Thursday, November 23, 2023

The Loudest of All is Fear

Author and poet Diane Ackerman writes:

"(I)t probably doesn't matter if we try too hard, are awkward sometimes, care for one another too deeply, are excessively curious about nature, are too open to experience, and enjoy nonstop expense of the senses in an effort to know life intimately and lovingly."

We live in a time of plague, and I don't mean Covid. The virus is called productivity and the disease it causes is an all-consuming sense of guilt or anxiousness whenever we take more than a few moments to remind ourselves that we're alive. Our busy, buzzing minds insist upon reminding us of the tasks undone and challenges ahead, making us perpetually feel as if we're just barely keeping up. It even visits us in our dreams, if we're ever able to go there amidst the tossing and turning. 

Some 2500 years ago, Buddha described our minds as being full of drunken monkeys and the loudest of all is fear, so it's clear that this plague isn't new. And it's a real pity because we've worked so hard over the centuries to protect ourselves from fear. It's unlikely, for instance, that anyone reading this will be eaten by a wild animal. You're probably not going to die in a war or from starvation. Present day challenges notwithstanding, our ability to protect ourselves through medicine has never been better. Yet still the monkeys shriek at us as if it's all a matter of life and death when really it's just about the relentless claims that productivity makes on our every waking moment. The monkey fear that we might fall behind.

Behind what? It's a question we ask about our children and their education. I hear the voices of "experts," echoing through our policymakers, warning us that the kids are really going to have a lot of work to do to catch up. Too many children, even young ones, are hearing the monkey's shriek. Never before have so many children, even young ones, experienced the levels of depression and anxiety we're seeing today. To have experts intentionally stoke the fear-of-falling-behind in parents so that they may, in turn, infect their children is outrageous.

No matter how hard we scramble to keep up, we will always leave things undone and that guilt and anxiety will, in the end, have amounted to a narrowing of what it means to be alive. As we sit down for Thanksgiving, I'm grateful for the young children in my life. They are our best teachers. They are not yet infected with the virus of productivity. Gloriously, they try too hard, are awkward, and prone to caring too deeply. They are driven by their excessive curiosity and that opens them to the totality of experience that comes from enjoying a nonstop expense of the senses in the only human project that matters: to know life intimately and lovingly.


"Teacher Tom, our caped hero of all things righteous in the early childhood world, inspires us to be heroic in our own work with young children, and reminds us that it is the children who are the heroes of the story as they embark on adventures of discovery, wonder, democracy, and play." ~Rusty Keeler
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