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19 June 2002 (Wednesday): the unprecedented generation

It's all a grand experiment. We've never had this asked of us before.

How does a couple raise children now, in this fierce culture of personal aspirations? Who has time? How much time is enough time, and spent in what fashion? Who will cook the dinner, iron the shirts, tend the garden, now that women as well as men are CEOs and professors and engineers and fighter pilots, but it isn't manly to take a week off for chicken pox or to attend the elementary school PTA meeting?

What is the definition of community, in a world of TVs and game consoles, chat rooms and livejournals, suburban developments with electronically operated gates? Where do the kids play when the speed limit is 45 MPH? Who are the kids they play with? Palestinian, Peruvian, Chinese, Malaysian-British-Congolese, WASPy all the way back to the Mayflower? What games will they play? Who will point fingers at whom; who will come to whose defense? What holidays will they celebrate at school? Will they still write one another when they're 17, 26, 35? Will they still have something to say?

How will we be fellow citizens if we don't speak one language? How will we understand each other, and the bright burning world outside our national borders, if we only speak one language? Who before us has been called upon to understand not only our own problems, but the problems in every time zone, in every incomprehensibly foreign and yet undeniably human culture? Is this kind of 360-degree vigilance possible? How will we learn it all, keep learning it all, keep remembering?

What is unshakable in human nature? Will we always be tribal? Globally selfish, locally compassionate? Reveling in our brilliantly designed vise-grip on the natural world, hungry for control instead of harmony? So afraid of death, that bittersweet and crucial counterbalance to life, that we will do anything to outrun it? What does it mean, to say that human life is sacred? Is it?

These are the doubts. But I hold out hope; there may be a way. We may figure it out. I think we have it in us.

posted by enjelani @ 11:17 AM PST

Replies: 3 comments

A long posting demands a long comment: :-)

Every generation has it's new challenges and every parent worries about the world they are casting their beloved child(ren) into: The scourge of polio claimed limbs and lives, mostly of children, throughout the first half of this century. Can you imagine the prospect of having your child killed or seriously deformed by this hideous disease? With the Cuban missile crisis (circa 1959-1962) every parent was suddenly faced with the VERY real specter of nuclear war - news flash: your child is now eligible to be vaporized in a nuclear blast. Worse yet, your child could be among the survivors - for a few months.

The specter de jour is AIDS, terrorism, etc., etc.,... Nothing has really changed since ancient times when you might loose your child to disease or have them dragged off in a village raid. The heartbreak would be the same now as it was then. No matter how you cut it - whether it's disease or human greed & stupidity, there is still a thin veneer between the sunny existence we prefer and the reality of suffering and death.

Unshakable in human nature is the desire to survive, the desire to be in community with other humans, and the desire to be happy.

I don't think humans will "figure it out" in our lifetime. But that shouldn't distract us from trying to make constant progress.

So, I would submit that a parent's moral mandate is to give their child the tools to contribute to social progress (send them to school, volunteer with them at a senior center, etc.), while also giving their child the tools to enjoy the journey (take them to Europe, Asia, etc; torture them with piano lessons, teach them how to cook, etc).

Take heart - I know lots of parents who balance power-hitting careers with raising children. You just have to be focused and disciplined with your time (it's not really YOUR time once you have kids).

posted by bill @ 19 06 2002 05:32 PM PST

As parents, we teach by example, answer questions truthfully, give real reasons rather than the standard "because I said so", really listen when spoken to and judge lightly and slowly. We find time wherever we can, and make sure it is used fully, with all involved existing as much in the moment as possible. If this is achieved, the actual amount of time is less important, and just about anyone will be able to make enough time.? If everyone cheerfully helps cook the dinner, iron the shirts, tend the garden, etc., it teaches that these things are not only anyone's task, but also activities that can be fun.

Community exists wherever you can commune with people, and will thrive where there is effort from all its members. Physical community is again on the upswing, and will continue to grow in importance as long as we teach our children to value it. The added bonus of online communites helps keep us connected outside the physical. The kids will play in both spheres, learning both new ways to divide people into groups, and that the divisions are in and of themselves baseless in the long run, and hopefully this will cut down on finger pointing and bolster their courage when the call to defend is heard. They will celebrate all and no holidays, edging back towards holidays based on the seasons and solstices, as political correctness does one good thing and removes Christian bias from the classroom. People will still drift together and apart as they grow older, but the online community will keep the drift apart from going too far. We will speak with smiles and tears and cringes and tentative embraces, as we always have when language is not shared in common. We will always be tribal, but the boundaries will overlap like a big, global Venn diagram. This blurring of local and global will allow both compassion and selfishness to be more evenly spread through both. A renewed focus on things seasonal will teach us all to value both life and death, human and otherwise.

Or, at least this is how I'd answer when feeling optimistic.

These are the doubts. But I hold out hope; there may be a way. We may figure it out. I think we have it in us.

posted by Moonpuddle @ 19 06 2002 10:21 PM PST

(damn. the karma links are too close to the comments link. didn't mean to subtract any points ... i had a comment, too ... er. no time, now.)

posted by Zach @ 20 06 2002 03:24 PM PST