Hope: I often question what this word truly means. To me it suggests that, until the day I die, I can affect change; I can make a difference. Since I was a little boy, I have always believed that life, though somewhat unpredictable, has true value. At birth, you are presented with the concrete opportunity to achieve whatever you want: if you truly want it and accept its consequences. Agreeing to this premise, my sentient journey has been a roller-coaster of successes and failures: in short, a grand adventure. I acknowledge whatever I have been dealt. I have no regrets.
Increasingly with the classes that I teach though, I find that more and more young people are truly puzzled by the complexities of life, and therefore feel somewhat “hopeless and lost.” They are filled with false expectation by their elders and are thus afraid to begin their life mission. I constantly question what mechanism could be used to inculcate hopefulness. How are our schools and educational systems failing our children? It would appear obvious that not every student should go to university.
This response is too effete and simplistic. All students should be inculcated with what they should expect out of life: its angst and its joy. In junior high school, a process could begin that would access the skills of each person: perhaps you are good with your hands at making things, you may like to dance or to paint: maximize this! These skills should be enhanced and burnished, and the less loved skills diminished. If we fail to begin this process of pedagogical change, “a blind generation” will be thrust into our society.
Even more frightening, these youthful souls are growing up in an age that has lost its voice: it is mute due to the technology, in other words, the smartphone, and its ilk. Rhetoric (1) as an art form is greatly endangered. Stand at any place where people congregate and you will be curiously stunned by the egregious silence. Where is the quiet buzz of conversation? It has transmogrified itself into a keyboard or a screen that carries thought: frightening! I am not a Luddite (2) but I believe that it is time to tell our “kids” the truth: life is not easy. There are no jobs! Tame the technology and develop your own, individual expertise and you will have a colorful life, though you may not live the requisite capitalist dream.
I must always remind myself: “It is my life, not the life of my family or of my friends, but 100% my life.” This is an easy concept to state but a much, much harder idea to implement. When we first appreciate and understand consciousness at about twenty, we quickly realize that we are not the captain of our own life-craft; someone else is at the helm: our parents, our siblings, our friends, our spouse, our boss.
This situation will remain this way until our dying days unless we mutiny and take control. This, of course, has consequences. The navy (or our society) is not thrilled with the renegade or the maverick. Most believe that rules, whether implicit or explicit, are to be tenaciously adhered to. Take an alternative path and you will quickly find yourself ostracized and isolated. So, you do not want to be a conventional wage slave: you want to be a painter, a poet, a dreamer or an itinerant traveler.
Be prepared to suffer: you will be segregated and removed from conventional lines of thinking and thus lonely, your social circle will be limited: but in the end, so what? You have to live with and respect yourself. What intellectuals like Sir Ken Robinson (3) do not really tell us is that the path to spiritual and intellectual freedom is littered with the ossified cadavers of those who tried to be unconventional and failed. Any cabal of drug addicts or alcoholics has a disproportionate amount of emotionally bankrupt dreamers and proselytizers. No one can give you the inner strength that you need for your journey: you must find it yourself. Dishonesty, however, to the soul produces the bitter old individual. The choice is up to you.
The iconic poet T.S. Eliot (1888-1965) leaves with a quote: The progress of an artist is a continual self-sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality.
A closing thought: Yes, it is a wonderful life, when you get there. It is a miserable and lengthy journey that must ensue in the process, however. This they don’t teach you at “life school.” Its lessons can only be redeemed through experience. I do feel that our society is doing a poor job preparing the young for its embrace. This is not unique to our generation, though. Enlistment levels were extremely high at the onset of the First World War; (4) only to fall back after the real carnage became apparent. History does not repeat itself, but its lessons are easily forgotten, it would seem. (Parts of this essay were first published in January 2014)
To sum up: This week, we spoke about developing the individual self. It is a difficult task, but worth the journey.
A philosophical thought: “What are these pennies doing in my soup?” the restaurant patron demanded, motioning for the waiter to come over to his table.
The waiter walked over and whispered, “You said you would stop eating here if there wasn’t some change in the food.”
Just for fun: Stand By Me
This week, on your grand walk, please reflect on change and how you reconcile your life to its adversity.
Every day look for something magical and beautiful
Quote: This morning, I awoke and gave thanks for another day of consciousness; I was given another chance to affect change and do good in the world.