"Is that a real human?" our just-turned-four-year-old granddaughter asked on her fifth day at Disney World. The question popped out midway through an outdoor performance of Beauty and the Beast. It was a very good question.
We were on a family vacation with her parents and older sister to celebrate her birthday. She'd been repeatedly warned by one of us before anything deemed potentially "scary," cautioning her to remember it was "just pretend," or "a robot." So when the music turned intense and the Beast appeared on stage, it was a logical question to ask.
In a world filled with photo-wizardry, animatronics, virtual reality, and constantly morphing and emerging technologies, it can be hard to discern what's real and what's not - even if you're older than four.
When people assess status, popularity, or influence by the number of "friends" or "followers" or "pins" on a social media site, getting swept into believing that these are the "real" relationships that matter, it's time to check our own reality.
When gridlock-games of politicians block societal progress, it's hard not to wonder if they're "real" people with real-world problems or if they're living in an alternate reality. And when national polling finds TV judges deemed more worthy of trust than Supreme Court Justices, the question of what is "real" in these times should give us pause.
The magic of Disney imagineers may make it hard for a four year old to discern real from not real, but all of us should be able to recognize that TV "reality" shows are an oxymoron, genuine relationships require more than picture posting and 140 character messages, and in a shared world personal interests, wants, and desires can't always prevail.
With the bombardment of instant messages, push-back tweets, and 24/7 reporting cycles, we seem to be losing both our perspective and our common sense.
When did the win become more important than how it was achieved, or working toward the greater good become a misguided objective? When did we stop letting people evolve, learn and grow - to try and fail and try again with encouragement, instead of instantly and publicly shouting them out or finger-pointing their mistakes? When did we start seeing an avatar in place of a real person with real emotions?
In the scheme of things, as long as anonymous rants and trolls are acceptable, air brushed pictures the standard, and fact checking a lost art, we'll be as confused as my little granddaughter. And yet, as cries for genuine, real, and authentic escalate in everything from organic food to unplugged retreats, I do believe there's hope that our collective common sense is only misplaced and not lost. I'm hoping we find it soon.
(c) 2013 Nan S. Russell. All Rights Reserved.
Nan S. Russell is the award-winning
author of "Hitting Your Stride: Your Work, Your Way." Her third book,
"The Titleless Leader," was published May 2012. Her new book: Trust,
Inc.: How to Create a Business Culture that Will Ignite Passion,
Engagement, and Innovation releases Fall 2013. More about Nan and her
work can be found at www.nanrussell.com. Sign up to receive Nan's free monthly eColumn at: www.intheschemeofthings.com