Coping with the present shocks – Insights from the secular prophet, Alvin Toffler

May 6, 2020 | INSIGHTS

May our ordered lives confess the beauty of Your peace.

After a slow start in terms of locking down, for which the government is likely to incur much retrospective blame, we can yet be really grateful for the way in which it, along with a vast array of businesses, have kept food-stocks on supermarket shelves, and maintained so many of the essential platforms of our life, as well as making available the means to pay vast numbers of people currently on furlough. Whilst the crisis has served to highlight in the starkest possible terms the gaps between rich and poor, and there are many who still fall between the cracks in terms of applying for compensation, the British government has nevertheless done a remarakble job in supporting so many on a scale never seen before.

It was no surprise to learn recently that a very high percentage of people in the UK are reporting increased anxiety as a result of the changes brought about by Coronavirus, and this feels like a good time to pray into some of the underlying aspects of that.

When I was at university, I was vaguely aware of the important research and insights that Alvin Toffler had written up in his international bestsellers Future Shock (1970) and The Third Wave (1996). He was commonly described as a futurologist, but so far as he was concerned, predictions were something best left to astrologers and speculators: he was far more interested in analysing developing trends to see where they were likely to lead – and his insights continue to have much to say about our present situation.

Toffler foresaw the fundamental change in western society from a manual manufacturing base to a knowledge based one. He likewise anticipated the swift development of computer technology, and the emergence of such things as the Internet and chat rooms, along with means of communication that would enable people to be able to work from home – as well as many of the strains and struggles that these would cause!

Physical Strain and Information Overload

Yesterday morning I felt to read Chapters 15 and 16 of Future Shock, in which Toffler examines some really fascinating and detailed research into the physical and the psychological dimensions of constant change. At this time, when familiar rhythms, routines and patterns have, for the time being at least, come to a screeching halt – and we don’t know precisely when, or even if, some things will ever be resumed – it is important to recognise just how significant is the toll that this uncertainty will be taking on most of us.

Many people who appear to be coping well, or at least stoically, with major changes at the time, may actually find themselves paying the price later. It is so important to bring these matters to the Lord as they are starting to happen in some cases already for others are likely to do so later.

In these particular chapters Toffler explores the effect of change on our physical and mental well-being, and shows in convincing detail just how dramatically major change can trigger long term physiological disturbances and weakness in the human body. Over the course of the last few ‘digital decades’ in particular, all of us have had to tussle and grapple with a multitude of adjustments in the pattern of our lives, in which technology has moved on at a dazzling speed – without corresponding attention being paid to the ethics involved, let alone looking to biblical morality.

Ahead of most, Toffler antcipated the unprecedented strains that ‘information overload’ would bring – a concept he turned into a household phrase. Given that the transmission rate of parcels of information within a computer system is billions of times faster than that of our own sense organs and neural pathways, it is essential that we recognise that there are limits beyond which our minds cannot go without our efficiency being impaired. Many of us become overwhelmed when faced with a surfeit of major changes, and struggle with knowing not only the best things to do, but the right order in which to do them. Some people indeed, lose direction to the point where they fail to distinguish between illusion and reality. Little surprise, then, that some of us end up making poor choices! May the Lord help us to compensate accordingly – and inspire us to pray for the mental and spiritual health of the world at this time.

Toffler was certainly no Christian and his fame has diminished, partly, one suspects, because so many of the ‘future’ developments he identified, including the demise of the nuclear family, have long since come to pass. His major concern, however, was that we should understand that not everybody has the emotional flexibility or even the willingness to cope with the unrelenting speed of change – not least the requirements for various forms of compliance from regulatory institutions such as the EU, or those imposed by authoritarian states.

Concerning our ability to adapt

Toffler looks in detail at what psychologists call an “orientation response,” which occurs when we are confronted with any new stimuli, irrespective of whether it initially appears to be good or difficult. The Lord has shaped and crafted within us an ability to adapt to new situations, but we are not designed to thrive on adrenaline forever. When our life – and that of all society around us – becomes filled with too many challenges, then, like a river swollen by flood, we are at risk of bursting our emotional banks.

