Out of the Mouths of Babes

There’s an interesting thing about wisdom.  It’s fairly universally assumed to come with age.  We look to our forebears to tell us what they’ve learned through their lives so that we don’t make the same mistakes they did, and we expect those younger than us to respect our opinions on account of our age and experience.

This forms the basis for most of our religions and spiritual practices.  We have more respect for older traditions and consider them to contain great wisdom.

The weird part of all this, though, is that the very mechanism assumed to impart this wisdom is the experience of change.  We realize that those older than us have been where we are and lived far past, that they’re different now than they were at our age, and that those changes have taught them things.

But then we completely disregard the changes which have imparted a far different kind of wisdom on the young.

If I were to be given the choice of seeking wisdom from either someone from the past or someone from the future, I would speak to the person from the future.  They will have experienced a reality built on the experiences of generations beyond myself, and that kind of wisdom would be earthshattering to us now.  The past?  While I’m sure there are many ideas and nuggets of wisdom which have escaped documentation and fallen away from collective memory, the most important lessons and wisdom of the past forms the foundation upon which our reality is built.  We have it already, if we choose to access it.  Not all of it is particularly relevant anymore.

As we get older, though, we actually have access to future wisdom all around us.  The younger generations grow up in a different reality than we did, one built on our own widsom.  And yet too many of us are too quick to dismiss them.  We expect that they will grow to understand reality just as we do, disregarding that that has never consistently been the case before.

And the change which makes each subsequent generation’s reality different changes the environment in which our spiritual lives occur as well.  Shouldn’t we put a little more value on the insight of the young?

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Ins and Outs

When the world feels at its most volatile or threatening, like it’s on the wrong path or the forces around us are turning against us, there seem to be two primary spiritual responses.  One is to push back.  Preach the truth and put pressure on those who do not accept it.  Empower the spiritually correct, as in literally hand them as much power as you can help secure for them, and fight to win.  The other is to draw back.  Surround yourself with a tiny world of enlightenment and spread love and truth in your own tiny sphere in your own tiny way, hoping to make ripples that will change the world in some small way.

The first assumes that “winning” either crushes or converts the opposition.  That if your truth is backed with enough power, that truth can be wielded as a tool or weapon to fix what is “wrong”.  And, sure, in terms of government and policy and the creation of systems which underpin the structure of society, yeah, it can work.  That’s why people get involved in politics.  It’s why churches send missionaries around the world.  Spiritual beliefs paint a picture of how the world “ought to be”, and with enough power and influence a group can turn that image into reality.  Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s harmful.  But it never does what it’s intended at the individual level.  The spiritual warfare path doesn’t, on a large scale, do a lot to change the minds of those who now feel they are attacked or oppressed.  No power can be wielded in victory without leaving others feeling oppressed in defeat.  That is an absolute truth.  Victory and defeat rarely change minds, only allegiances and motivations.

The second assumes that the answer to changing the world is to change oneself.  That if we live our personal spirituality, it will show others the way.  And it can absolutely help restore a sense of control and peace and hope in our own lives.  Our acts of compassion and kindness can deeply impact another and inspire individual hope.  But this, also, rarely has the intended impact.  When we withdraw into our own spiritual state, our own peace, we disconnect from the larger forces of negativity.  To those who are active parts of the social forces we seek to combat, we become largely invisible.  Those boosted by our small acts of kindness rarely see our reasoning for it, and while they may feel uplifted, their minds and hearts will only be changed towards us as individuals, not towards the larger force of humanity.

Somehow we have separated our spiritual paths from sensible social activism.  We do the individual self-serving bit, and we do the loud and forceful dissemination of truth bit, and we forget all about the bit in the middle.  The part where we take the large symbolic fight and conduct it one on one, confronting the actions of individuals around us when they are destructive and oppressive and harmful.  The part where we don’t just help people feel better for the moment, but walk with them while showing them the path to real, tangible, actual help.

The real change happens when the people who feel shamed and forgotten and beaten down while forces beyond their control argue about what should be done, the people who may be uplifted in the moment by your individual compassion but must return to their problems when you have walked away feeling better about yourself, when all those people see a chance to seize some power for themselves.

So yes, go protest, get loud and angry, contribute to organizations and join movements and shout the truth.  And yes, turn off the media, do things that make you feel better, pray and hug people and pay for the customer behind you in line.  But realize that none of that does very much to change the world, to change the future.  They change the present.  They change the here and now for a little while.  They allow us to be detached from the reality of the problems, to treat them like faceless forces or metaphorical energies and not like the lived realities of actual humans we walk beside every day.

We know it’s better to teach a man to fish than to give him a fish.  But in the short term some people need to be given fish.  And it doesn’t do any good to teach someone to fish when they’re nowhere near water or if we don’t make sure they have a fishing pole.  And it definitely doesn’t do any good to assure the hungry person that you contribute heavily to the creation of fishing education programs so that someday they might have access to fishing classes.  And above all, it doesn’t do a damn bit of good to sit on your private dock practicing catch and release.

I don’t know anymore.

Another day, another shooting, which is literally what life on Earth has become.  Everyone has their opinions on why and what to do about it, and mostly the people who could do something don’t really do anything at all.  They just talk about how they are The Ones Who Know All The Answers.

And for every One Who Knows All The Answers there is an equal and opposite One Who Knows That Those Answers Are Wrong.

 

Nearly every problem that plagues society stems from people thinking they KNOW THINGS.  Things that must be true because they were told to them by someone else who knows things.  Absolute things.  Unquestionable things.  Things which must be protected and enforced and never, ever doubted.

We’ve stopped learning.  We’ve stopped doing.  We’ve stopped thinking.  We only know.  We only take the correct information, reject the rest, and live our lives protecting and pushing the THINGS WE KNOW.

Only, that’s not how humanity progresses.  Knowing things is good, but knowing things doesn’t drive growth and improvement.  Knowing things is the bonus that results from the learning and doing and thinking.  It’s the learning and doing and thinking that move life along.  And usually that means learning that we didn’t know what we once thought we knew.

You want peace?  Learn about it.  Think about it.  And do something about it.  And reward other people for that.  Vote for people who learn and do and think, not people who know that they are right.  Employ people who learn and do and think, not people who know how the job should be done.  Befriend and love people who learn and do and think, not people who know how you should live your life.  And above all, RAISE CHILDREN WHO LEARN AND DO AND THINK, not children who only know the things you want them to know.

Stop rewarding people for what they KNOW.  Stop making heroes of people for what they KNOW.  Stop talking about what you KNOW.

Go learn things.  Learn about people.  Learn about the world.  Learn about history and science and art and religion and that weird thing you heard about on the radio one time.  Learn how things work.  Learn skills.  Learn weird skills.  Learn how to use weird skills.  Hang out with people who learn.  Talk to other people who like learning things.  Stop asking people what they know and ask what they want to learn.

Think about things.  Think about what those things mean.  Think about what those meanings mean.  Think about what others think.  Think about what others think you think.  Think about things that you think are strange.  Talk to people about the things they think about.   Find people who think about things you’ve never thought about before.

And then do things.  Do nice things.  Do hard things.  Do fun things.  Do scary things.  Do things you thought you would never do.  Do things you promised someone you would do.  Do things you promised someone you would never do.  Do something that you think will improve the world.  Find people to do things with.  Do things with people who do things you’ve never done.

And in the end, you’ll change.  You’ll become better.

Want the world to change?

You have to start.