My focus for most of the hours of the day, especially on work days, is on troubles -- problems and issues and interpersonal prickles. I function like an adrenalin junkie navigating, advising on, and solving problems. Life at work can seem like a sea of troubles. Thrashing about in those choppy waves takes a lot of concentration. Sometimes it seems like there is nothing but troubles.
And then I step away. I step into the arms of my loving partner in life. We snuggle down to watch a movie together, or jump on our bicycles and ride into the wind until our eyes are gritty and our T-shirts are soaked with sweat. We stop in at our favourite little coffee shop for a latte and a butter tart or visit the bookstore and buy an art magazine (me) and a wooden boat magazine (him). The fat grey cat crawls up onto our laps and purrs as if his heart is breaking, while the dog dances around us to say, "Walk! Walk! Walk!"
So walk we do, trekking up and down the coulée hills observing the first of the spring greenery beginning to push up under the dry grass of the past winter, and one hardy plant already putting out tiny white flowers. Meanwhile the dog sniffs along the path, seeking the scent of other dogs who have passed this way, or races down the hill and up the next looking for deer, or dashes into a copse of trees in the hollow after a porcupine.
In this life that I have, we can load up the camper and go away for a weekend to the mountains where we hike and read and sit around a small bonfire. A couple of times I have taken my painting gear and spent a happy afternoon doing a landscape on location. Sometimes we take our mountain bikes, and grind our way uphill into creek valleys along gas well roads blocked off to vehicular traffic.
We talk on the phone to our daughters and sons. We hear about the progress of the pregnancies and plans for our two little grandchildren who will be born this spring. They tell us about the recent move to L.A., and about their work, and their plans for the future. We FaceTime our grandsons, who dance for the camera and make funny faces to amuse grandma and grandpa. On a long weekend, I can book a flight, and spend a few days with them, and it gives me great joy.
We talk to our friends on the phone, and keep in touch via social media. Sometimes we visit, or they visit us, our we plan to meet somewhere for a ski holiday or a conference. Even though the geographic distances are far, the social distances are not so far.
Just as with my work, the world seems to be and is full of troubles. People are dying in wars; climate change threatens the future of all humanity; and the corporations are hurtling along an agenda and timeline towards massive social collapse that is unchecked by any regulatory system.
It is easy to respond with anxiety and despair. Throughout my lifetime as a baby boomer, the narrative about the future has mostly been negative. I have lived through the Cold War, the population explosion, the increasing desertification of the earth, the famine in Ethiopia, Chernobyl, AIDS, the revelations about residential school atrocities, the financial crisis of 2008, the dwindling middle class, Ebola, the boom and bust of fossil fuel economies, many wars, and now the awareness of the implications of global climate change.
My generation has responded with science. We have believed that we can save ourselves with science, and for the most part have managed to stay one step ahead of the collapse of humanity looming on the horizon. Yet in North America, we are experiencing an epidemic of mental health issues: depression, anxiety, substance abuse. Physically, we are living longer, but at the same time, we seem to be experiencing a proliferation of cancers and immune disorders, and obesity is on the rise. My generation has created and is wallowing in a sea of troubles.
Despite the real and serious troubles facing us as a species, I have faith in the future. I have faith because of the generations of people after the baby boomers. The post-baby boomers have stepped beyond blind worship of science and total obedience to organizational and bureaucratic structures. This generation has sidestepped the the monopoly of big telecommunications companies, publishers, and the entertainment industry via the global network of the Internet. In breaking the communication monopoly, all people around the world can have a voice, not only the rich and powerful. All people can distribute their creative works, or market their wares to the world, not only the corporations.
The present generation is remaking work. The global digital network has allowed new notions of commerce and entrepreneurship to emerge, like Uber for in-city transportation which does away with the need to own a car, or organic grocery delivery to your door via the Internet, which ultimately will loosen the stranglehold of agribusiness and giant food retail chains. Separation of valuable societal work from employment servitude to a company is another way in which people get their voices back.
This generation is also remaking the systems of generating and sharing knowledge. For the most part, universities haven't noticed it yet, but the medieval model of institutions of higher learning with its restrictions on who has access, what counts as knowledge, and how credentials are valued, will become obsolete very soon.
For me, perhaps the most exciting new aspect of what young people today are doing is the infusion of social consciousness into their actions of working and living. For example, across Canada, as in a number of countries, people are lobbying for universities to divest of their investments in fossil fuels, and using their power of voting with their feet to press the point. People are choosing not to work for giant corporations such as the Canadian National Railway that view human beings, their employees, as interchangeable widgets. Instead, young people today insist on an alignment of values and work, and in so doing they are taking away the power of corporations and bureaucracies.
Instead of the profound sense of helplessness and despair that is a byproduct of my generation's accomplishments, this generation is weaving a narrative of hope and gratitude. This is why I have faith in the future of humanity; our kids are changing the world for the better.