They are receding — not rapidly enough, but they are receding: Fear and Rage, the two toxic emotions that have inundated us and almost overwhelmed our sense of common humanity for the last two years.
It is a great irony that the fear, caused primarily by this pernicious, ever mutating virus, is a perfect metaphor for the political rage that has turned America (and much of the developed world) into a cauldron of grievance: it destroys from within and calms momentarily, only to flare up again in unexpected places and ways.
The question we are now facing is whether our gradual acceptance of this situation is an indication of meaningful adaptation or merely a sign of fatigue. Have we changed in any way for the better, or are we merely keeping our heads down in hopes that we will soon be able to raise them and everything will be the way it once was?
The truth is, things aren’t going to be the way they were. We may well be watching some Malthusian rough beast slouching across the planet cutting a swath through the human race. We certainly are seeing a level of political unrest and division that in the past has been the precursor to unthinkable armed conflict. Whatever is happening, in Yeatsian terms, the center cannot hold.
It is naive and dangerous to pretend that we are not in some transformative time and that things will all settle down “to normal”. Foundational change is all around us. We need to accept this and manage it to the best of our limited human capabilities. We can lean into large forces with such tools as we have; we cannot control them.
I think we need to start it two places, one micro and one macro. The children and the planet. Right now I’m thinking about the children. They have spent two years living behind masks, have heard outrage spewed from their parents’ lips, whether from the left or the right, have become socially feral, and have come to think that what they see on a screen is both truer and more real than what they see in the world around them.
It is easy to see the pathologies in these conditions. But we need to see the larger opportunities they contain: the power of immediacy and connectivity, the awareness that there are larger forces than the human and the self at play in our lives, the fact that there is such a thing as common humanity and that we are, in some way, all in this together.
Can we build an educational model around this? Can we take the rough clay of these misshapen times and somehow form it into something new and positive for the children? Their world already looks nothing like our world, and we should not pretend that it will in the future. We need to somehow give them tools to shape whatever it is their eyes are seeing.
But most of all we need to educate their hearts.
We need to teach them a way of seeing the world that is not grounded in fear and outrage. We need to teach them that the past is not about nostalgia or something that is lost, so much as it is about gaining insight into how to shape a meaningful response to the future.
Yes, there are absolutes. There are the residues of goodness built into the species over the generations. There is kindness; there is family; there is a sense of mystery and awe in the face of the infinite. There is nothing wrong with the many iterations of the Golden Rule.
I don’t think we really understand what it will take to make educated children. But we know what it takes to create good children, kind children, creative and curious children. That should be our task. We need to forget our petty adult adult intramural grievances or, at least, hold them temporarily at bay. If we do that, the fear and outrage may recede on their own. I’ve said it enough times that it has become tiresome to repeat it. But Sitting Bull had it right: “Come, let us put our minds together to see what kind of lives we can create for our children.”
Put that in your heart moving forward, and let us bid goodbye to the wearying, challenging, and troubling plague year of 2021.