At this time when so many are having to come to terms with such great and varied changes, it is no wonder that this can lead to lethargy or physical illness, or to erratic changes of behaviour. The psychological overstimulation of people’s psyche is having a massive impact on our culture, just as our unbridled use of fossil fuels has led to such damaging effects on the environment.

Culture shock and profound disorientation occur when people feel psychologically unable to respond any more, be it emotionally, physically or spiritually. Even as some rise to great crises with aplomb, and show considerable adaptability, others, who find themselves obliged to operate above their capacity for a sustained period, spiral into mental deterioration and psychological collapse – and often spiritual breakdown too – becoming irritable, and sensitive to the least provocation.

We have become familiar with hearing of the effect of post traumatic stress on once efficient soldiers who have been damaged by the effects of intense warfare, causing them to suddenly lose the ability to respond to the world around them. People who have survived earthquakes, tornadoes and other extreme natural disasters can likewise feel overwhelmed in the aftermath of the trauma.

May the Lord restore and reinvigorate our coping mechanisms to help us find His way in it all. Most especially may He watch over us and keep us from distorted thinking and dangerous reactions in the heat of the traumas we go through. Thank You, Lord Jesus, that though these be times of extreme confusion and disorientation You do not abandon Your people.

We pray Your balance and restraint likewise, when less extreme but equally real pressures such as boredom or the desire for comfort pave the way for temptation to strike.

Recognising that we have all suffered loss during this time

One of the hardest things to deal with over this extended period of lockdown, is the enforced distancing from some of those we are closest to. For those who are already disorientated and shaken, to be denied nearness can be a very traumatic thing. Grandparents and grandchildren, cousins, friends, church communities and so on. We miss hugs and glances, worship and a shared coffee. For some, especially children and young people who have had to work hard to understand new ways of social behaviour, it may take a long time before they are able to feel safe when we are allowed to be near others again.

Father, for those who have suffered deep and lasting loss, we pray Your tender presence to be very close and comforting. And for those who have suffered deep and lasting loss, we pray You be very close in Your tenderness and find ways to help and comfort.

Father, thank You for our friendships, those tried and trusted places where we know ourselves safe. Thank You for our friends. May we be creative and open in how we maintain them, and ready to grasp opportunity to grow them despite the social distancing. May we also recognise, though, when we are in need of screen-free time. Use our friendships prayerfully and creatively we pray. And Lord, keep our hearts, and the hearts of our children, near even if our hugs must, for the time being, remain virtual.

Pray for the mental stability of many

With the future so uncertain for so many, let’s pray for stability of hearts and minds, for lives to become grounded in God, and for society itself to work together to prepare a good path forward.

Father, we pray that You will watch over the mental health and capabilities of our nation and particularly of our leaders. Be with each one and guide them toward the very best decisions. Keep them from those that are rushed or rash, or that are made as the result of too many competing pressures and limited resources. And what we pray on the broader scale, we pray for ourselves at a personal level too.

Father, in those areas where we are not so adept at adapting to turbulent currents, grant us a sound perspective and coping strategies – along with the ability to think wider than ourselves, recognising the social, political, economic and spiritual implications of our choices.

Lord, You truly do not want us to place our hopes in delusions, or to be taken up by every whim and wind of doctrine. Keep us from succumbing to false promises and miracle cures. Give us the passion and the purity of Your refined Church in China, where so many are following You with every fibre of their being, refusing all the poison-tipped allures of Mammon’s siren calls.

If it should happen that we suddenly find ourselves cast adrift, and our services no longer required, give us the grace to adjust and wait for Your re-positioning. And if we have been thrust into a role far more demanding than we feel equipped to handle, empower and recalibrate us.

Where we have suffered the impact of too much strain and stress, and, for whatever reason, quite simply ‘lost it,’ please help us to find ourselves, and You, and anyone else whom we have hurt in the process.

Whether we have too much time on our hands, or are amongst those who have no choice but to be living full tilt in this season, Lord, we pray that You will ease us into this and every day.

May we go at the pace that You desire us to go at: no faster and no slower, but with our eyes always fixed on You. Protect our heads, our minds, our bodies, hearts and spirits – and may our ordered lives confess the beauty of Your peace.

1 Comment

  1. Laurie Klein

    O what a clear and considered reflection, cap-stoned with powerful prayer. Thank you!

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