Perspective is an amazing thing. This week's heatwave in the PNW killed two people, broke records, and all the scientists say we better get used to it. Summers will just keep getting hotter and the heatwaves will just keep lasting longer. Watching the temperature climb, all I could think was: it could be worse. The summer before last we had a murderheat wave called a heat dome. Many people fled to the coast and all the hotels in-town were booked. For three days the city essentially shut down while everyone who could, hid inside wherever there was air conditioning. 96 people died.
Two friends stayed with us because neither of their homes had air conditioning. We put up black-out curtains on all the windows, didn't turn on the stove or oven, and tried not to move too much. I covered my young tomato plants and watered my poor garden three times a day, careful not to get water droplets on any of the leaves. When the heat finally broke and the temperature began to drop it was like an entity had finally left the area. Our 30 year old air conditioner lasted until the next morning when it finally croaked. That brave little AC unit gave its life so we could make it through that weekend.
That heat dome was a once in a 1000 year event, even though we seem to be having a lot of those nowadays. Like the catastrophic wildfire that just scorched the island of Maui. Over 2,500 acres and almost 3,000 structures burned. 1,000 people still missing and over 100 confirmed dead. And before the ash has even settled, real estate developers began offering victims paltry sums for their fire-blackened land. As if their home burning to the ground wasn't devastating enough.
Fortunately that despicable, exploitative behavior didn't fly under the radar for long. People spoke out. People pushed back. It's been all over the news and social media. The Governor says his office is doing everything they can to protect the people from the predators. As ruinous and traumatizing as this disaster is, apparently it could be even worse.
As has happened many times, asshole capitalists are making an already untenable situation even worse. Just like climate change. There are so many ways every industry could function without destroying our one and only planet. That's just not how we have been doing things so far. Making those shifts will require investment in new infrastructure. Governments will have to tax billionaires (hopefully out of existence) and companies whose sole purpose is to produce profit will have to set a different Number One Priority.
Ironically, focusing on sustainability will ultimately generate greater profits. This is well known and has been discussed and documented many times by many experts in many areas. The problem is sustainability is a long-term strategy that doesn't always produce short-term gains and our current economic system demands short-term gains for investors. So, for a very long time we have extracted those gains without carefully planning to mitigate the harmful future consequences.
One of the reasons we're still doing it is because this is what we've been doing so far. Which is the very worst reason to keep doing something. Another reason we haven't switched to something else is a lack of creativity. I don't mean the people working on these kinds of issues are not capable of creativity, or that they're failing to exercise their creativity. I mean the people who are in charge are steeped in the current systems and there are not enough other people involved in crafting new ways to tackle the biggest challenges of our time.
Consider as an example the sequel "Avatar: The Way of Water." A key plot point of the first movie was when the military dude grew beyond his military mindset by experiencing a completely different way of being and then helped the native people fight off the invaders. This facilitated his becoming one of the native Na'vi. But in the second movie, the military mindset is back and at full volume. And the thing that makes the least sense is NO ONE SAYS ANYTHING ABOUT IT. The main character's Na'vi family is a character of a dysfunctional, patriarchal American military family.
This family are being chased by military dudes who want revenge for loosing in the first movie. So MainGuy decides all by himself that what makes the most sense is for the whole family to leave their tribe and seek refuge with another random tribe. Never mind that it would have made much more sense - given the kind of interconnected tribal community they live in - to consult the rest of the community for other creative solutions that might be on somebody else's mind. Never mind that the tribe was still in danger from the angry military revenge dudes, and once the family left there also went the one person who was an expert in those angry military revenge dude tactics. And never mind that showing up to some other random tribe and asking to blend-in also puts the new random tribe in the same kind of danger as long as the family is still being hunted.
This is why one person cannot actually solve community problems. This is why things that affect us all need to be addressed by all of us. That is the entire point of community: our whole is greater than the sum of our parts. It is also the only way humans can survive. A solitary human cannot make it very long in the wild, we need support from one other. There are billions of us on this planet right now, which means billions of potential creative solutions to the struggles we are facing. So why are we still letting only a few people steer the ship?
