Now I fervently believe it is being born.
-- Charles Bowden
My son thinks the world is falling apart.
Can't blame him. He's 15 now, and is starting to sense his approaching launch into the Great Big World out there. And what he hears of it isn't pretty.
What he hears, of course, mostly spews from the radio (NPR every morning and evening) and out of the TV and off the internet and up from the newspaper and magazines. The world, the concensus seems to be, is imploding right on the other side of our many speakers and screens and pages. And the world, the news seems to suggest, is in the hands of the experts and leaders and rulers and lawyers, and we can only hope they can keep it all together.
Given this limited but ubiquitous window on the world, I certainly see where he’d draw that very logical, seemingly obvious, almost indisputable conclusion.
It made perfect sense to me, therefore, for him to ask me the other day, "The world is falling apart, huh, Dad?"
So all I could do, as a loving, caring, concerned father, is to tell him the truth.
The world, son, is just fine.
Oh, sure -- there is some tectonic shifting afoot out there. Our wasteful, greedy, unfair and short-sighted economic system is finally crumbling like the unsupportable house of cards it has long been. And payment is coming due on generations of intercultural karma in many parts of the world. And the earth's climate and ecosphere are, like a load shifting in a rolling ship, sliding toward some as-yet-unknown new positions of repose, compensating for the weight of our hyper-cultivated, chemically-altered, and mega-populated civilized world.
And, yes, the world you're going to be living in is going to be a lot different from the world I, or your grandparents, or your ancestors, or perhaps anyone anywhere ever has lived in.
But that's what happens. What has to happen.
But it's still The World. Our world. Your world.
And you can, and will, thrive there.
That is the story my son is not hearing. That is the story that is not delivered in the news.
And I know: That is the story it's my job to tell my kids.
So here's what I tell my son:
- The real world is a whole helluva lot bigger, better, diverse, creative, interesting, supportive and self-sustaining than in the stories we're told in the news.
- The real world offers a lot more options and opportunities and adventures and choices than gets funneled down the narrow pipeline or examined under the microscope of the mass media.
- Treat the world like the ever-unfolding, ever-unfathomable, always-evolving and always-our-habitat that it is, and you'll always be at home in the world where ever you are and whatever the world is like.
- Like a river, learn how to ride the world, to navigate it, to make your own way with the flow of the world, rather than trying to box it up -- like trying to throw a rope around water -- and the world will float you places rather crashing in on your walls.
- You yourself -- and only you -- control how you experience in the world, your relationship to the world, how you approach the world, your attitude in and toward the world.
- You must xperience and prove the truth of all these statments for yourself. Your own way. Any way. Every day. No matter what you face and what you're told.
Yes, even I agree: We're in the midst of a man-made ice age -- the ice is our own massive mass culture. It's just as much of a weight on the world as any glacial ice sheet. And the planet and the societies on it are having to confront and deal with this ice age and its consequences in some real and difficult -- and some really difficult -- ways.
But I also know: People have survived ice ages before. And thrived. They made us what we are. And they will again.
So what do I teach my son, who is readying to navigate a new Great Big World out there? A world that we here now, still, as yet, cannot anticipate or forsee, as it still rumbles and resettles and restores itself?
I seek to offer him the skills to match the story I tell. I seek to teach him skills that will serve him in any world, any time, any place.
- Abandon. See things for what they are, as they are. See yourself for who you are, what you cannot not be. And then ... work with that. Don't waste time fretting and judging over things. Enjoy them. Make the most of them. Be sincere, find your style, see for yourself what the world around you is like, and make it all work.
- Savor. Be somewhere. Be aware. Be alive, every day. Live every moment. Because how we live our moments is how we live our days; and how we live our days is how we live our lives.
- Engage. Don't shy away from being involved in the world, and from taking the helm of your own journey. Learn to be self reliant and responsibile. Be adaptable in how you do those: Acquire the skill of skill acquiring. Take care of yourself. Learn a little about a lot, and a lot about things that really matter to you.
- Embrace. Learn to balance being both ruthless and compassionate: Be who you most are, ruthlessly -- but be compassionate enough to give others the space to discover and manifest the same about themselves. That is the basis of the most basic of human communities: the Tribe. A Tribe strengthens individuals through a strong colllective, and that collective is in turn strengthened by strong individuals. Learn how to find and build and maintain Tribe.
These aren't business or science or math or job or academic skills that my son is hammered with all day every day at school -- the skills he is told, we are all told, are essential for getting by in the Great Big World out there.
But these four skills, I believe, are the same basic human skills that got humans through ice ages before. And will get us through this one.
These, I believe, are the skills that will build the next world -- the world my son and our kids will build.
And these, I know, are the stories -- the good news -- I want my kids to hear.