Sign of the Times

Sign of the Times

“A new worldview is the work of scientists & philosophers, poets & mystics: scientists to understand how the Universe operates; philosophers to ponder what this means and how we should live; mystics to experience in the depths of our being a felt sense of the Universe; and finally, poets & artists, to articulate the myth by which we all live.”

~Theodore Richards, Cosmosophia

I stopped listening to the news back in the days of Clinton & Lewinsky, the moment my son called out from the backseat, “I’m sick of this Bill and Monica stuff.”  (He was 4.)

Up until that time, Lloyd and I enjoyed listening to Public Radio, VPR or NHPR, whichever one we could tune in, especially on our twenty-minute trip over the mountain to his preschool.

The highlight of this drive, when we timed it right, was The Writer’s Almanac–with the delicious voice of Garrison Keillor. The opening music from that program still stirs my heart, especially as my little boy heads to college next year.

Lloyd grew out of diapers listening to Public Radio and perhaps it was unfair of me not to play kids music like the other moms, but he didn’t seem to mind; and I hadn’t realized he was really listening until the day he pulled out his thumb, and said “Turn it off.”

He was wise like that. Maybe it was because we didn’t have tv. Lloyd could clearly see what mattered in life…  like money.  He was always intrigued by numbers and their value. When he was about 8 or 9, he sat on his bed pondering the ten-dollar bill that came in a card from his grandparents: “What makes this one worth any more than the other? They’re all just pieces of paper.”

As he watched his (teaching) parents struggle over that paper, Lloyd grew up with the aim of making lots of it.  No one was surprised then to learn that he decided to take business classes in highschool, or that he set his sights on a career in finance.

Just recently however, a chance meeting with a family friend at a funeral refocused his goals. Though Lloyd has long been enamored with expensive clothes, fancy cars and bling, he suddenly noticed something was missing in the self-absorbed success of a businessman.

Soon after, he announced that he planned to study development economics; after which his father and I breathed a sigh of relief.

Last week his senior “Elections” class received a visit from the Republican candidate for Governor.  Lloyd eagerly waited for the Q&A time, and afterward, his teacher pulled my husband aside. Lloyd was respectful, he said, but he wouldn’t let the guy hedge around the question he asked him about environmental policy.

Apparently, our son’s persistence led the candidate to finally quip: “What would you be willing to give up for that?”

This kind of response makes my blood boil, and it continued percolating all the way to the mall in Holyoke, where no rural mother likes to be, even if she did break her only pair of glasses.

In my dismay, I hadn’t thought to bring along something to listen to so I resorted to the radio for the hour drive, irritably jumping from station to station, until a British voice soothed my attention… on Public Radio.

As I pulled onto the highway, I turned up the volume when I heard the interviewer say, “What is it about the American psyche that makes them so ‘anti-government?”

It was an intriguing question, and it was just this kind of outside perspective that gave me hope; but moments later I was ready to shut the radio off altogether when the interview shifted to someone at the Republican Headquarters in Paul Ryan’s hometown.

The word “sustainable” stopped me…

The current spending isn’t “sustainable.” We can’t pass down debt like this to the next generation.

I banged on my steering wheel, “But it’s okay to give them polluted water and air!”

The interview shifted once again–to a personal trainer–who talked about the intense workout that Paul Ryan did every day. I made a mental note to pick up an audio book for the drive home.

6 hours of eyeglass shopping later, I settled in on the biography of Steve Jobs, curious about the intersection of success and creativity and relationship. Before the introduction was over, I realized that the author picked up the line of thinking begun by Lloyd as he questioned the value of paper, and later asked about the environment:

The creativity that can occur when a feel for both the humanities and the sciences combine in one strong personality was the topic that most interested me in my biographies of Franklin and Einstein, and I believe that it will be a key to creating innovative economies in the twenty-first century.  (Walter Issacson)

Steve Jobs echoed this with his own statement:

I always thought of myself as a humanities person as a kid, but I liked electronics. Then I read something that one of my heroes, Edwin Land of Polaroid, said about the importance of people who could stand at the intersection of humanities and sciences, and I decided that’s what I wanted to do.

I thought back to the bustling Apple Store in the mall–with its intercultural buzz of curiosity and connection–and I felt hopeful again.

Maybe we’re ready to allow money to serve humanity, rather than the other way around.

Maybe we’re learning that it is truly unsustainable to put humanity on the back burner until it’s more affordable.

Maybe we’re beginning to understand how absurd it is to place so much value on what is “make believe” (money) than that which is real: our planet, our bodies and our relationships.

…And may we be smart enough and creative enough and courageous enough to act on this unfolding understanding.

Perhaps Apple says it best:

The people who are crazy enough
to think they can change
the world are the ones who do.

(p.s. I just learned that VPR is opening a new station–in Brattleboro. I’ll take that as a sign.)

Kelly Salasin, September 2012

2 thoughts on “Sign of the Times

  1. You make some good points, Kel. In fact, I like what you’re trying to say more than what Steve Jobs said–or more to the point, what he and Apple did. I see some irony in Jobs or Apple making their business practices into a discussion of sustainability and environmental awareness. Creativity, sure, but the environment? Apple’s business model of planned obsolescence (which of course, is not only Apple’s model, but most computer and tech companies), constant upgrades and creating a desire for the newest and most updated versions of their product, as well as making their own kinds of plugs/cables that require some people to buy more products to adapt them, is an environmental (and in some respects, a human rights) nightmare.
    Those devices we crave come from the Earth. They have an impact on the Earth. They use minerals and metals, petroleum in the plastics, and that has to come from somewhere. Mines, drilling, etc. When we move on to the latest version of products, the old ones also have to go somewhere–often, that’s to developing countries, for example Ghana, where they’re dismantled by desperately poor people, especially children, who want to make a little money from the reclaimed metals. It’s highly toxic stuff, and its hurting real people. It might be good business for Apple, but it’s very bad citizenship. The same could be said for some of the overseas companies through whom they choose to do their manufacturing and assembly.
    I wish this combo of which you speak–the scientist, philosopher, poet/artist–could use that immense mental and spiritual power to solve issues like this and become a more common component of business, and a more authentic aspect of corporate culture, rather than just a marketing tool. Then we can move beyond the artificial value of dollars to real human values.


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