Overall, the average life experience of a human on Earth has improved over time thanks to science and technology. The benefits of these advancements just haven't been shared with everyone. Modern life could definitely be worse, and sometimes not as bad as it could be is as good as it gets. But it's time for some deliberate redistribution of resources and power. So let's all come together and figure out how to do things differently than how we have been. If Paraguay can figure out how to generate 100% of its power from renewable sources, then we can follow their example.
Information and Inspiration
There’s an alternate timeline in which I studied linguistics in college, learned multiple languages, and now that me works as a translator for the UN or something. There’s another timeline version of me who didn’t have an abortion, became a parent at age 19, and still works the same dissatisfying job because of the benefits and retirement plan. Another alternate timeline me didn’t stop with a bachelors, stayed in academia another decade, and is now a professor at some college or university. I think about these other potential me’s sometimes, but not with any regret.
I'm glad I took the forks in the road that brought me to where I am right now. And I enjoy the thought exercise of what outcomes could have resulted from different choices. I realized this week that it’s still possible to walk some of those alternate paths. I've been in the tax and forensic accounting profession for the past 20 years, but the only thing keeping me in this industry is the choice I make every day to continue doing this work. There's nothing that says I can't do something completely different for the next decade of my existence.
Granted there may be other barriers to some of the alternate options. I loved building stone walls, steps, and other features in my garden the last few years, so I could start becoming a stone mason tomorrow. But I’m about to be 39 and that line of work is intensely physically demanding. If I want my one and only body to accompany me all the way to old age (assuming we still have a planet to live on), it might not be the best choice to start wrecking it now. Then again, maybe my accumulated experience with physical movement, my strength, and my body connection would facilitate learning a physically taxing job in a way that doesn’t wear-out my body prematurely.
That potential outcome will likely remain a mystery because I don't actually want to become a stone mason. I'm not sure I want to stay as an accountant forever, but the longer I linger the easier it is to just keep on staying. Learning a new trade or starting a new business would take effort. Probably more effort than it takes me to continue my current career path. But that's the beauty of cross-over skills. All the things I've learned doing one thing in my life don't only apply to that one thing.
Just like martial arts principles. They obviously have an application in fighting and self-defense, but they also apply just as readily to regular life. Take set-ups as an example. When I'm sparring I want to set myself up mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually. I want to set my opponent up with fakes and by using distance, timing, speed, etc. In the workplace I also want to set myself up mentally, physically, emotionally. I want to set my bosses and colleagues up to see the good work I'm doing and to feel comfortable providing me feedback. I want to set my clients up by communicating appropriate expectations. Outside work I want to set my relationships up with clear communication, agreements, and check-ins.
Employing martial arts principles everywhere I can in my life has resulted in some enjoyable outcomes. I ended a toxic marriage and began to heal those wounds. I started a business, maintained it through a pandemic, and continue to grow it seven years on. I have built a supportive community at home and around me. In a similar way, I'm sure I can apply just about everything I've learned as an accountant, investigator, and business owner to some other profession.
One thing is for sure: whatever timeline I’m in right now will become the result of all my accumulated choices, actions, and inactions. Just like the dock brawl in Alabama that everybody is talking about this week. A couple jerks refused to move their boat and decided what they should do instead was attack the riverboat employee who told them they needed to relocate. Then a lot of other people decided to participate. Some helped and some just made things worse for themselves or others. A whole bunch of people making choices. And a whole pile of consequences resulting from all those choices.
I'm working diligently to make sure wherever Future Me ends up is somewhere I intended to be. My future may not look exactly how I envision it now, but that's not as important as getting there. And significantly less important than how I got there. I'm not going to help build a new kind of world where everyone is free and taken care of by using the tactics of oppression and exploitation our current world is made out of. I've got to make different choices. We all have to make different choices.
And the small, personal choices are where it all begins. I have to choose to take care of Present Me in order for Future Me to thrive. I have to work through all the trauma from my past to unburden my future of all that baggage. I have to practice being present in the current moment before I can hope to be present for the moments coming next. And I have to remember that I can choose something different at any moment for any reason. We're making it all up as we go anyway. And none of us know what's coming until it gets here.
