As the 21st century of the modern age settles upon us and brings with it its new virtual realities, it is increasingly apparent that re-establishing our organic connection to the Earth and the physical reality is more important that ever.
Although mankind has tried from the beginning to improve its comfort-ability level and survival probability in the physical reality, never before in our history, here in human form on this planet, have we been presented with circumstances within which to live as we have today. And we created them.
Our natural world hasn’t really changed that much in the 10,000 or so years that we’ve been attempting to civilize it, but our perceptions of it have. Our planet Earth- the third considerable mass of matter outward from our sun- and its atmospheric environment which allows for the existence of our carbon based life forms, still circles around the sun as it has in one form or another over 4 billion times. Held in quasi-perpetual orbit by the logical forces of matter, mass and gravity, the Earth and its place in this universe has been our home and our teacher- offering us opportunities to experience the yin and the yang, the positive and the negative, the joy and the pain that can exists in the physical reality to feel, enjoy, and learn from. However, today’s life experience for many is clouded with illusion and confusion, which generally leads to frustration and anger, and unsatisfying lives.
This is a cause and effect reality. It’s easy to see what’s happened if you watch what’s going on.
Our desire for short - term human comforts through machinery and technology has separated us from the Earth and its lessons and truths. We’ve lost sight of our true guiding forces. Nature and its cycles of life and death have truly become a nonentity in most people’s life experience, and therein lies the root of our societal situation today. The effects or manifestations that we see today, like the killings at Columbine and the myriad other events that chronicle a civilization in disharmony, are a natural result of our disconnection with the Earth and the true physical reality, and the replacement of these by a “kinder and gentler” reality that’s easier to take- one consisting of television, cyberspace and consumerism- this is the “New and Improved” reality dot com, created by man, mostly since the Industrial Revolution, but turbocharged and largely defined by the invention and assimilation of television into our society.
Like it or not, television, computers and movies are the teachers of the day. Unlike Nature however, the messages of these mediums, the programming and content, are brought to you by entities with their own agendas, limitations and perspectives. Agendas that involve selling a point of view, a product or something else, limitations of human knowledge, and perspectives subject to individual experience.
As I write this I am surrounded by the sights smells and sounds of Nature as it expresses itself as the forest at Yawgoog Scout Reservation in Rockville, Rhode Island. I have come here as an assistant scout leader for our troop as I have several times before. As I watch and assist our group of young boys preparing themselves for a week of living within Nature and testing their levels of personal best through the pursuit of individually chosen merit badges, I think it’s time that we realized how we have distanced ourselves from the real truths of our existence. Scouting and its fundamental reliance on Nature and the Earth as a learning environment for self-reliance and personal responsibility, offers our children and ourselves a true mirror for the reflection of who we are and what we can do.
By taking the “spin” out of the life experience (no pun intended), Nature lets us see ourselves as we truly are. It does not allow us the illusion of who we tend to think we are when we are mirrored by an artificial reality of sound bytes and altered images, air brushed, sanitized and presented to us just so, to create a specific response. And, if we don’t like that particular brand of reality, just change the channel or the WWW.com and find a reality that reflects back an image that we choose to see. One that makes us feel a little less uncomfortable, or a little more detached. We no longer try to adjust the strength of our character or skills, it’s easier to change the reality by changing the channel, finding a friendlier chat room, or buy that new transportation vehicle at no money down, so that those around us will view us how we want to be seen by them and ourselves (Pay no attention to that man inside my skin; I am the great and powerful Oz!?)
Scouting and Nature defy that probability. Every functional human being would like to live their life to its fullest potential. In order to successfully acquire the skills necessary to navigate the physical reality as a human being, you need situations void of the “spin” to gauge true growth, understanding and skill level. Nature doesn’t B.S. you. Television, computers and movies however will tell you anything you want to hear about yourself to make you like them and buy their products. This creates a false sense of everything, with no real “North Star”, or fixed point of reference for the navigation of ones own evolution. The experiences associated with the tree in the woods that needs to be turned into firewood, then somehow caused to combust in order to prepare food for ones own sustenance and the subsequent cleaning of utensils for the elimination of bacteria that can turn potentially harmful, offer myriad opportunities for the true reflection of ones real level of skill, determination, problem solving and compassion and consideration for others less skilled or fortunate. It also provides a necessary reflection of the “alternative “ reality that we live in, expecting to experience instant gratification and undisturbed comfort all our lives. It helps to experience the Yin to know the value of the Yang.
When these and other like circumstances occur in scouting, of course it’s opportune for all that these skills are taught by others of wisdom; guru’s who have gone before- parents, leaders and older scouts. The problem is, how many that have “gone before” take the time that it takes to pass these skills along to enhance the life experience of the young? How much are we, collectively as a society, showing up to teach and guide? NOT ENOUGH, as the events occurring around us scream through our television sets, newspaper headlines and Internet services; children actually killing other children in imitation of movie scenes and composite images of violence as presented in film, television and video games. Images viewed over, and over, and over again, desensitizing our entire society, and manifesting forth as our eventual reality.
