During the call which ignited this piece, a story of a young child who has been notably unsettled through the turmoil of the pandemic was shared. Most of us have found the year at least unsettling, it would be odd not to, but the tale sparked a whirling of ideas that have been dancing together a while. Within these, the thought of such upset prompted me to consider how we react to anxiety. Many paths led to a felt need for stability. I began to wonder about our cultural desire to feel stable and how it impacts what we do, what we believe and how we might or might not take this opportunity to change in ways we cannot yet perceive.
My offer plays with our apparent passion for enforced compliance and facades of stability and tendency to hold too tight and for too long to these collaboratively generated illusions, distracting and/or anaesthetising ourselves when the fantasies fade. It is written in hope that we will one day stop passing our socially-constructed yearning for stasis to future generations, and step towards honouring our role as part of our wonderful environment: move from being the stubborn, arrogant parasites we have become. In a world in which flux is the only constant, if we refuse to go with the flow we will swiftly drown.
While writing this I have ventured down many rabbit holes and produced much which is currently only fit for toilet rolls. I have settled for a submission of selected musings which have recently woken me in the early hours. Together they culminate in expressing my fear as this year passes, that all of the energy expended to move to the edge of a potential portal might have been spent for nought, as our collective wish for what seems stable may override the critical need for fundamental change.
“All Our Futures”: Imagine if…
Imagine if we actually encouraged our children to hold less tightly onto that which they believe they know and thus always continue to be curious about everything.
Last night I watched the RSA (The Royal Society for Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) tribute to Sir Ken Robinson, a man who has inspired many and whose words have helped me much this year in my ongoing search for my element. It sent me back to the drawing board as I realised there was no point in trying to produce an opus. I have nothing new to say here that has not been beautifully articulated already.
My question, therefore, is what is stopping so many of us encouraging the true opening of minds and nurturing of understanding?
Rabbits and Holes
In his book Sophie’s World, Jostein Gaarder describes the universe as a rabbit in a magician’s hat and babies as born on the edge of the rabbit’s fur, where each time there is a trick to behold, their young, bright eyes can be captured and dazzled by the wonder of it all. As many of us grow older and become adults, he describes part of this maturing process as choosing to move to “safer” places and burrowing into the rabbit’s fur, where we are no longer able to perceive the magic.
What encourages this to happen? Why do so many of us ignore the white rabbit beckoning us into Wonderland and choose apparent stability in our own, deeply crafted and ordered warrens, accepting futures more akin to the tales of Watership Down?
For many years, there has been a growing awareness of a potential impact of school dulling and suppressing the joys and magic that young minds discover in what adults too often consider to be mundane or obvious. The curtailing of creativity and the culling of curiosity is somehow accepted as part of the process. We send our children off to be fed through educational institutions, with staples served in separate courses according to boiled down, traditional recipes which have been written, edited, sanitised and stirred by an invisible hand. Progress through is fuelled by competition and accelerated by compliance. Unique flavors are reduced and combined and produce the stock which feeds the market. Ingredients that don’t fit with the standardised menu are discarded. We allow the cycle to continue and embed further and further; as if the system is a given; as if radical change is not possible.
I am not suggesting this is reflective of the whole, but it tells of patterns and connections which should not be and, yet, are.
The tragedy is that this is not the latest news.
We know this stuff. We know it constricts. We know it corrupts and contaminates and controls.
What struck me, when I considered the content of this reflection, was how that the molding can begin so much earlier in the words babies hear from their caregivers.
How much are we prone to offer well-intended and misguided consolation through narratives in which we might find comfort?
Some may be familiar with the Nevermind album cover artwork from the band, Nirvana. On it is pictured a four-month old swimming underwater—a dollar bill on a fishhook added later for effect. What has always caught me is a feeling of freedom captured in that photo. An ideal image of childhood, no “helicopter parents,” no clothes, no apparent concerns about his next gasp of air or anything else for that matter. Nirvana.
I still love that feeling now: gliding beneath the surface of water and cutting through, in my mind a mermaid, weightless and streamlined, my focus on ploughing ahead, disorientated and not quite knowing what direction I am heading in or where I will end up, simply aware that I am moving forward without being impeded by gravity or a need to take in oxygen for a while.
How often, as adults, do we allow ourselves such freedoms? To dive into the unknown and simply explore, to feel the exhilaration of trusting beyond our five senses and going with the flow? Not sure where we are headed but heading somewhere and feeling great.
FAQs and FAFs (frequently asked questions and familiar acquired fears)
How can we move forward together and muster up the courage to combat our learned preferences? How can we develop ways to nurture a culture in which we hold less tightly to that which we believe to simply be so, in which not knowing is recognised as valuable and that encourages the confidence to publicly interrogate our understandings, to together deconstruct and reconstruct that which we find to be flawed?
In all of this, I am truly concerned that through wonderful words and great intentions we have harnessed the energy to move to the excitement of a liminal space to only drift back, weary of the struggle of the past months and wishing for “normality.” More entrenched than ever.
Why? Better the devil we know.
Really? Easier in the short term perhaps. Our choices can be jam packed with bite-sized, rich chunks of temporary satisfaction. Hollow satisfaction at what cost?
I’m alright Jack. It’s the others you need to watch out for. You do know they are the devils, don’t you?
Cracks and Cocaine
We ignore the cracks when we are on track: we have deadlines to meet.
We ignore the cracks when things feel good and appear to be going well: why dampen the mood?
We ignore the cracks when things are chaotic: we don’t have time for them in the fire fight.
We ignore the cracks following the fire fight: we are exhausted and wish for a return to stability and normality and surely deserve a rest.
Where’s the time to tend to the cracks?
Distract me, soothe me, sedate me, medicate me, anesthetize me…
Lullaby Abhorred Way
(inspired by the traditional lullaby Hush, Little Baby)
Hush little baby, don’t say a word,
I’ll find you an image of a Mockingbird,
and if that Mockingbird don’t sing,
I’ll find another app that can get anything.
And if such excess ain’t enough,
We can always spend the weekends buying lots more stuff,
And should our shopping not pacify,
We’ll continue and continue as we burn the sky.
And while those ice caps start to melt,
We’ll recycle lots of plastic and experiment with spelt.
We can charge folk for the wisdom that we’ve known for years,
and turn off the telly when they broadcast fears.
So hopefully you will be calm,
While we profit from dead palm trees and synthetic farms.
You really should not feel so glum,
as we live through our investments in petroleum.
We can blame 2020 on misfortune and bats,
Adjust people’s thinking with some fabricated stats.
This year has surely taken an enormous toll…
(that reminds: I had better buy more toilet roll).
Sweetheart, I know the theorists have scary ideas,
But I have a plan that should allay your fears.
We can take our Apples from this Garden of Eden
and find another planet where we continue feedin’…