Thursday, March 25, 2010

Be a Hero, Not a Nero

Waiting for the Rapture - Oasis (mp3)
Pray Your Gods - Toad the Wet Sprocket (mp3)

Fear is getting on my nerves.

It's everywhere, fear is. And, while I'm sure it's always been around, fear seems to be particularly enjoying this  epoch in American history.

First, the personal.

Mom was a single mother until I turned five. She married, and I got a dad. Point is, she was pretty busy, what with trying to provide for us and look for romance and raise a nightmarish baby boy. In times like those, who has time to worry about stuff like seatbelts, or choking hazards, or bicycle helmets, or jungle gyms, or cholesterol?

Not my mom. I frequently rode without a seat belt (and certainly without a car seat) and spent half my traveling childhood crouched into the floorboard of the backseat, my Star Wars figures or other playthings scouring the barren backseat landscape on some random imagined adventure. She didn't force me to eat whatever she fixed, so on days and nights when I didn't want chicken livers or collards, I was free to microwave a pizza or a frozen egg roll or even just a few bowls of cereal. I rode my bike all over creation and back even though I couldn't even do a bunny hop. When I was four I almost OD'd on an entire bottle of Geritol because I was alone in the house while she was down the street borrowing milk or something from a neighbor.

My wife and her siblings grew up in similar fashion with a divorced mom. They took care of themselves; they had little choice with a working mother.

Yet in 2010, if you were to see the way our parents behave as grandparents, you would have thought they had been Chief Warden at Alcatraz during our youth. Everything is dangerous. Everything is unsafe. Cars go too fast. Children run too fast. Dogs' teeth are too sharp. Sunlight is too cancerous. Food is too preserved. Television is corrosive. Music is making us deaf. Yada yada.

Now, I'm not saying they're completely wrong with their 2010 opinions. Rather, I'm saying the 1978 versions of themselves would have openly mocked these 2010 versions. Their 1978 versions -- the ones who bore actual, real responsibility for children -- didn't give a shit about all this shit.

Somewhere between then and now, everything got scarier. And our culture encouraged it, apparently, because most parents are a bajillion times more fearful than they were 30 years ago.

Second, the political.

Save for a few beautiful hours in November 2008, politics just more and more mired in fearmongering. Both sides. The right fearmongers about government wanting to take over your lives and take over all businesses, about killing babies, about killing Jesus, about taking your guns, about homosexuals raping your children. The left fearmongers about sending America into endless wars with everyone who won't cower to us, about evil uncaring corporations, about

Now, I'm not saying they're completely wrong with their political opinions. Rather, I don't quite see how our political evolution is making us better as a society, as a culture. We know we're taking ourselves into the toilet, but we just keep playing our instruments on the deck of the Titanic like there's no choice but to go down with the ship.

Third, the educational.

It's becoming increasingly clear that the industrialized notion of school as factory is failing. We churn out the proletariat (and the occasional CEO) and keep the rowdy teens in line until they're old enough to wipe their own butts, and we call this not leaving a child behind... that is, if we could even manage to do all of this right.

Now, I'm not saying schools are unequivocal failures. Rather, it's exactly like health care. We know it should be and could be so much damn better and more effective than it is, but nobody can get the momentum and support -- or whatever it's gonna take -- to really do something earth-shattering and convincing about it. We just keep playing our instruments on the deck of the Titanic like there's no choice but to go down with the ship.

Fear has paralyzed us, and I don't know what the hell I can do about it, but accepting it only guarantees me a spot in the orchestra that drowns in the freezing water. I used to think it might be enough if I could teach my children to break through the fear and the trepidation, but I'm starting to understand that I can't possibly teach such things without proving myself capable of those things, anymore than I could teach them algebra without being able to add.

I never liked that Jack Dawson fella much, but at least he froze and died doing something useful. I've got some time. The ship won't sink tomorrow or the next day. But it's time to drop the damn instrument, dry off the wet spot on my pants and start looking for a way off.

Who's with me?!? We're going streaking!!


BeckEye said...

Fear is a tool people use to get other people to do what they want them to do. From parents to politicians. Do this or Santa Claus isn't coming. Do this or your Medicare will be gone.

