I don’t know where this story originated, but there is a common image in our culture about a devil that sits on one shoulder and an angel on the other. Both the devil and the angel are constantly whispering in our ear and we have a choice to listen to one or the other.
It’s a simplistic image to help children develop their conscience, and one we don’t think about much as an adult. But perhaps we should.
Each day, nearly all the time, we are inviting devils and angels to talk to us. And we might not even realize which is which.
It starts for many of us with the news. Whether we turn on the TV or the radio, or scroll through our newsfeed on our phone, we invite someone to start whispering in our ear. Is it a devil or an angel? I’m not sure, but I do know that the voices we’re hearing are doing much more than just telling us the news of the day.
They’re intentionally creating an emotional experience – of either joy or fear – to make us come back for more. They are businesses who need ratings to survive and an emotional connection creates brand loyalty.
They’re selling us products, either through overt advertising, or for the stories they do or don’t tell us about how products are made and the effect they may have on us.
They’re telling us where to look. What to pay attention to. And, ultimately, what is right or wrong.
Whether you’re reading the Post or Infowars, watching Fox or MSNBC, you invite a host of people to whisper in your ear every day, often before you’ve even had your coffee.
Then we cruise throughout our day, taking in bits and pieces of entertainment as we go. The music in our ear as we work out. A podcast on the way to work. A YouTube video during a break. A magazine at lunch. A TV program (after another helping of news) in the evening. The book we read before bed.
All of these are whispering messages to us and we nod along without always realizing what we’re agreeing to.
The product placement throughout YouTube and podcasts that encourages us to buy, buy, buy. The magazine with article after article explaining how your current life (or kitchen or hair or car) is not good enough, but how you can be better in just ten easy steps. The reality TV show that encourages us to mock and celebrate bad behavior and immaturity rather than to rise above it.
Even if we eschew all of these voices, we still might fall victim to only listening to a small set of perspectives, over and over again. Reading the same genres, listening to the same speakers, consuming only a limited amount of art. No matter how virtuous these sources, they do not have the experience or wisdom necessary to see us through all of life’s challenges.
Today I’m in a quiet place. There is no TV, no music. There has been some lively conversation and a well-chosen book, but mostly there is just the quiet rush of the river and the chirp of the birds whispering in my ear.
There is a great expanse and rest in that silence. I’ve gotten so used to filling up car rides and walks and meal prep with “consuming content” that I didn’t realize I had a whole crew of angels (and devils dressed as angels) clamoring for my attention, my dollars, my vote, and my heart.
Away from all their voices, I get to be curious, ask different questions and allow the answers to arise from within rather than from without.