Yesterday, I found three apples that were a bit past their prime (though only a bit). My first instinct was to toss them. My curiosity got the better of me. So, needless to say, instead of pitching them in the garbage, I tossed them out my kitchen window. I sort of wanted to see what critters (aside from ants) would eat the things. To my surprise, they disappeared far faster than I would have imagined. Also to my surprise, was that this was all pulled off by squirrel(s). Who knew?
“What is this all about? … “What does this have to do with social programs?” … “I thought there would be more beer and girls at this thing? … “Have you seen Floyd?”
I’m getting there, I promise, and I haven’t seen Floyd.
I had spent the morning at the oil change place in the company of a pair of individuals older than I (one male, one female) who bemoaned the situation in Rockford as ‘hopeless’. This, and the opportunistic hoarding of a squirrel, got me to thinking about human beings at their core.
I’ve heard a lot of folks say that ‘Back in their day…’, such-and-such never happened. You know what? They’re not just griping. They’re sort of right. So here’s my take on the issue, which includes some food for thought and possible solutions (instead of just labeling the situation as ‘hopeless’).
Humans were once gatherers and hunters. Whether you take the Bible literally or not (and I’m not here to discuss that topic), it seems to be an inalienable fact. Early humans spent most all of their time looking for their next meal. In between they might create a new life or invent something neat, if time permitted. If they didn’t follow this regimen, they starved, or their jobs were outsourced to someone who would.
As time progressed, to the modern era (let’s call it the late 1800’s), this general principal held true with few exceptions. We were still a society who needed to hunt and gather. The only thing that had changed were the methods and means employed to do so, in many instances. We were now a society who had a little more free time (in most cases) than before.
The 1930’s-1970’s were similar, except now our society had progressed more firmly to one where a single individual was (typically) the sole bread winner, while his or her mate (if they had one) spent the day using modern conveniences to keep the homestead running on all cylinders.
But in the late 70’s, something radically shifted. The technology took a significant leap. Soon Moore’s Law was coined, and came into play, and we began to see new things that, in the past, had either never existed, or had existed only in fringe amounts. Video games came next, but were more of a novelty than a way of life.
And this is where I begin with my thoughts. As we, as a society, sped over the event horizon of technology that could make our lives faster, cheaper, easier, and more entertaining, we made a sort of Faustian bargain using our roots and heritage as collateral.
Let’s begin with video games (which, for the record, I am in a heavy state of like with at this stage of my life – not love, but like). Video games served a principal purpose in entertaining us. Or so I thought until this morning. They also, insidiously or not, served our inherent need to compete, hunt, and gather. Almost every videogame in existence falls into these categories. The ones that don’t (and they do exist) aren’t entirely relevant to my point, so I’ll cull those from the herd for the time being. Whether you’re sneaking, fighting, battling, leveling up, or trying to get that annoying last weapon in Link’s arsenal (which he goes and inexplicably loses, like a jerk, before coming back to see you in his next installment), you’re essentially pandering to an inherent personal and/or social need that’s ingrained in your mind. This, I think, is why they’ve become so ubiquitous and popular with subsequent generations. That, and because we often haven’t offered these generations a more satisfying alternative to shunting the instinctual subroutines in their minds.
Also a problem, is the act of hoarding. Hoarding is something that has always been with society. What it hasn’t been is so insidiously rampant. If you’ve been on Pluto with your fingers in your ears, eyes closed, in a cave, then you might not have noticed the plethora of self-storage units popping up all over God’s creation around you. There’s a reason for these. Some of these reasons serve genuine needs, often of a transitional nature. Some are convenient for storing large items when space is at a premium. We’ll chuck those two things out, for the moment. What I want to focus on is the fact that, like video games, the act of ‘collecting’ things, mugs, limited-edition cartoon memorabilia, or whatever else has become something of an epidemic. But have you ever stopped to wonder why this is? I hadn’t. Until the squirrel thing, mentioned above, got me turned all sideways.
These storage units, like their video game cousins, serve a psychological need. They permit us to ‘expand’ our huntings and gatherings to the next level. And many of us are so blinded by advertising that seems to say that we’re not ‘normal’ if we don’t permit our roots to come to the fore that we fall into this trap. For a long time, in fact, I was one of those individuals. Thankfully, I have (mostly) broken that cycle. But only just.
“So where are you going with all of this, Heath? I have stuff to do, and digital Princesses to save.”
Where I’m going is this: what are we permitting to fill our children and figurative neighbor’s inherent needs to hunt and gather? What I’m saying, at its essence, is that we need more social programs to alternately fill the voids which are now being filled by cell phones, game consoles, and ‘limited edition!’ products. Music, art, sports, mentoring, extra-curricular learning – any of these fit that bill. Yet, myopically, these are the first things cut from budgets as ‘unnecessary’ or ‘expendable’. I used to agree (feel free to remind me how stupid THAT was). A squirrel and two older people reminded me of my catharsis on the matter.
A lot of organizations have comprehended and embraced the concept outlined above (to some degree) over the years. Yet I think that individuals, for the most part, have yet to understand how profound and important their contribution can be. What do I mean? I’m ever so glad that you asked!
Consider, for a moment, what you’re good at. Is it interesting? Is it a valuable life skill? Is it unique? Then, congratulations, you could be a mentor! Even if you can’t find a group of individuals in your area to involve in your own personal program, you could volunteer with a larger-scale one.
“But Heath! I watch television crime dramas. I know that those mentors always end up dead because of something nice they have that someone in their program tells their evil cousin Vinnie, who just got out of the joint, about!”
Any time you interact with anyone else, there is always some risk. The question is, would you prefer to interact with them on your terms, or theirs? Kids and adults alike need to feel appreciated, have a sense of self-worth, and need to have their hunter-gatherer instincts satiated. Sure, it’s a risk. Everything is a risk. But if you can re-kajigger that unused (or misused) instinctual time – even just some of it – into developing a life skill, a life’s passion, or a life’s work, then isn’t it worth the act of trying?
Just consider it. That’s all I’m asking. Sure, it’s just a drop in a proverbial bucket. But even the deepest ocean began with a single drop of rain, somewhere.
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