by Jen Collins, Sacred Fire New Freedom, PA
Yes, of course they are! That is my first answer. GPS can get me anywhere. It’s a modern day miracle. It has successfully navigated me all through Scotland, and to new doctors’ offices, restaurants, stores…you get the picture. If I then close up my car windows on the way to all these new places and turn on my air conditioning…well, it makes me feel like I really am doing something. I’ve got direction (ha-ha!), climate control, sound reduction, and time to myself. I’m all self-contained in my little metal box with a cozy chair, a tasty beverage and an audio experience of my choosing.
So if I, as an adult, am enamored by these conveniences of today’s world, not having grown up with them, imagine the experience of a child or young adult for whom they are a given, and having to do without might feel downright disastrous! As a parent, I find raising a young child in this world somewhat daunting. How am I to guide my daughter without being overbearing? How am I to employ fairness and consistency, providing for all her needs, without giving in to every whim born of peer pressure or marketing schemes? Even if I am reasonably successful in this, my daughter will still have an uphill battle beyond the nest. Indeed, all of us humans do. I do. Like I said, I like my GPS and air conditioning. Along with those conveniences, however, the perils of contemporary culture seem to be increasing at an exponential rate. In this “Age of Information”, facts, untruths, bold faced lies, scams, pleas, horrible images, unrelenting texts, emails, social media memes all make our heads spin and it’s easy to get caught up in the data, especially for our young ones who don’t know a world without all of this.
How can we find purpose and meaning through all of the clutter of information on our various electronic devices and in the media that follows us everywhere, from billboards to grocery store checkout aisles? We must first come to understand, as a wise teacher recently shared, that we humans are caught in an illusion that information is wisdom. Normally, in times before, parents and other adults communicated to the young people about the unknowns of life and what was needed to move successfully in the world. They shared stories from those who came before the hard lessons learned, the wisdom gained toward navigating life, and about the mystery of life itself. So, how do we shake the screens and find the wisdom?????
Just to be clear, let me define wisdom and information, as I understand it. Wisdom is the quality of having experience, knowledge and good judgment. Information is data (whether factual or not) that has been provided or learned about something or someone.
One of my biggest and most hard fought lessons in my own life has been to seek trusted guides and to ask for wise counsel. I spent a lot of my life forging my own way, as if I had a machete and was clearing a path in the tall unkempt field of life, getting cut by the sharp grasses, itchy, hot and tired, stalks jutting into my feet. Much later down the road, worn with scars and age, it became clear that there were already paths, forged by others, in the tall grasses around me. If I had only looked and asked in which direction they might be!
In this world that values individuality and self-reliance, perhaps we are missing the mark. As humans, we need each other: to help care for our children, to learn and grow, to share our experiences, to bear witness to our fears, pain, grief, and our joy as well. It isn’t a solo game. And so I value the Guidance I have been given: “What has been done wisely for thousands of years cannot just get undone by appearance of information and material order and structure. It requires relationship and speaking from heart of the profound unknown, of where life can take you… and how to reach out for something and engage in a very long committed process.” As adults I believe we are being called to guide our youth even when they profess to know and bury themselves in information and devices. We must stay strong in our knowing that “we don’t know” and neither do they, but that we do have valuable embodied wisdom gained through our own challenges in life, experiences that have tested us and taught us.
After many of my own such “battles”, I find that my life is richly complex, undone, unfolding and mysterious, warm and bursting, comprising new and old vignettes, an ever renewing body and mind, sometimes learning and sometimes teaching, beholding the seasons and earth’s movement with the passing moons and summers and harvests. I am too much a part of this grand and yet finite existence to be beholden to devices and information. Nor do I want my child to be. Children and adolescents may want their cell phones, but what they need is purpose and responsibility and meaningful work. Let us be there for the next generations and help them see (and taste and feel,) through the haze of information, the timeless wisdom held by those who have already forged the way.