Drowning Our Future

I grew up in a perfect world. I had two parents who treated me with love, and we always lived in clean and accommodating places whether they were apartments or modest houses. I liked school, and I played until dark with my neighborhood friends. There were great shows on television like Howdy Doody, Roy Rogers, and Leave It To Beaver – not to mention a host of splendid Westerns. People were all friendly, and I felt complacently safe everywhere.

Even after my perfect world was rocked by the death of my father when I was twelve, I still knew that my future was safe with my mother’s care and an educational system that would allow me to achieve whatever professional goals of which I was capable and desirous. I worked hard and loved science, particularly life science. I pursued this passion into college, and my grades and fervor opened the door to medical school. The path was clear, the steps were logical, and the opportunity was there.

That is not the world seen by young professionals and those in training today. There are many just as talented as I was, and others who are more so, but their opportunities are increasingly MIA. The paths to success are now broken and overgrown with the new growth of barriers I did not have to hurdle. Despite adjusting for inflation, their expenses for higher education are much greater than those faced by my peers and me in our time. Institutional barriers with burdensome requirements now close the doors to advancement and dare the aspiring newcomers to try and squeeze through.

If you are unclear of what concerns me here, please take a few moments to improve your life by reading these two examples:

“Not. Sleeping.” by Amanda Heironimus (“Curiouser & Curiouser” blog on WordPress.com) http://curiouserandcuriouserblog.wordpress.com/2012/09/13/not-sleeping/

“How the economy upended young architects’ hopes” by Caela J. McKeever (Crosscut.com).      http://crosscut.com/2012/09/25/architecture/110494/architectural-jobs-interns-economy-recession-/?page=single

Certainly higher education barriers are losing people of great potential. Many of my peers and I would never be considered for medical school if we were to use our past application credentials today. My medical class has served with distinction and accomplishment, and yet many of us would never have been able to bring our gifts to the communities we served were we trying today.

We are a nation of determination, and we have an amazing capacity to change when the critical call comes. The problem now, though, is that many of us do not seem to be hearing it. We cannot close our eyes to the wonderful potential of young, bright minds just because we are unwilling to change the system. It is sad to see this happen in professions such as architecture, science, nursing, and others – not because workable solutions do not exist, but rather because the professions are too short-sighted and selfish to risk needed paradigm shifts within their fields.

The call is coming from the cries of our upcoming, young professionals and those trying desperately to join them. Their aspirations and futures flounder in the ocean of today’s world. If we continue to be deaf to this call, we will heedlessly cripple many of these lives and, in the process, hobble our nation’s capacity for progress and global competition.

First, we must listen.  

 

When The Law Sinks Below Common Decency

At a recent vigil for Trayvon Martin held at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, student Mike Newbern chose to make an appearance by standing in front of the crowd with arms crossed as he prominently displayed his empty gun holster. This “statement” of Newbern’s disturbed a number of people at the vigil.

Josiah Ryan wrote to the Columbus Dispatch newspaper and made some relevant points defending the actions of “his friend” (“Speech should be celebrated, not quelled, on college campuses”, the Columbus(Dispatch, 4/14/2012). However (you probably knew that word was coming),  in his defense of Newbern, Ryan committed some serious omissions.

Ryan pointed out that Newbern’s obvious display of his holster at the vigil for someone who was killed by a handgun was an act that “…deeply offended a number of liberals….” Ryan went on to discuss that some of the offended, especially Lauren Kinsey in a Plunderbund blog, improperly accused Newbern of a hate crime. Ryan denounced Kinsey’s extreme statements, and he then chastised the offended “OSU liberals” for not celebrating and protecting “…the rights of self-expression….”

Ryan is absolutely correct that a hate crime is not committed without an actual crime, and I heartily agree that such extreme extrapolations of actual circumstances are not helpful or useful in a positive way. However (again), Ryan selectively ignores the “elephants in the vigil” which include, at the very least, the indecency, inappropriate behavior, and insensitivity of Newbern’s actions. Hopefully one does not need to be a “liberal” to appreciate that a vigil is not the appropriate forum for getting into a debate regarding whatever the actual points Newbern intended.

While Newbern’s actions are well within the limits of the law, there are standards of civility defining our society that get trampled by such brash actions. Newbern’s decision to make an opposing “statement” during a vigil was on par with the Westboro Baptist Church’s “statements” during funerals for our military dead.

While such “statements” are totally legal and protected by the Constitution, Newbern and the Westboro Church do not understand, or choose to ignore, the virtues of civil decency and appropriateness. There is the law, and there is common decency, which me must strive to avoid allowing to become less common.

Certainly these are concepts that all of us should embrace as an ethical society. Furthermore, we would wish the same of our leaders. Certainly in his position, Josiah Ryan, the “Communications director, Campus Leadership Program, Leadership Institute, Washington, D.C.” should clearly display a better understanding of such. We, the People, should accept nothing less.