Our children are becoming virtual children. Now, through cyberspace, man has actually created a new dimension or Universe within the physical reality, a task previously left to God (Truth), Nature or the Universe, depending on your particular label, but certainly not Mankind. The 21st century will be the most man made experience ever, and most of it will be at odds with the forces of the physical reality. We continue to defy death with medical science so that today’s generation has possible life expectancies of 150- 200 years, or more descriptively, trips around our Sun. How many careers will they have? How many marriages and full families will they have? What are the ethics and etiquette for this society? Cloning and euthanasia- where do they fit in? These are the questions that our children face and they, not us, will be making the decisions on how to implement the new technologies. We owe the future of mankind the knowledge and wisdom that Nature shows us in its continuing cycles; wisdom that only comes from respecting and understanding the forces in the physical reality, and having the patience to allow it to teach us, and whenever possible, the guidance of one who has gone before to help us find our way.
Scouting is not just a vehicle for children to learn about the world around them, but it is also a vehicle for parents and adults to teach and communicate with the children, to pass on skills, and to experience the wonders and wisdom of life.
Today’s adult generation is the connecting point in a sea change in man’s existence on Earth. Our parents and all those that came before them were humans living in an analog state, Today’s children, those born after say, 1980 are the first true “digital” generation. They take all their cues from electronic delivery systems. They have spent their lives since early childhood exposed to, taught and influenced by computers, televisions, VCR’s, game boys and personal stereos. The messages and corresponding emotions that are experienced through these devices are to a human being, no less real than the smell of a pie cooling on a window ledge was in Analog times. The chemical and emotional reactions within the human body are no different for an imagined experience than a real one. As children spend hour after hour in front of a screen watching television, playing video games, surfing the Net, or watching movies, the images ingrain themselves within the consciousness and alter the individuals perception of reality, no differently than a soldier that constantly suffers the horrors of war either eventually begins to take death in stride without feeling or goes insane. The soldier at least has the benefit of responding to real life circumstances and has faced true mortality, possibly learning valuable truths. The children aren’t that lucky. They are forced to respond to artificial stimuli created by viewing images that are created by illustrators, graphic artists and advertisers, all to sell products- even if they’re educational ones.
You can’t tell what’s real anymore, and neither can your brain. This Earth has always been an illusionary place. To most people our Sun still “rises” and “sets” everyday. We know that the Earth revolves around our Sun, but because of our limited perspective and the power of suggestion from previous generations, most think our Sun moves, not us. Cyberspace and all of its digitized, manipulated imagery indeed complicates the puzzle even further.
Today’s adults are the Analog to Digital, or “A to D” generation in Mankind’s technological evolution. They are the connecting link between two different worlds, much as electromechanical devices are required to convert digital displays to mechanical actions and vice versa as related technologies evolve. This time it’s our species that’s going through the change.
All the wise men know that it is pretty much impossible to explain the physical reality directly. Most human minds are limited because of misuse and lack of understanding and tend to take or consider statements literally, which is not a good way to try to understand things. Most wise men use metaphor to try to present different perspectives for understanding, for to truly understand requires unlimited perspective. But where are the truthful metaphors for today? Before the Industrial Revolution, fathers and sons would work together as gatherers or hunters. As they spent time among Nature and responded to Natures cycles, it was easy to see examples of life cycles and the importance of understanding personal responsibility and logical consequences to actions in a cause and effect reality. As machinery and factories began to replace farming and hunting, the family unit suffered great stresses and began to break down with Dad going to work in a factory, in close quarters of unnatural proportion, with machinery setting the pace, not Nature. Father and son were no longer together daily to touch and learn in a natural classroom. Dad worked in the factory under strange and new pressures, pressures that increased substance abuse in our society and other symptoms of neurosis, of our increasing disharmony with the natural world around us. The desire for the material things being produced by these factories to make our lives better (?) produced overtime, second jobs, working children and working mothers. Everybody now goes their own way, with little time or inclination to even notice what’s being traded off. Mom drops off the baby at the “learning” center, without realizing that what the child is learning is that its mother is outsourcing its upbringing so that she can do more “stuff” during each rotation of the Earth. Older children spend much of their day looking at artificial images on a variety of screens getting their manipulated virtual experience vicariously, while Dad strives to fulfill his manhood by making money so his family can enjoy things and know that he “loves” them.
Love is the answer. Love of ourselves and who we really are, love of our children and what we can do to teach them the truths of our existence, and the love of planet Earth as our home, our teacher and our lifeline in the physical reality.
Scouting allows for all this and more. It’s the situations and the circumstances that provide the environment for learning the meaning of phrases like “Be prepared”, and “Do a good turn daily”- a couple of good suggestions for an improved personal experience here in the physical reality. The Scouting program and Nature together provide a valuable environment for the understanding and implementation of these values into a boys- and maybe an adults - life.
Think about it. These values were important when the human spirit had only to deal with one reality at a time. Today’s generation must deal with two at once; navigating the evolving, natural physical reality, while pushing the envelope and living the unknown consequences of the technology based virtual reality that we are all entering.
That’s going to take “Being prepared.”