention, and yet we seem constantly distracted by mindless entertainment that allows us to escape so easily from the grit of our reality.
There’s nothing wrong with full bellies or entertainment. There is something wrong when it distracts us from the pressing issues that need our attention or robs us of the initiative to do something about them. Let us pledge to maintain focus on things that matter, problems that need addressing, and ways to improve the lives of all.
At SJI, we will continue to focus on helping individuals support themselves and their families through living-wage careers. We will do this by working with individuals, organizations, and systems. We will look for opportunities to effect change, seek out new solutions, add value, and increase our impact on behalf of both those seeking living-wage work and those seeking a skilled workforce.
Remember – it’s not about winning or losing – it’s about maintaining focus on what needs to be done to ensure that everyone, not just some, have opportunities to thrive and that our communities grow healthier and stronger. What will be your focus this coming year?