Of course, a little fear is good. When I was living in NYC, I often walked home alone from the subway at, like, 3 in the morning. I probably shouldn't have been doing that. Just because nothing ever happened didn't mean it was a smart thing!

Bob said...

Our own Senator, the great Lamar Alexander, announced just last week that if the Health Care bill passed, it would cost the state so much that we would have to cut into education funding! How's that for some double-fear??????

Billy said...

@Beck: Thanks for the thoughts. I guess your NYC comment gets to the heart of it for me. You imply that you might have been better off being more fearful than you were, but mostly got away with it due to luck.

What if I said, statistically, you were no more foolish to be so trusting than you would be to trust all adult male relatives to have access to your (admittedly hypothetical) children? The odds of a male relative sexually abusing a child is exponentially larger than that of getting mugged in NYC.

(Great, now I've started a trend of banning all adult males from getting acquainted with young relatives.)

@Bob: Our state feeds off of fear more voraciously than we do Krystal burgers. Lamar is just feeding us what we seem to crave.

SC said...

An example of creative risk-taking: I used this TED lecture in class this morning. - after only watching half of it via your blog. TED is awesome. Billy is almost (ALMOST!) as awesome as TED. 'Nuff said.

Joshua said...

Alan Watts: "Faith is a state of openness or trust. To have faith is to trust yourself to the water. When you swim you don't grab hold of the water, because if you do you will sink and drown. Instead you relax and float. And the attitude of faith is the very opposite of clinging to belief, of holding on. In other words, a person who is fanatic in matters of religion, and clings to certain ideas about the nature of God and the universe, becomes a person who has no faith at all. Instead they are holding tight [to a particular belief]. But the attitude of faith is to let go, and become open to truth, whatever it might turn out to be."

Now, that's poetic, and I find that all very illuminating and shit, but it's really hard to do. Ever thought you were drowning? You will dog-paddle and grab for those waves like you're sinking faster than a moderate candidate in the latest Pew Poll asking "Who are you gonna vote for in November?"

That said, in response to your thoughts, I can only say that it will take your kids--raised by someone who says "Watch out for those crazies at the flea-circus" and my kids (also, unborn)--and a little dose of hard-to-believe (like Jesus says, "fear not, for I have overcome the whole world" and some variation of "don't be afraid" like 100 times in the NT), in order for us to get past the next wave of "OH $#!T." I don't know that we'll see the next stage.

Cause the wave is coming.

I think about the "greatest generation" and the idea of storming the beach at Normandy: you know that wave is coming, you know it might overtake you, you can't catch your breath, and you can't be sure you'll ever catch your breath again--which makes it worse. How do you storm the beach?

You have to believe something bigger or greater or stronger than you will follow you, someone in your troop with their helmet and rifle who's gonna take that lucky shot, someone who has your back. And when I think about that there's one thing I'm sure of, whether or not anyone's got my back: I'm gonna run headlong onto that beach. I try to do that every day.

I don't do it cause I'm brave (I'm not), I don't know that anyone has my back, and I don't do it cause someone's gonna vote me into office, or cause I got kids to follow me.

I do it for everyone that ran before me. For everyone that took the leap of faith and dove into the water not knowing whether they would sink or swim. I do it for those who knew they weren't gonna win, but were hoped to make progress. For the souls that thought: I may not go home, but if I do this at least there might be a home for someone to go to.

Ok, I admit, that's a lot of hyperbole and cheesiness but I'm at the bottom of the glass. And been to that place where I just don't know if I can go any farther. But I know I can't go backward. So the question is, where will you go if not forward? Where are you gonna go if odon't storm the beach and face the waves? And what will carry you there, if not faith?

For your listening pleasure, I submit to you this song that sings a metaphor of humanity drifting into the darkness. It's set to an old tune, almost 200 years old, a hymn you'll probably find familiar. And I like the idea of us "kindred, pilgrim souls" moving into the abyss, on the only thing we've ever called home, in the hope that there's a reason to move forward at all.

jed said...

i think Robinson is actually Kenneth Branaugh. wonderful post and thanks for the TED video.