Our kids are hurting. From watching one another self-hurt on Musical.ly, to the high rate of male college drop-outs, to the increase in suicide and mass-shootings led by our youngsters, it appears the next generation is crying out in pain, and most of us don’t want to see our role in their angst. We’ve done the best we could. We’re busy. There isn’t enough time or money. It’s the government’s fault. It’s the gun owners’ faults, it’s the media’s fault.
At some level, all of that is true, but we need to step back and admit it’s our fault as well. Each of us who lives in this society takes part in the society, particularly in the messaging that our kids receive. The culture we give them is the culture that they will literally embody, whether we like it or not. So perhaps we need to take a moment to look at the culture, and more specifically the messages we share with one another and our children.
The Buddhists practice the Noble Eightfold Path:
Right understanding (Samma ditthi), Right thought (Samma sankappa), Right speech (Samma vaca), Right action (Samma kammanta), Right livelihood (Samma ajiva), Right effort (Samma vayama), Right mindfulness (Samma sati), Right concentration (Samma samadhi)
The idea here is profound, yet one we often overlook when creating the societies in which we live. Beginning with the right understanding, we are able achieve right concentration and overcome the suffering of our souls. That lonely ache of being human can be transcended, if only we have the right understanding to follow the rest of the Eightfold Path.
We learn this understanding initially from those around us. If the elders practice right thought, based on right understanding, then through their speech, actions, livelihood and efforts they will hand down right understanding to the next generation.
Therefore, what we do reflects what we say which reflects what we think. Taking a sample from my Facebook, Twitter and Medium feeds, it becomes clear that the understanding we are teaching are kids is FAR from right in it’s thinking, speech or action. Rather than follow hope, we follow doom, and we sell it to anyone with eyes to see it and ears to hear it. Unless you live in a cave, you can’t escape the myopic American vision of death, destruction and hopelessness. Given our obsession with doom, is it any wonder that our kids want out? Whether through cutting, killing themselves or others, or escaping into video games, the world we’re telling them, the world we’re showing them, isn’t one of empowerment, it’s one set on pity and helplessness.
What exactly do I mean? The examples are endless, but here are four lies I think we feed each other, and thus our children, that teach them the world isn’t worth their time and that they themselves are irrelevant.
1. The world is better off without humanity.
Yes, we’ve all heard this one. I hear it several times a day, when I bother to leave my cave and partake in this world I love so much. And every time I hear these words uttered, my heart breaks. Why, dear humans, do you hate yourselves so much that you would think this? Of course, we may have gotten ahead of ourselves when it comes technology combined with our yet-to-be-fully-developed frontal lobes, but we know enough now about biodiversity and the web of life to understand that the eradication of any species brings imbalance and great harm. We try to get rid of mosquitoes so that less humans die, only to create other pests intent on killing us. Hey, the fact that some parts of nature want to kill us isn’t because we’re evil. We really need to get over that concept. Viruses keep our population under control the way mountain lions keep the deer population under control the way birds keep the mosquito population under control. If humanity were to just die off, then who would be the hands of the Earth? Do you really think we’ve nothing to offer? Nothing at all? We have much to learn, that’s true. But the same minds that built oil rigs can figure out how to turn the sun into the next sustainable power-grid. Someone will do it, all we need to do is encourage them. And if that someone(s) happens to be the next generation, do you think teaching them that the world is better off without us is the road to such a monumental discovery? Not sure this message is one of motivation folks.
Rather than focus singularly on how much we suck because we used nuclear energy as a weapon of mass destruction rather than a tool for clean energy, we might want to also use that unfortunate event as a lesson and focus on how clever we are and how we can advance to the next level in our quest for renewable, constructive energies. The same brilliant minds are behind both destruction and redemption, but feed the soul with too much despair, and you’ll get what you fear. We can learn just as much from our successes as our failures, so a little truth, beauty and goodness can go a long way. Humans have made beautiful things as well: vaccines, the Davinci robot, bullet trains, art, physics, stories, comedy, music that will make your heart soar as well as cry, other humans. We can do that you know, create other humans. Just because it’s common doesn’t mean it’s not a miracle.
The message is this: Humans are stupid and evil. The world would be better off with us. Maybe the world is better off without me.
2. Raising children is beneath us.
Many believe that by increasing their wealth, sending their kids to fancy camps and lessons, hiring the best tutors, being able to afford private school tuition and granting their kids the best in life is showing love. But more than anything, giving them our time and attention is what matters most. Yet in today’s world, wanting to spend time with your children is a big no-no if you want to be a successful, independent adult. Caring for kids makes you weak, puts you at an economic disadvantage and according to feminist theory, the very act of homemaking is misogynistic, patriarchal and designed to keep women down. Sick kid? Unless they're vomiting, have a fever or a rash, stuff some Mucinex down and send them on the way. Can't be late for work, the boss will notice and the promotion depends on pretending no one needs you at home.