A lot of what we think matters doesn't actually matter. You could go so far as to say nothing matters. Nothing matters, so everything matters. Every single moment is an opportunity to create something; anything. Whatever we want! It's not too late to live-out some alternate timeline version of my life. I really can do and be just about anything. I can be everything if I want, I just can’t do it all at the same time. So I'll choose something for now. And then I'll chose something every next moment for as long as I continue to exist on this planet.
Information and Inspiration
When I was in school, I participated in a tradition widely practiced throughout the US education system: cramming. The night before a test I would re-read my class notes and review my highlighted and sticky-noted text book, attempting to cram every bit of fact or figure into my brain. The next day I would sit for the test and regurgitate as many of the details as I could recall. Then, as soon as it was over, all that information would leak out of my memory like soap bubbles down the bathtub drain.
I vividly remember that time in college I sat in the hall 10 minutes before class memorizing the order of a particular financial statement. I wrote it out and re-wrote it and re-wrote it and wrote it again. The second we got into the classroom, I wrote the order out on the top of my answer sheet so I could refer back to it during the test. Having that structure to visually reference helped me remember all the other tidbits I needed to explain the structure’s functions. I guess that's a shout-out for open-note tests.
I'm sure cramming happens in a lot of places. It seems like a pretty universal reaction to a rigidly structured scholastic testing mechanism, which unfortunately exist in many countries. Japan puts students through highly intense testing beginning in middle school. My first experience of my teacher teaching to the test was in 3rd grade. The UK likewise begins academic testing in grade school. So all around the world students are regurgitating data in predetermined formats so adults can run statistics and make decisions about things like resource allocation.
Which all seems weirdly contrived and counter-productive. If the point of the testing regime is to capture a snapshot of how well students are navigating their learning journey, why on earth would you tell anyone what was on the test? And then, if this bizarre exercise was actually meant to accomplish its stated purpose, why would executing the testing system require teachers teach and students learn in the least effective way for humans to actually learn things? It seems like yet another example of people in official roles working very hard to make it look like they are solving problems without actually having to solve any problems.
How humans learn best is no secret. The internet contains mountains of observations, opinions, and studies from teachers, education experts, and students of all subjects. If you’ve every successfully learned anything, you probably have a good idea about what worked and what didn’t. Little bites of information consistently over a period time is a common theme. Opportunity to try things, make mistakes, and try again also pops-up a lot. As well as having a safe and supportive environment to learn and grow in.
The same things plaguing society are also the things preventing our overall education system from providing a glorious learning environment to all students: we're running old protocols from a bygone era. When our current education system was designed, it was meant to produce factory workers. The world has since moved beyond the industrial revolution of the early 20th century, but our schools are the same. Wealthy and resourced districts can afford to work around the limitations of the current education system and provide actual education for the world of tomorrow. Schools under the thumb of poverty and racism aren't so lucky.
And we seem to be doing this to ourselves just about everywhere. We need to reshape cities to better manage the effects of hotter and longer-lasting heat waves. We need to restructure the global shipping industry to stop it continuously contributing significantly to climate change. We need a different kind of economy to equitably distribute the benefits of modern living to all people everywhere. And yet we continue perpetuating our current systems while we send delegates to conferences to sit around and talk about resolving the causes of climate change.
We're still cramming for the test because that's the system we continue to operate in. As a society we have not taken the time to craft new systems; we just keep patching-up the old ones and crossing our fingers. And we've been doing it for so long that all the patches are springing leaks. We're now so busy running from crisis to crisis it's hard to find the time to consider an alternate system. If we let more people from broader subsets of society work on the problems, I bet we could make some progress. But that requires the people in power give up the complete control they have enjoyed for a very long time.
We have more people from a greater variety of backgrounds on this planet today than when most governing bodies were established. To solve the big big problems we're all faced with, we need to hear from everyone. We need more people empowered to create change at every level from their local communities, to national governance, to the collaborative efforts of the whole world. Otherwise we're going to hop from crisis to crisis, cramming for each test as it arrives. Then we'll look back at our ruined, uninhabitable planet full of starving, dying, and diseased populations and not know how we got there.
Information and Inspiration
Jaydra is a human in-process, working to make the world a better place. Sharing thoughts, feelings, and observations about the human experience.