Beyond Today

Aside from the religious claims of ancient times, there have been no bona fide prophets. Many people have tried to see into the future with clarity, and varying degrees of credence have been given to those who simply guessed correctly. Divination, astrology, augury, clairvoyance, Tarot cards, necromancy, and many other methods have been employed in the quest for accurate telling of the future.  Viewed as a “big picture” event, the future has proven to be an elusive beast to capture with any reliability.

On the other hand, there are events we can predict with good accuracy. Events that are reliably repetitious and events occurring on a small time scale are such. The sun will rise tomorrow. Picking up a bee will result in an adverse outcome (I verified this for myself at the age of five).  The stock market will go up and down (although this is the only reliable prediction one can make for that entity).

The closest that many of us come to prophesizing is when we plan for issues involving our personal lives and the lives of those close to us. We may buy groceries based on forecasted needs, schedule a trip to the barber/hair salon, set our DVR’s to record an impending favorite on television, and so on. We typically anticipate needs on a very short-, short-, or medium-term time scale (of course I generalize here as there are those who truly seem to live moment-by-moment). Such planning is very useful and practical for much of our daily needs.

However, what we desperately need as civilized beings is planning that looks well beyond our daily lives and into that murky distance we call the future. Such vision has immense value in that it allows for better focus and direction of our activities and use of resources. Such vision incorporates whatever the finest understandings we currently have with our best guesses for what the future holds and our most constructive dreams. For example, we might transfer a good portion of the time we use determining which professional sports team is our favorite and use that time to formulate a system that incorporates community sports into more of our lives for the promotion of greater health and societal growth.

We see evidence of “distance vision” in wondrous efforts – you know them when you see them. Examples of such include the Magna Carta, the Constitution of the United States, the Golden Gate Bridge, Frederick Olmsted’s majestic landscapes, the interstate freeway system, and the worldwide web.

Central Park

By no means a new phenomenon, too often we are immersed in immediate issues or those expected to occur in the very near future (like an hour or day from now). Such concerns are important, but we easily lose a vital balance that should be maintained with plans for the more distant future. Such distant plans need to include our personal issues, of course, but must also involve the future of others on local and global scales.

If we can shift a bit more of our planning into “distant future” mode, the probability for successful growth and advancement of humankind will increase dramatically. We will reduce that which we discard (including resources, workers, spouses), and we will produce materials and relationships of quality while insuring the survivability of our environment.

Incorporating more distance vision necessitates backing away from instant gratification, and such a transition will be a painful weaning for many. Nevertheless, we must move forward with dedication to make our best effort at shaping the unknowable future. The examples of such thinking have been demonstrated by (all too few) great, courageous, and unselfish minds in our past. Such thinking is not only a responsibility to ourselves, but also to all that lives and is this world.

 

When Adults Leave The Room

Responsibility is something for which life gives all of us options. Nature gives parents the option of caring for and protecting their children. Children can accept or reject the responsibility to socialize, defend themselves, and learn all that they can about their world. Members of a civilized society must decide if they wish to bear responsibility for the consequences of their personal actions on those around them and whether or not they will choose to support efforts that benefit the long-term growth and success of their society. Leaders may elect to direct their efforts in the best interests of their followers’ futures, or they may opt out of this responsibility in favor of their own personal gain. As individuals and as populations, we can act as responsible stewards of the planet or we can plunder it. These are but a few of the responsibilities for which humans have the capacity of choice.

 

 

Humanity and the world of which it is a part prosper when we accept and act with conscience on our responsibilities. However, all too often we lose our way when personal gain or conflicting ideals intrude. Too often we shift into an “either/or” mode of thought when faced with such conflicts rather than considering inclusive compromises. We find ourselves making decisions and passing judgments based on narrow perspectives that are grossly in favor of only a short-term gain or the benefit of a few at the cost of greater gains for the long-term or for the many.

We imperil our future whenever decisions requiring responsibility are made after the adults have left the room. The ideal, mature adults are capable of working out responsible solutions to problems by themselves or in concert with others, depending on the situation. These ideal adults make their decisions with responsible goals in mind, as noted above. Ideal adults stay in the room as long as needed to resolve the problem.

While there are no known ideal human beings, that fact should not prevent us from striving toward such goals. As parents, adult members of society, and/or leaders, it is unforgiveable to not at least try and provide mature examples and guidance for the young whose future follows in our wake and for the welfare of our communities. Individuals, parents, businesses, charities, corporations, and government leaders must keep the adult(s) in the room when decisions and actions of responsibility are needed.

We witness the painful lapse of such adult responsibility every day. A cruise ship’s captain whose decisions result in the disastrous loss of his ship and the lives of some of those with whose safety he was entrusted. Parents who camp by the riverside with toddlers who then wander in the night to their deaths. People who explosively destroy themselves and others out of zealous religiosity. People who deny women control of their bodies out of zealous religiosity. Corporations such as drug companies and energy giants that push beyond ethical boundaries for short-term profit because they can. Political leaders and their moneyed supporters who will alter or fabricate facts for the short-term gains of power and wealth. Legislators who promote the legalization of concealed guns into bars, churches, college campuses, and day care centers all for the favor of an industry. Political leaders who zealously spurn compromise and block all legislation that does not meet their restrictive views in the name of political gain.

