Thursday, September 22, 2016

Say Yes: The Ages of Humanity

Part Two took a while. That's okay. At this stage in life, we often turn things in late. Keep reading to see what I mean!
I’ve always thought that humanity’s growth paralleled the growth of your average human being, even acknowledging that the average of anything is an abstract concept and doesn’t exist in concrete form.

It’s not a terribly new idea, but think about it. For a large part of humankind’s early existence, we kept pretty busy just trying to get from Point A to Point B, put food in our mouths, and not die. Sounds like toddler life to me. Then, by the “Middle Ages” we advanced to the lovely stage that includes bullying, a black-and-white take on matters of law, and a complete inability to deal with hygiene. Does that sound like second grade to anyone else?

I look at humanity right now and think, Holy crap, are we ever in the teen years.

Seriously, how many of these describe A. Teenagers, B. Our world right now, or C. Both?
—We have moments of brilliance
—We have moments of utter imbecility
—We argue endlessly about which is which
—We stay up WAY too late for our own good
—We put off taking care of ourselves because we’ll never get sick
—We ignore what we can’t see (Pacific garbage patch, anyone?)
—The internet
—We elect insane morons to be…well, anything…just because they’re popular
—We can be colossally shortsighted and inconsiderate
—Our hearts are beginning to stretch large enough to include others

No need to grade the quiz; I’m sure you’ve gotten the idea.

And it’s not just me! I’ve always thought the Bible, which has the advantage of being written during multiple stages of history, reflects that. If you’ve ever raised a toddler, admit it—you sounded a bit like the Old Testament God at times. You make these crazy specific and absolute rules about things you never thought anyone would NEED a rule for. In my case, “THOU SHALT NOT CARRY LEGOS IN THY MOUTH.” The Old Testament God had a thing about wearing mixed skins, etc. I’m sure there were reasons.

And, much like I’ve dropped the Lego Law in my house—it’s just not needed now—the Bible shows a new approach in the New Testament. Jesus, kind of like that hip church youth leader you get in middle school, says, “What if I told you the only law is love?” That’s when the twelve and thirteen-year-olds fall in love with how cool they are and start correcting everyone who doesn’t think the same way.

I’m not the only one who sees this, either! If you’ve got the time, check out this fascinating address by the Anglican Archbishop of Wales, who sees a similar progression of understanding.

Like many a teenager’s parent, I’ve often despaired for our future. I’ve had my share of Really? and You thought that would work because….? and Duh moments as I’ve contemplated our collective choices.

It’s always the case, in any learning, that the closer you come to mastering something, the more unpredictable your performance is. An orange belt in karate may miss the target on ninety-nine punches out of a hundred, but they’re mostly pretty ineffective punches. A brown belt, on the other hand, may misplace one punch out of a hundred, but it’ll have some power behind it. Which does more damage?

And, as teens approach mastery over large life skills, they get cocky and nearly die. As our human races approaches a point where we CAN, conceivably, meet the basic needs of all humankind, it seems like we’re killing people for such dumb reasons. We’re making those tragic, late-teen mistakes.

We are approaching mastery, though. This amazing Ted Talk cites research that shows our circles of compassion have gotten bigger in recent years—we care more about people we don’t know personally than we ever have before. That is awesome! Way to go, world!

I cannot say enough about organizations like The CompassionCollective that combine the people-power of celebrities and ordinary folk, leveraging it into a force for good. Or people like Brandon Stanton at Humans of New York who shares stories we’d never hear otherwise. Now that, people, means we’re feeling our power. We’re getting ready to lead a balanced life that includes compassion.

Hope lies on just the other side of this stage. Think of Gene Roddenberry’s vision of a world where our shared home planet is safe and stable enough to let us reach out to other worlds. Maybe it would help if some Vulcans make first contact and parent us through this next stage, but maybe…

Maybe, like parentless teens in all times and places, we can see the consequences of our actions, pull our shit together, and let our hearts expand. I say, Yes, let’s do it.

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