Kids can feel this resentment. They know that their mothers feel vulnerable and afraid to leave the office at three to pick them up from school and care for them. They know that society would rather encourage they be sent to daycare, where other women, often the lowest in our caste system, working for $10/hr, raise them, rather than their own mothers or fathers. Here’s the thing though, kids take work. The human mammal needs tons of physical care the first seven years of their lives, and then a lot of emotional care until they’re young adults. But if we do this, if we invest our time in them, then they launch from the home, become adults and take their place beside us in the work of citizenship.
What message do our children hear when they’re told that having kids is the number one way to ruin their careers? We message this mostly to young women, but do you think the males don’t hear as well? Even Betty Friedan was wise enough to suggest that women would never be economically free until men entered into the work of the home. We pitted women’s needs against our children’s needs and now wonder why more men haven’t opted to be the main caregiver? When you spend decades messaging motherhood and caregiving in a negative light, who’s going to want that job?
Moreover, the kids know at some level their needs conflict with the economic and emotional freedoms their mothers deserve. We message that they’re a burden, that they’re the number one reason women are trapped, and are victims in society. Do we think they don’t internalize this? Do we think we haven’t internalized it in some way ourselves?
The message is this: Our mere existence puts our mothers—the first voice, the first heartbeat we hear in this world—between a rock and a hard place. Maybe it would have been better to never have been born.
3. Everyone is either oppressed, or an oppressor.
Identity politics is king right now, and as a result you are either a victim of your identity or oppressing someone with your identity. There are many examples of this, the one that I’m most familiar with is the idea that the future is female, but only if you’re a badass female. Heaven forbid you might like to have babies and spend their early years with them. That makes you a victim, not a real female. As for men, particularly white men, you’re an oppressor. You can’t be anything else, due to your privilege, and god help you if you want to be an elementary school teacher, because only perverted men want to spend time with other people's children, and if you stay home with your kids you’re just as much a victim as any woman who would do the same, so we really don’t need you at all, unless we want a baby, but then we’d be victims again, wouldn’t we?
That’s an exaggeration of course, but it isn’t easy wearing the face of the oppressor and being told that’s the only role you can hold. Worse is being told you’re a victim due to your gender, color, etc. and that due to the natural imbalances in our society you will never be anything but, even if you do hold the role of CEO or Prime Minister. You’re still a victim because if you’re not a victim, then you’re an oppressor. There are no other options.
What point would there be to overcome your victimhood if the only other role in our Western world is that of oppressor? Yet who would give up being an oppressor if the only other option is to be oppressed?
Real life isn’t like this. The people I meet in my daily life don’t line up into such simple categories. At any moment, with the right understanding, thought, speech and action, we can be neither oppressor nor victim. We can be human together. To think otherwise is lazy thinking. We can’t control what others do, but we can control how we react to them.
To claim that either you’re a victim or an oppressor is to teach one another that there’s no hope, no room for growth and no personal accountability. The victims will never be truly satisfied, and the oppressors can never be truly forgiven.
The message is this: You’re either a victim or an oppressor. You can never break out of your role, for the other option is no better. Maybe I should just stop trying.
4. Robots are going to replace you.
I’ve mentioned this before in an essay on resiliency, but it’s worth bringing it up once again. It may be that robots may replace many of the jobs that are familiar to us right now, but that doesn’t mean they will replace US. You and me. We’re people, how in the world does that robotic arm in the surgical unit replace US? My surgeon’s role will change, but her role didn’t even exist three centuries ago, not like it does now. Technology has brought surgery to a whole new level and will continue to do so. Would you go to a surgeon who only used ether and a rusty knife? Hell no. We should celebrate the fact that the surgeon today is joined by a robot. This is cool stuff people, and it’s only going to get cooler.
It’s hard to know what the future will bring, but we will need each other. We aren’t defined by the work we do in any given moment, rather our lifetimes tell the story of our efforts. We will do many things, but we will still be here. Star Trek’s Data might just be the ideal companion, completely programmable AND fully functional, but is he really the final solution? Perhaps, given lie number one above, many of you think this is a good thing. You pray that robots replace us in all ways, and rather than evolve ourselves into the new work of the future (whatever that will be), we die off. Or AI kills us.
But I don’t think that will be the case. As I suggested in The Zen ofArtificial Intelligence, AI might just be the Buddha we need, the mentors we will create ourselves in order to teach ourselves that we are worthy, that we are made in the image and likeness of the gods (all the creation myths claim this you know), that the Earth is better off with us, that we are worthy of care and that we can be more than victims or oppressors.
Otherwise the message is this: The robots our parents are creating right now will eventually take our jobs, our wealth, our sex partners and render us useless. Honestly then, what’s the point?
Pass me that bong, I got nothing but hours of Fortnite and several Netflix series to binge on the agenda—today, and every day.