Certainly there are missteps and tragedies of judgment resulting from lack of knowledge or simple human error, and these must be forgiven and corrected. However, far too many actions that we see veer off course occur from those who shrug responsibility for woeful reasons. As a people, we must push, and push hard, to put and keep adults in the room.

Relationships of the Imagination

Recent events have again focused my attention to a phenomenon for which psychologists most likely have a formal name and reasonable understanding, but by which I am repeatedly astounded. The passing of one of the most famous coaches in college football history, Joe Paterno, brings another round of this phenomenon’s mystical mayhem of melancholia.

My thoughts here are not specifically regarding “JoePa”, for which there has been much and shall be much more said by others. I use him only as a point of reference due to the temporal proximity of the attention surrounding him. I will refer to such figures of fame as “the Idols”.

The object of my marvel is the intense, emotional response evoked by events involving these Idols among those with whom the idols have had no direct or closely indirect contact, “the Peripherals”. The Idols seem to engender, whether warranted or not, a cloud of legendary greatness in which the Peripherals allow themselves to be enveloped. Furthermore, the Peripherals often go on to create their own added details to the legend, thereby imbuing the story with a personal degree of enmeshment.

The results of the Peripherals’ involvements with their Idols are striking when major, personal events occur in the Idols’ lives, particularly the ending of such. The emotional responses of the Peripherals seem grossly distorted when compared with the reality of their limited relationship with the Idols (e.g., current, random Penn State students openly weeping at the campus statue of JoePa). The Peripherals become the victims of their own, hand-tailored, lacy details of their “relationships” with the Idols.

The entire phenomenon of this emotional overreaction by Peripherals is a tragic drain on their psyche and a wasteful misdirection for their energies.  To note the loss of any from our fold of humankind is always appropriate, but to deeply grieve for the loss of those with whom we were not truly close would seem, in most cases, destructive for the individual and the society.

Do I decry this “faux amour”? Yes, I suppose I do. However, I must be quick to point out that I have not been immune to its siren’s call. As a child, I briefly, but truly grieved the death of President Kennedy as I watched the funeral procession on television. Even at the tender age of twelve, I had stepped into the man’s cloud of legend and created my own nuances to personalize the “relationship”. I had read his book, Profiles in Courage, and felt a connection through those accounts. His loss truly pained me notably more than it realistically should have.

Far stronger would we be as a people if we were to more carefully examine our personal relationships and place emphasis and priorities on those of true substance. It may be easy to honor, even love, a legend from afar, but it is the people beside us in whom our emotional energies can provide far greater and longer-lasting yield

A Loss of Magic

After many years of play, today I cancelled my subscription to the World of Warcraft (a.k.a., WOW).

For many, that act may seem hardly worth a mention. Still for some others, the topic might be a subject they would not wish to mention in polite, or intelligent, conversation. For me, however, it is an event of notable impact.

The multiplayer online game provides an imaginative and visually-stimulating world of adventure. In that world, through my diligent efforts, avatars I created (and there were many) had the opportunity to right wrongs and fight the good fights against forces of darkness. Through these heroes, I could come to the aid of the downtrodden and oppressed, fighting all the while to rid Azeroth of the demons that haunt its every plane, barren wasteland, swamp, jungle, forest, and darkened depth.

Oh how I have been drawn to the siren’s call of fantasy gaming. How those lilting lyrics have sung to core desires for things the real world so often denies. In Azeroth, with enough time, practice, and accumulated weapons and magic, I can achieve major conquests over the powers of evil. In such imaginative worlds, one can actually see justice.

Such gaming speaks powerfully to my three parts (please see my first post, “In The Beginning”). The Boy finds well-crafted games such as WOW to be hugely engaging and entertaining with dynamic and flowing story lines woven into their design. The Knight is rewarded by the achievable justice emphasized in my previous paragraph, as he is anguished by the real world’s flimsy attempts at such. The Father part of me greatly enjoys any time that can be shared with my children, regardless of their ages, when playing games, regaling in the interactions and the insights about them gained while doing so. For Father, games that offer collaborative play among the players provide extremely rewarding bonuses.

I am not blind to some of the drawbacks of games like WOW. They can mesmerize and consume large amounts of time that could be spent engaging in real-world pursuits, including socializing and physical activities. One dare not allow the magic of fantasy to completely consume.

It is unfortunate when people become mired in the realm of fantasy or the realm of reality, not enjoying the gifts of both. A beneficial balance can be struck between these worlds, and I believe it is worth the effort. Engaging in fantasy provides perspectives when dealing with real-world events that might not otherwise be recognized. Whether it be through games, literature, or movies, participation in fantasy worlds helps to keep us from being trapped in “the box” of “reality”; a place where means to express ourselves often seem too limited, and options for our paths seem few. The real world, of course, has the advantage of…well, being real.

It is with an unexpected sense of loss that I part ways with my time in the world of Azeroth. However, I take heart that those adventures will stay with me in the real world as well as my future worlds of fantasy.