February 14, 2011

I Wish Older People Talked to Younger People More.

I realized a while back that I knew very little about the lives, experiences and lessons of the adults that raised me beyond that most of them got divorces, that they experienced war, revolution, drugs and music in some way that they didn’t like to talk much about, and that they worried a lot about money.

… and back in high school, history class was a complete bore. We memorized dates and vocabulary, but in all honesty we didn’t give a crap (and I’m speaking here for what I believe to be the majority, since it includes the dorks like me who liked school and even enjoy the sick thrill of taking tests…).

Looking back, it surely would have been more interesting if we had realized that Mrs. History, Mr. Math, and Mom n’ Dad were there, experiencing the effects of the world wars, corrupt politics, assassinations, and either revolting on the streets by day, and binging on sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll by night, or fighting and smoking weed out of their assault rifles themselves. We would have been a lot more inclined to pay attention if the association had truly been made that it affected them, affected the way they taught and raised us, and the world that we live in today.

Someone asked me the other day, after learning about my initiatives and interest in encouraging conscious consumerism, what I thought I would think about all of this when I got older—if I anticipated that my passion for it would die down as the reality of my facility for changing the world was realized (aka found lacking).

A few days later my lovely yoga guru, Joe, during a lengthy philosophical conversation with Phannie and me, told us that “we were just like them in the 60’s and 70’s”. That he’d been searching for decades for the same answers, brainstorming the same ideas, and continued to run into road blocks all along.

This was a defining moment for me. I realized that the fact that all of our concerns, radical ideas of communion and consciousness, and impassioned drive to reform the twisted system that we all passively dance around in, resemble pretty darn intimately the counter-culture rebellions of the baby boomers generation. Furthermore, that this probably related to the reason why I know so little about their paths through life, and why they’re so resistant to our young minds’ ideas for change. Could it be that, in their eyes, their attempts at changing the world possibly only made it worse?

It occurred to me that as they “grew up” their voices and lives more or less surrendered to the bureaucracy, most without even realizing it. Somehow their revolution was either suppressed or capitalized on. For those not calling the shots (that aren’t in the top 1%), in order to make it they had to either give up on their ideas or watch them fail, tolerate a so-called career that most disliked, and adopt the consumptive habits that propaganda called freedom and happiness. How could they not be resistant and critical of our altruistic attempts to shift the direction of our society? How could they not believe I was naïve for thinking that my voice, my vote, counted? After all, none of their ideas worked!

About six months ago, as I was contemplating “where,” “why,” “what” and “how” to step foot into the real world because whether I liked it or not the “when” had come as I graduated from college. In search of wisdom, I sent out a survey to all of the “adults” I knew. I asked them two questions:

1. What, if anything, would you have done differently when you were in your early twenties?

2. What in your adulthood has brought you the most happiness and contentment?

I got several great responses, with a few very apparent themes. Mainly, that they wished that they had spent more time when they were young exploring, getting to know themselves and their world before having settled down with a career and/or family; but also that their relationships with people (mostly their families) and hobbies (specifically artistic, spiritual or outdoor activities) brought them the most happiness. Most mentioned that they wished they hadn’t accepted and acted out of the opinions of others so much. Typically the ones that positively mentioned their career also mentioned incorporating their passions into it; and the only other thing referred to with monetary value that brought “happiness” was the stability and joy of owning a home. Hmmm.

Interestingly, I’ve also noticed that most adults my parents age and older that I know are not just retiring (maybe because most can’t afford to), but making other major changes in their lifestyles right now as well, either out of will or necessity. Most seem to be challenging their habits in an attempt to enhance their mental and physical health. Several are even creating new careers, starting their own businesses, ones that try to incorporate not only their needs and desires for monetary stability, but their values, passions and enjoyment mechanisms. There is this overarching energy of dabbling in the mystery of anti-convention… of allowing the pieces to arrange in a completely new way, in a less compartmentalized and more whole-istic way.

Who knows, this could just be the phase of life they’re in and nothing atypical. Or, perhaps it points to something more.

I guess what I’m getting at here is that it seems to me that we’re all starting to catch on, and though it may seem like a lost cause to many older adults at this point in their lives to attempt to shift the way things work on a more macro level, me and mine have a lot of life ahead of us and we’re concerned, for more than just our lives. We want to live differently, and we want to help provoke change on a larger scale so that we can activate rather than pacify our lives and our children’s.

I heard a wonderful, wise old woman say once that the key to worldliness is staying friends with people from every age group. I wonder what a different world it would be if we all prioritized that. If we reflected, talked, listened, and brain stormed ideas together. My guess is that as much as we may hate to admit it, we could all learn a lot from the wisdom of others’ experience … especially from different ages and walks of life.

Call it idealistic, but I don’t want my kids to have a shorter life expectancy than me, as this generation of kids does (the first generation expected to not outlive their parents). I don’t want mainstream culture to be merely consumer culture. I do want to be able to think outside of the over 3000 advertisements we all see a day. I want my kids to realize that there is a difference between accepting the present, and submissively settling for circumstances; between success for the sake of accomplishment, and achievement for the sake of enhancing the collective; and between reaction, and action.

My hope is that my answer to the question of what I expect to think about this all as I get older is true: that I hope to stay active, but just know a lot more by then. But, to do that I want to know what worked and didn’t and how we can alter things to work better now and in the future. I want to know more than just what textbooks and research say. I think I speak for more than just myself when I say that we have no problem resembling the rad hippies of the 60’s and 70’s, but we surely do not want to repeat history. We want to make history. So, come on, let’s start some conversation.

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