Monday, June 17, 2013

Humanity Getting its Ducks in a Row



When I was a child my grandmother marvelled at how when she was a child she travelled by ox wagon and now we were sending people to the moon. I wondered then how the world could change in such a way that I'd be marvelling when I was her age. If I ever reached it. It was hard to believe that I ever would, she seemed so ancient. I'm not there yet, but that marvelling time has come already for me. 

There wasn't any internet when I was a kid. Distance communication was by phone, letter or telegram. Arriving by noon train stop pick me up stop don't forget stop I love you stop.

Letters were written by hand, music was played with vinyl, radios were a piece of furniture. I spent 90% of my waking leisure hours outside. We didn't even have a TV. When it came and we finally got a set, we were only allowed to watch one evening a week. And then we could have a coke as well. Bread and milk were delivered to the door. Ice cream cost two pennies, the cost of everything stayed the same from year to year and people stayed in the same job.  

On the surface of things, it was a simple life and a good one. But heaven help you if you were a schizophrenic or depressed or a girl with a sexual appetite, or one who didn't know how to say no. There wasn't a place for you. Where you could feel valuable, that is. There was a place alright; society's garbage bin. Not that it was openly acknowledged. Racism, slavery, abuse of women and children were rampant, but nobody spoke about it. The have-nots were hidden from the pleasant surface of society's fabric. Ah, the good old days.

Now nobody writes anything by hand, radios are either streamed or ugly little boomboxy things. Vinyl isn't dead but mostly it's music by download, books by download. TV on your laptop. 

Conversation happens by tweet or text. Impersonal, no risk, no real connection. Fast, though. Ice cream costs anything from R5 to R20 and the price of everything rises every day. Employees are nomads scrabbling to find work in broken economies. The world is at war; so much of mankind a well-oiled killing machine. Polar ice-caps are melting whilst people still debate if humans are destroying the environment. Women get stoned to death for wearing the wrong clothes and wanting to be educated. Child pornography and the slave trade still flourish around the world. 

Sure we've sent men to the moon and found cures for all sorts of diseases but 'experts' can't explain the outbreak of violence amongst seemingly peaceful communities. And we still don't have anywhere close to an understanding of schizophrenia and depression. Children and adults commit suicide and everybody says 'I had no idea they were depressed'. 

Very few say 'if I'd been a better friend, a better parent, a better sibling, I would have noticed because nobody gets to that final moment of despair without there being plenty of signposts along the way.' 

Has the human race really progressed much since my grandmother was a child? The way it expresses itself has changed, that’s obvious. But the percentages of different types of people are probably still the same. What also hasn’t changed is the human capacity to find joy and pleasure within, no matter what’s going on in your life. That’s a good thing. That’s a remarkable thing. 

And we've identified concepts like entitlement and self esteem. We know - or some of us do - that if those two aspects are fragmented it doesn't matter how talented a person is, they'll never make any progress. If they don't get help. And help is available. We know that we can learn to say no. That we're allowed to pay attention to what we need. That what others think of us matters a whole lot less than what we think of ourselves. That if we want others to treat us with respect we have to treat ourselves with respect. We know a lot more. We haven't necessarily learned how to put it into practise, but that will come.

An even bigger difference between when I was a child and now is that the underbelly has been exposed, that's clear. We haven't been able to keep that lovely smooth surface unruffled by the reality of society's inequalities and injustices. It’s uncomfortable to see but uncomfortable isn't necessarily all bad.

The good thing about it is that the have-nots have finally found their voice. And that makes me marvel as much as my grandmother did. Just learning to get our ducks in a row.