Today I participated in a worship service at my church, the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Corvallis. Several parents of young children shared our thoughts about raising the next generation in uncertain times. Here are my words from this morning.
It’s pretty scary, the power that humans have over our planet’s basic functions. Our species is like a dazed 18-year-old who just signed their first lease. “You mean I need to pay the bills? This whole place could burn down if I’m not careful?” And this home of ours is in dire condition. Species and ecosystems risk extinction. Many places humans inhabit could become unlivable. We face food shortages, disease outbreaks, political instability. I don’t want to downplay the negative here: people will suffer, and people will die. And like that teenage renter, no one is going to bail us out. We’re the ones in charge. But despite this daunting scenario, I do not despair for the future. So, in the spirit of Jane Goodall’s “Reasons for Hope,” here are mine:
1. The view elsewhere. The future is like a foreign country, and traveling to another country can be frightening. It’s just so different over there. I was a high school exchange student to Venezuela, and our future may look a lot like Venezuela. This is not a rosy comparison: Venezuela has fewer luxuries, more human filth, crime, corruption, urban decay. The past few months have been particularly tough for Venezuela, but this is nothing fundamentally new, these are the same struggles that nation has long endured. So the future many of us fear is already the lived reality of people today. Meaning, these aren’t insurmountable problems. Venezuelans have not only handled them for decades, they actually lead fairly happy lives. There’s this culture shock when facing a less extravagant lifestyle, be it 4000 miles away or 40 years away, but once you get over that you realize you can deal with it. The Venezuelans already do.
2. Enlightenment. I don’t mean Buddha-style enlightenment, but more Jefferson-style. Reason. Democracy. Education. Science. This is the direction human society is heading. The world is less violent today than ever before; poverty is declining faster than ever; we live in an unprecedented era of global peace and cooperation. Our current presidential election may be bizarre, but one thing it shows is that religious fundamentalism no longer holds political power. Women who are educated and empowered choose to have smaller families. This has ended the threat of exponential population growth and resulting famines, which terrified us when I was a kid. The more enlightened we get, the more equipped we are to fix the world.
3. Technology. Technology gets a bad rap, and for good reasons. We can all think of inventions that have had horrific consequences: chlorofluorocarbons, leaded gasoline, thalidomide, fracking, nuclear weapons. But here’s the thing: all these negative examples were invented before I was born. In the last forty years, technology has been an overwhelming force for good. The internet is a tool for peace, democracy, and all those enlightenment values. Recent developments in transportation, energy production, and agriculture have all been toward increased sustainability, less reliance on fossil fuels. And there’s no reason to expect this trend to stop.
4. Kids. Nothing makes me feel more hopeful than spending time around young people, be they the youth of this congregation or my own three-year-old daughter. There is no push needed to get these kids to care about the environment or the world community; they have embraced these values from day one. They face the future armed not only with brilliant brains, but with the ingrained perspectives I just laid out: global, enlightened, and technological. They know we have big problems. They know we can solve them. Can a teenager be responsible and resourceful enough to pay the bills and keep the house from catching on fire? Just watch this coming generation. I think they will.