Most of us were raised within social structures that nudged us to make a living as an adult. We were told to aim for income in exchange for our talents and skills. To what degree we got to cultivate and use what was innately joyful varied on circumstances. Regardless, the questions of survival remained in the air through our teens and twenties…how will you land on your feet, how will you sustain yourself? We learned that the ideal trajectory was: Brand name schools followed by brand name companies that, over time, lead to brand name clothing, cars, gadgets, travel and residential addresses. The hope was to work a few decades, build bigger moats of safety and bridges of access that we could pass on to our kids, if we had them. We wanted to pass along a better starting point in life so they didn’t have to start where we did, i.e. on the bottom of this safety, success and happiness mountain. We named this climb “increasing standards of living” and designed our organizations, schools and families around it. Everyone climbed their individual climb.
Then came the trickle of warnings from scientists, academics, and community leaders. They raised alarms about the unsustainability of our structures. They said that our collective climbs were over-extracting from the environment then dumping toxic refuse into it. The warnings felt distant to most of us compared to our everyday safety, so we didn’t really see or hear. Those that heard and tried to tell us more were considered activists. They lived on the fringes of our valued social structures, were typically intense people, and made us uncomfortable. They were hard to handle in heavy doses. They made choices and tradeoffs we needn’t, couldn’t or wouldn’t.
The discomfort of current times is that those alarms aren’t distant anymore. The people raising them aren’t fringe to our lives anymore. They are our friends, neighbors and coworkers. They initially succeeded within the current structures but heard the warnings and started making the uncomfortable choices and tradeoffs. They too see that multi-layered extraction, depletion and pollution cycle. They see it impacting not only the environment but their own psyche and that of people they encounter daily. They see that we are depleting both the mountain and the climber. And that if we keep going at this rate, there won’t be any mountain left to climb or any climbers that give a shit about each other*.
They are asking the same question that was in the air in our teens and twenties; except this time, they want to play a different (infinite) game. They are asking if we can all make a living without crippling the planet and the people that inhabit it. They are silently around us, trying to build a bridge to the new, not just for themselves but for everyone’s kids too. Please listen with empathy when they speak and try to formulate their sometimes-broken thoughts. Don’t jump in to defend the current structure. They are not attacking us, our lifestyle, or choices. Like us, they carry fears of survival and alienation. Yet, they are taking on the discomfort of helping us evolve into the new. Before the current structure crumbles and takes us all with it.
*Two examples of extraction and not giving a shit from just this week, and I didn’t even go looking:
– Over 1,700 environment activists killed in decade
– China’s 24/7 fishing operations are depleting fish stocks off the Galápagos Islands
“Let me fall if I must fall.
The one I am becoming
will catch me.”—Baal Shem Tov, Jewish mystic and healer