Objects in Motion
Almost 40 years ago something happened in my Cellular Biology class in college that has stayed with me to this day. Our professor had been going over a particular bacterium when one of my fellow students expressed a lack of interest in the organism. My professor said, “There truly is no demonstrated evolutionary benefit for intelligence. This species has been active for over 2 million years and most likely will still be active when our species is long gone from the earth.” I found his observation to be thought-provoking. What advantage is there to think, to reason, to wonder why? This question and the memory that provoked it led several years ago to an interesting conversation with my colleague and friend, and former teacher of my daughter (one of her favorites by the way), Mrs. Susan Lee.
Susan, incidentally, is the person who makes certain before I submit my articles for review, that they do not make it sound as if Chemistry is my first language instead of English. Susan is an English teacher here at Bishop Brady, and between us, we have more than a half of century of experience in Catholic school education. We have discussed many of the advantages of Catholic school education and it is not uncommon for time to slip away with our conversations on how to best reach our students. About five years ago she and I had a conversation about what is intelligence and it brought us to a movie that we both admire. We had many conversations on this topic and last year she even developed a unit for her students based upon our “What is intelligence?” discussion.
The movie is Forrest Gump. Throughout the film the lead character demonstrates the wonderful traits that both Susan and I believe our students and all human beings should emulate. Circumstances in Forrest’s life lead to his participation in a variety of history-making events. Although his intelligence level, when measured on standardized testing, should place him in a category that would dictate a life of mediocrity, his extraordinary faith and belief in humanity make his life exemplary. Forrest tells Jenny, “I may not be a smart man, but I know what love is.” Jesus did not ask us to measure intelligence – he told us to “love one another.” These are characteristics that we as educators must remember to nourish and develop in our students of all ages, in and out of our classrooms.
Although intelligence may not ultimately prove to be an evolutionary advantage, it is most certainly an advantage to understanding the human condition. God has given each and every one of us the ability to wonder why. We are able to contemplate our relationships with each other and where we fit in his grand plan. We only have a short period of time to accomplish these tasks. However, our intelligence and free will can lead to situations that can put us in conflict with our faith.
Technology has presented a fascinating new world that makes our lives easier. For those of us living with access to modern advancements, tasks like being able to feed ourselves have become carefree. Modern agriculture has addressed this concern so efficiently that family gardens are few and far between. It can be argued that these conveniences should allow more time for a better connection with family and faith. However, we all know that there are many areas where technology is actually removing us from our humanity.
Our ability to have instant communication via text, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, or any of the other social media sources can shut down one of our best human traits… empathy. To understand and feel the happiness, joy or even pain of your fellow human beings is one of God’s greatest gifts. How can one possibly understand, evaluate or communicate, another person’s point of view in 140 characters or fewer? How can we sense the pain or confusion that can arise through the misinterpretation of an electronic message sent to another person? When we use these means in place of actual face-to-face communication, we are losing a piece of our humanity.
Studies are currently being conducted to ascertain the effects of the modern digital age on our youth. A story recently on NBC News related teen screen time on their smartphones to possible links with anxiety, depression and other mental health issues. This should come as no surprise. After all, this is the first generation that has grown up without knowledge or experience of what it is like to not be tethered to a smart phone. As a society, we are asking our children and young adults to conform and deal with issues that we never had to confront. Susan reminded me that the author Ray Bradbury had a tremendous fascination with technology. However, the underlying message in many of his short stories is: “Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.” Bradbury observed that the same aeronautical miracle that can take us to faraway lands can also deliver nuclear bombs.
Now more than ever, it seems to me, this generation needs strong connections to God.
In the beginning of the movie Forrest Gump, Forrest’s mother tells him that he will have to do the best with what God gave him and to remember that he is not different from anyone else. She demonstrates strong parenting that allows Forrest to have an unshakable faith system. In a poignant scene when his friend is questioning the existence of heaven, he does not hesitate and immediately responds to this friend that he will be going to heaven. His faith is so strong that ultimately, he provides the example that saves his good friend Lieutenant Dan’s spiritual life and restores his belief in God.
Forrest’s ability to remember the circumstances of Jenny’s death when he visits her grave is very introspective, “You died on a Saturday morning. And I had you placed here under our tree. And I had that house of your father’s bulldozed to the ground. Momma always said dyin’ was a part of life. I sure wish it wasn’t.” I never make it through this scene without tears welling up in my eyes. This passage shows compassion, humanity, faith, and an ability to deal with the death of a loved one that I have not yet mastered. Although this is a work of fiction, the author has blessed Forrest with the innocence and belief system of a child. He may not be a smart man, but his curiosity and compassion make him like the children Christ calls to himself, and ultimately make him a good, and even a great, man.
Forrest’s natural gifts and wisdom should remind all of us who have become dependent on the conveniences created by modern intelligence that embracing technologies should never stop us from embracing our faith, embracing our God, embracing one another, and reveling, like Forrest, in the intelligence that one day we too will be in heaven.
Jim Miller is a Chemistry teacher at Bishop Brady High School in Concord, N.H.