Several years ago, I visited Walt Disney World’s “Living with the Land” display. That exhibit features “aeroponic” fruits and vegetables — plants that grow in the air. I vividly remember the tomatoes circulating through the nutrient-rich air on a conveyor belt. Amazing; completely exposed roots, and tomatoes boiling out the ends of the plant.
That astonishing exhibition has become, for me, a metaphor of our culture. We live in a hothouse. Ideas, products, and even political figures just seem to materialize in midair.
For example, four years before he was elected President of the United States and de facto leader of the free world, Barack Obama was essentially unknown. In many ways, he still is.
Consider aeroponic economics: In the three weeks since Osama Bin Laden was killed, a few eager entrepreneurs have made millions selling tee-shirts that celebrate his death. Instant wealth; dollars boiling out the end of a PayPal account.
As I’ve spent time in this hothouse, I’ve thought much about what this means for the issue of leadership. Historically, we followed people because they were parents, village elders, rabbis, very wealthy, or the ones with the guns.
Obviously, today’s culture grants credence and authority much faster and easier.
So, what does it take to establish credibility in the aeroponic culture?
According to Seth Godin, all it takes is a story. In a recent posting, he wrote, “Too often marketers take a product and try to invent a campaign. Much more effective is to find…A story that resonates and a tribe that’s tight and small and eager…Sell a story that some people want to believe. In fact, sell a story they already believe.”
He’s right. That’s how the “nutrients” in our aeroponic culture recently produced one enormous (and weird) fruit. It all started when an elderly, and very obscure, man said the world would end on May 21. Nothing unusual there; people have always espoused strange opinions. Most of them sit on porches, whittling, and talking to themselves. But that story was embraced by a small, tight, and eager tribe — the apocalyptic crowd. And (assisted by a bored and immature news industry) it grew very fast and very large.
Think of it; a completely non-biblical idea roared into great credibility with a tribe that takes the Bible literally.
Yes, it was a story they already believed. I grew up in a branch of that “tight and small and eager” tribe. Our tribal storytellers (preachers) regularly tried to scare the hell out of us by repeating a story we all believed. Perhaps all such “fruit,” aeroponic or not, leaps from a story.
However, the most relevant question for us is: How do we conduct ourselves in the aeroponic culture?
Navigating the low-hanging fruit can be tricky. Things appear very suddenly all around us. We have no warning at all. In fact, we often have to duck or weave to avoid getting clobbered by some new and shiny product, idea, image, etc.
But the “new” fruit really isn’t new at all. An apple is an apple. The matrix of growth really isn’t relevant.
Humans have always had the choice in how to respond to things that appear in their environment. Wisely or foolishly.
Don’t you wish everyone knew that, when “strange fruit” appears in front of us, we don’t have to talk about it, blog it, Facebook it, preach against it, YouTube it, write books about it, or even attack it.
If we choose any of those responses, we become part of the nutrients that grow it.
But, some will ask, “Doesn’t it demand a response? Don’t we have a responsibility to stand up for truth?”
It doesn’t, but even if it did, the best way to do that is to be quiet. According to Proverb 26:20, “For lack of wood the fire goes out, And where there is no whisperer, contention quiets down.”
That is true in any time, any place, and in any kind of growth conditions.
Let’s try it.