The Next Generation

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There is a story from the Old Testament of Moses who helps to free his people. He’s with them as they wander through the wilderness. But he won’t get them to where they’re going.

Through his own actions, Moses doesn’t get to the Promised Land. Moses is a great metaphor for us. It’s especially a good metaphor for the older generation.

As we get older, much of what we do we won’t benefit from. It isn’t for us. It’s for what comes and who comes after us.

When we’re younger, in our pre-parental even early parental years, much of our focus is on building our own house, our own nest egg, even our own legacy. But as our kids leave the house, and we’ve recovered form both the relief and the regret of the empty nest, we start to comes to grips with the fact that we have fewer days in front of us than we’ve had behind us. And what comes after us becomes more important…than us.

Perhaps this is why the grandmother effect (sorry, grandfathers) is so important. The grandmother can focus so much more on her grandchildren (and children) more than herself. That additional focus allows the children and grandchildren to do better than they could do without grandma…and they eventually will.

Perhaps another factor at play is neophilia, the love for the new and novel. Since I’ve become a Father, babies interest me like never before. I’m sure the same will happen when I’m a grandfather…and I’d to have a grandfather effect.

A common saying is, “Each generation wants to leave the world a little better than they found (inherited) it.” A common response to that saying is another. “Make each generation better for the world.”

That translates into two simple dictums. Treat your community and environment better than your parents treated it. Raise your children better than you were raised.

But both of these dictums are dependent upon one thing. If this one thing doesn’t improve, parenting doesn’t improve, social and environmental interaction doesn’t improve. Can you guess what it is?

Making positive changes in our environment and in our kids requires one prior step. We have to make positive changes in ourselves. If we had good teachers and good parents, they took us where they arrived faster than their own arrival. But they can’t take us further than they’ve been. That onus is on us.

I try to remind myself of this responsibility with my signature, “fF.” It’s a reminder that what comes after is greater than what came before. This can only be true if I do my part.

I have to treat my environment and my children better than all those who came before treated their environment and children. Even that isn’t enough. One final role myst be played.

As we get our children to where we were, there must be a passing of the baton, a changing of the guard. Those who were lead must now lead. And those who lead must once again follow.

My shrinking and my ultimate absence makes space for those who come after me. I must move from Father to Grandfather, offering only counsel, and looking to those who came after me to lead those who are with them and those who come after them. This is the final lesson I can teach my children so that their descension is easier than my own, making that which came after me…better than that which came before.

EXTREME STRESS

stress-largerI’ve been in extreme stress lately. Not really the acute type. More the cumulative type.

A big part of the stress is that I had lost my coping strategies. When I was feeling distressed before, I would cope. But now, I can no longer use those strategies.

I’m in a new situation. I can’t do my same old things. I have to do something new…or suffer the consequences.

It when we’re at our lowest that two things can happen. We can go all the down to the absolute bottom (death, how dramatic). Or we can change directions.

We can go up. We can bounce back. The further the fall, the harder the crash…or the higher the bounce.

But in order to go back up, we have to go back up a different path. That path may be external, like a new job, or a new relationship. Or, that path may be internal.

We are not called to evolve when things are easy. We’re called to evolve when things are bad, really bad. They’re so bad we can’t solve them as we are…we have to become something different.

This isn’t how evolution works most of the time. The overwhelming majority of the time those who win, or even survive the game are those who are born to do so. It’s Darwinian.

But it’s when things are at their worst when evolution can be Lamarckian. Lamarckian evolution happens under extreme stress. This extreme stress makes us into mutants.

Under this extreme stress, implicated genes start to mutate in as many ways as possible. If one of those ways can solve the stress, the organism rewrites its genetic code in the structure of the solution. I think this is analogous to life lived at our magnification.

Whenever we’re under extreme stress, we’ll try everything we know to do. When that doesn’t work, we’ll try…whatever. We have to solve the problem before the problem becomes a problem we cannot solve.

And if we do solve the problem, we are forever changed by the solution we find. Extreme stress leads us in two directions: extinction or evolution. So if you find yourself at the bottom, know that if you can make it long enough, you can come out the other side evolved, better, and more…than you ever were before.

Fan Or Follower?

fan-or-followerFollowing has a bad connotation. It makes you a follower. Who wants to be a follower?

Consider this. You follow people on social media. You’re their follower.

When they call for your attention, you give it. And we spend a lot of time on social media (the internet). Thus, we spend a lot of time following.

But what are we following? Are we following politics? Fail videos? Cute cats?

If we’re following them, where are they leading us? Are they leading us towards better? Or are they leading us to worse?

By better, I mean feeling, thinking, and acting. After you follow whomever, when you go their direction, does it lead you in a better direction? Having followed them, do you think, feel, and act better?

I’m currently dealing with a host of stressors. Many of these stressors I have little to no influence over. When I ponder them, I tend to spiral down.

And when I can get a respite from my stressors and my stress (myself), it helps. That respite may take the form of music, a podcast, social media, or an interaction. But those same methods of relief can be methods of procrastination.

I can find myself behind on my output and toggling between these methods. That, in and of itself, isn’t a problem. The problem is it’s then when they don’t make me feel better or act better. I’m following…but I’m not liking where I’m going.

