Isn’t life like walking a balance beam sometimes? We try to walk the straight line towards our goals as life’s other events come at us that throw us off balance. Often we aren’t holding another’s hand or we think that we have to do everything by ourselves or there are no safety nets to catch us before we really hurt ourselves. If you practice walking on a balance beam, there is always someone watching to guide you or catch you, at least that may be true at the beginning levels of this skill. We try and be that safety net person for our children as they learn to walk their balance beam of life and school success. In life, there is both a singular ‘I’ that want to gain mastery and a ‘we’ in that the individual is guided and supported by a parent/teacher/coach. The support gets to be less and less as we go into the higher grades and into the work force. Most of the success advice that we have received about how to achieve our goals/be successful has focused on planning in advance our financial/emotional/work end points. The need to adjust our actions and work with others cooperatively to achieve a mutual goal is not highly stressed nor experienced in school.
Recently I was at a playground with my grandchildren. Some of the equipment was widened to accommodate more than one child at a time and some equipment was designed for one child to walk/climb/slide on by themselves. It made me start to think about how the playground equipment mimicked our adult lives. We live/work/play alongside others for the majority of our lives. Rarely is life set up to work with others in any regular coordination and support.
So as I was cheering/advising my grandchildren on this new playground equipment, I started to think about how the playground prepares them for their school and work futures. Is it our culture’s predisposition to expecting everyone to ‘pull themselves up by their own bootstraps’ that puts our children on the path to ‘I have to do it all by myself’. Does the grading system at school and the rating systems at work reinforce this ‘have to do it alone’ meme?
My next question was how do we prepare ourselves and our children for a future where cooperation and community may be our guiding memes? How and when do we start reinforcing the ‘we’ of community, of focusing on the impact of an individual action on the whole? When and how do we teach a concept of working together to create something better for everyone? The quarantine this spring moved many people to move beyond focusing on their own lives to recognizing their responsibility to consider the impact of their actions on others. We see the impact of that recognition in the voluntary wearing of face masks and the large crowds participating in the protests. More people are definitively standing in their knowing that it is their responsibility to stand up for the rights of others.
Our nation has taught this concept of cooperative learning in school before. My own mother attended a two room school house for all of grade school in Idaho. Children worked together to learn. Multiple grades were in the classroom so it became a ‘let’s help each other learn’ environment. How did that beginning contribute to the ‘great generation’ work ethic? Their support for the community? How did the Depression impact their concept of and living of the ‘we’? How did program like the CCCs influence a whole generation of young men who worked together to create public works? We may never know the specific answers to my questions and yet we do know that those generations definitely had a different concept of what they owed to the ‘we’ of their community and of the nation than a good portion of today’s population.
In the 1960s, there were communes where individuals worked together to create a home for everyone. This usually included working outside the commune to bring in money or working on the commune’s property to bring in money/food for the group. Each commune included rules for being together where all were responsible to the whole. We learned much from these intentional communities and still do. How do we translate their experiences with this larger need on a community/state/nation level? What does it take to create a community where every person stands in their responsibility to provide for the betterment of the whole? We must continue to learn and practice how to ‘be’ in community. We must change our habits, our ways of interacting with others and our use of this environment. If we, as a community, as a nation and as part of the world, are going to secure a healthy and vital world for our children and grandchildren, we must change. Will we do enough? I sure hope that we do.
We need to make the changes in how we live, what we buy and how our states and our nations create safety nets for all our citizens and those who live in our town, state, country. I was reading an article by Greta Thunberg the other day. She believes small changes are no longer enough. Huge changes need to be made by all countries on earth if we are to save the planet for coming generations. My hope is that every part of our schooling and work practices and memes start shifting to focus on the ‘we’ of life. We all need to learn together, to work cooperatively in teams, to pass legislation that provides work, compensation, housing and medical care for all. This earth will not be hospitable for coming generations unless each of us starts knowing in our gut that we are an integral part of the ‘we’ of our community, our state, our nation and the world. Then all these changes will not feel like sacrifices but instead wonderful achievements on our path to creating an earth that is healed and provides a vital existence for all beings on her surface.