Friday, September 14, 2018

We Have Already Failed, So . . .

If you're inclined to worry, society sure has given you a good selection. ~Mark Twain

We live in an age of worry. Perhaps every generation has, but it's hard to not think that our information age is particularly hard on those who are inclined toward it. Modern parenting, in particular, is fraught: there is always a well-intended expert ready to refute the last well-intended expert.

Francis Bacon famously wrote, "Knowledge is power," but information is not the same thing as knowledge. Knowledge is solid, it gives us confidence, it empowers us: information is flighty, tending to send us into doubt and worry. Certainly, there is the potential to cultivate knowledge from information, but it can be a full time job just sifting the wheat from the chaff, which leads us to yet more worry: What if we aren't leaving enough time for the actual living?

The human brain can hardly think without contemplating what is to come. We are forever gaming out potential scenarios. The future spreads before us, not as single river keeping to its bed, but rather as a delta of options, each one taking us off toward something different. What if we make the wrong choice? What if we should be branching to the left instead of to the right? No one can see around the next bend, of course, so it's always, at best, a guessing game. We survey those who have come before us, we listen to the experts, we compile the data, and consult our own best thinking, but when it comes right down to it, as the Grateful Dead lyrics go, "Life is uncertain; it can always go wrong." And that's what we worry about.

Of course, things will always go wrong no matter which path we chose. That is the nature of life. As hard as it is to contemplate, our children will experience pain and failure and loss, indeed, they already have, many times over. From the moment we're born we cry. No matter how much we plan or worry, no matter how much information we sift through, we will never steer our children clear of every rock. We can, at best, pick the rocks we want to try to avoid, but those are just the obvious ones we can see: there are always others, unseen, unknown, and unanticipated lurking beneath the surface.

A few days ago, I riffed on a concept a Buddhist friend shared with me: "When I think of this glass, I know it will one day break. It's inevitable. Nothing last forever. In a sense it's already broken: everything is already broken. Knowing that, I've already accepted its loss. Now I'm free to just enjoy it." By the same token, we have already failed to anticipate the future. Our children are already suffering the consequences of our bad decisions. Knowing that, we are free to give them the only thing that has ever been worth a damn: our love and attention, right now.

The future, as it always has, will take care of itself. And there is no better preparation for it than love and attention.

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