When I find myself in a place where I don’t want to be, I know at least one thing. I need to change who or what I’m following. And who I need to follow is always the same.

Whenever our attention is outward for too long, we can be attentive to ourselves. We can’t be following ourselves. That’s when it’s time to tune in and turn in.

As long as I like where I’m at, what I’m doing, and how I’m feeling, it’s a good bet I’m doing a good job of following myself. But the second one those things change. My attention has to change. I have to stop following others, and start following myself. And that kind of following is the best kind of leading.

NO COMPARISON

comparisonquote_blog2We compare and contrast all the time. She has better skin than me. He makes more money than me. Her kids are better behaved.

We’re often warned against comparisons. “Don’t compare your blooper reel to someone else’s highlight reel.” Comparisons lead us to feeling worse and doing worse.

I want to offer a thought experiment…that is either already an actual experiment or someday will be. I hope it gives you some comfort. I hope it reminds you that when it comes to you….there is no comparison.

I have a hypothesis. It’s based on logic and history…long history. We evolved from tribal systems.

Within these tribal systems, people had roles. These roles were integral to the survival (and “thriv-al”) of the tribe. My hypothesis is when people have a role, a necessary role to fill, they compare and contrast themselves to others less so than a place where people have no necessary role to fill.

This leads us to our thought experiment. If you had a role that you could fulfill and that role was necessary to those around you, how would you feel – better or worse – than you do now? And would you compare yourself to others – more or less?

Let’s say you believe that if you had a group to belong to and a necessary role to fill, then your life’s work would be in that direction. But the only constant is change. And groups have changed and are changing as are roles.

No longer do we have just one group to belong to or one role. But groups and roles aren’t the only things changing. The groups and roles are changing because the environment is changing.

The environment is changing largely because of technological innovation. And all these changes, groups, roles, environment, technology, etc., are changing us. That puts the onus on us to change with it.

For some that means catching up. For others, it means helping others to catch up. If you don’t have a group to belong, a role to fill, you have some work to do. That means either changing your self or utilizing / innovating technology, the environment, and others to create a new group(s) and possibly a new role(s). Either work is work for which there is no comparison.

THAT’S A MYTH

Myth-0a6e56Just as people say, “I’m a Christian,” I say, “I’m a Scientist. But I’m more than that. I’m also a Mythologist.

Joseph Campbell said,
“Mythology has to take the science of the day, penetrate it to the mystery, and tell us what that means about how to live life.”

My wife hates that quote because it’s meaning is unclear…which is antithetical to the statement itself. Let’s see if we can’t simplify his statement. Science uncovers new “truths” about our reality all the time.

These often contradict what we believed to be true. It changes things so we need to change with it. That requires a new mythology, a new story.

Mythology takes in the science and in turn, spits out a story about what that means to us. And the people who write those stories are mythologists. Malcolm Gladwell, Charles Duhigg, and Daniel Goleman are journalists / mythologists who tell us stories about science. There can be a problem with that.

If the storytellers aren’t very scientific, the myths they make…are too much of a myth (fake news, alternative facts, ahem). And scientists can write about their science and it be too much data and not enough story. We need both science and mythology to bring sense to our lives.

But with so much science and so many mythmakers, we can no longer only be consumers. We have to learn about science. But we have to learn about story, too.

What we need to learn about science is the difference between anecdotal and empirical. Anecdotal is a reviled word and Empirical is revered. Neither should be.

Empirical has to do with what works for most people. Most people do fine with peanut butter. But we can’t make a blanket recommendation because some people die from eating it.

Anecdotal is what works for an individual. Just because peanut butter works fine for me doesn’t mean it’s going to work for everybody. Again, someone could die from eating it.

Stories, especially Myths, follow a set of rules. When we view myths in the new light as “translated science,” there is one rule that is the most important of all. It has to do with where we start.

“In the beginning,” or “Once upon a time,” “A long time ago…” is a common start to stories. But those aren’t the starts I’m talking about. I’m talking about the starting premise of a story.

Star Wars is a myth for my generation. The premise behind the myth is that there is good and evil. And the media that comprises Star Wars expounds on what determined the Dark and the Light.

But how useful is that metaphor to the living of my life? Do I believe that light and dark, good and evil are the best metaphors for me? Is that what the science of my day has to say about prosocial and antisocial behavior? Or is there another belief system, another set of metaphors built for me?

My son, Jack, on YouTube watches other people commentate and play video games. He’s not even playing video games. It’s spectating.

I think we’ve done this somewhat with the following of myths. Joseph Campbell encourages each generation to build its own myths. As William Blake says, “I must invent my own systems or else be enslaved by other men’s.”

We can’t abdicate the creation of myths in our own life. It’s not enough to say we believe 2000 year old myths. We have to look at the science of the day, and weave our own story, so that we live a unique mythic life. I’ll leave you with two more quotes.

“But don’t be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others. Unfold your own myth, without complicated explanation, so everyone will understand the passage, we have opened you. . . .”
–(Jalaluddin) Rumi

“…whoever heeds commands does not heed himself. Break, break, you lovers of knowledge, the old tablets.”
–Friedrich Nietzsche