People from the Future: On Pace, Perspective, and AOC
There is a pace to travel, a certain “hurry up and wait” sense of timing that comes from spending time on the road. I might rush to the bus station to be on time for the 10:20 bus, only to learn it left at 10:10 for reasons unknown. The next bus doesn’t come for hours.
Now I have a choice to make. I could grumble about the bus being early and how I now have to wait. Rag, rag, rag. That’s a choice…one way to respond to a circumstance.
When Friedman finally arrived (late), he apologized, but the man brushed it aside. “No,” he said. “Thank you for being late.”
Friedman was baffled, so the man explained. “You see, my time is managed so tightly, I rarely have 20 minutes just to myself with nothing to do,” he said. “Your lateness was actually a gift. I was able to breathe and rest for a spell.”
What a wonderful response. This busy man, whether he knew it or not, was practicing a high level of spirituality that accepts what is without judgement. He accepted where he was, in that moment, without demanding that he be anywhere else, or doing anything else, other than just resting, waiting, and breathing in that place. He was like a yoga practitioner who accepts his pose exactly as it is, not trying to strike someone else’s pose, or to live by someone else’s expectations. This is true spirituality.
I love gaining chunks of time this way. Nothing to do but wait, write in my journal, meditate, chat with a friend, sip a cappuccino, give my wet underwear more time to dry in the wind, or just watch the grass grow. Moments like those offer the opportunity to enjoy, as my Italian friend tells me, “Dolce far Niente,” that is, “The sweetness of doing nothing.”
I confess such sweetness is a foreign concept for me. I am infamous for trying to squeeze ten pounds of potatoes into a five pound bag. I am never bored, always busy, and historically proud of that. Once again, my ego drives me to always be accomplishing something, always be summiting, and never resting.
But when I am with my Italian friend, the difference between my pace and hers becomes starkly obvious. I realize then I am paying a high price for my ego’s demands, a price likely extracted from both my physical health and my sanity.
In the highly “accelerated” world Friedman describes in his book, everything keeps happening faster and faster, like an out of control merry-go-round, the painted ponies of current events thrashing up and down with sickening speed, the organ music spiraling upward to an infinite climax, and information coming in so fast the world outside blurs into a smear. On that ride, there is precious little room for the soul, or the “still, small voice” of God. There is, too often, no room for beauty, or nature, or talking with a child. There is no room for being late.
If that describes your world, then it’s good to get off the ride, turn off your phone (or throw it into the ocean), reject the drumbeat of social media, and restore a sense of peace, pace and perspective to your life. Travel helps you do that, but something else does too.
I believe we modern elders
(a term coined by Chip Conley of the Modern Elder Academy
) have two great gifts
to offer the world and the generations that follow us: pace and perspective
. These gifts, if accepted the way Friedman’s friend accepted his, would go a long way toward resolving the political conflict that rages through our world like a bad virus, often separating so-called “progressives” (who tend to be or think young) from “conservatives” (who tend to be or think old).
While I am the latter, I share the utopian vision of my most progressive friends, one of a clean, green world safe for people of all colors, genders, and beliefs, a world where we can live how we want to. I share a vision where everyone has enough resources to live a good life, free from worry, and where our mental, spiritual and physical health, and the health of our beautiful planet, are as cared for as we would care for a child or beloved pet. I envision a world where we do not spend one penny, not one goddamned cent, on war or the machinery of war. We will pound our swords into plowshares and never look back.
If I could jump into a time machine and go forward one thousand years, I would hope to find this utopia, and my guess is most people would hope to find the same. We don’t dispute where we want to go — our progressive friends have a good vision for that. The dispute is, rather, how and how fast we get there, and that is where our conservative friends hold sway. The lack of mutual respect for these two perspectives, one strategic and one tactical, is where the rub is. A truly good leader will find a way to bring us together.
And that brings me to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her Green New Deal.
For those who don’t know her, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is, at the time of this writing, a 28 year old, newly elected congresswoman from New York who is beloved by the left and despised by the right. She is outspoken, unapologetically brash, intelligent, captivating, and good looking. Of her many bold new ideas, her Green New Deal (“The Deal”) is perhaps the boldest.
It is outside the purview of this book to go into the Deal’s details, but in summary, it describes a radical agenda for aggressively addressing global climate change, an issue which AOC, as Ocasio-Cortez is known, believes needs addressing with a far greater sense of urgency than it has been given.
One proposal in the Deal is to overhaul the US transportation system so that commercial air travel becomes unnecessary. This proposal, often maligned by AOC’s opponents to imply she wants to eliminate air travel altogether, opens her up to criticism, hence the snide quip, “And how will we get to Hawaii, AOC? Take a train?”
Now, I’ve heard my conservative friends scoff at the “train to Hawaii” idea and so forth, but I think they are missing AOC’s point. She is like a person from the future. She’s like someone who took a time machine back from 3020 to show us what we can be if we work together. Her train to Hawaii is, of course, absurd in our time, but she’s not thinking tactically — she’s thinking strategically — in a time framework measured in eons. She’s thinking like other people from the future, such as entrepreneur Elon Musk and musician David Byrne.
I view AOC’s proposals on travel as a metaphor, a placeholder, for a bigger, bolder vision. She’s a practitioner of “possibility thinking,” and it’s a good thing. We see Musk thinking this way all the time, and his accomplishments are nothing short of breathtaking. “Build a rocket with private funds that can land on a floating dock? I can do that,” he said.
And he did.
“Dig a tunnel under the city of Chicago for a self-levitating electric train? Let’s give it a try.”
And Musk’s The Boring Company
was born and the dirt is flying.
“Lay train tracks for Hawaii?”
Don’t underestimate the power of people from the future.
Ocasio-Cortez is challenging us to think beyond the limitations of our present capabilities, and rather to imagine the best ways to travel. What does “best” mean? It means ways that don’t pollute, that don’t disrupt community, that are pleasurable, affordable, and that put living beings and the care of our planet above profits, processes, and the needs of machines. That’s what the future looks like, if we want it to.
Look, I am an unapologetic capitalist. I believe in free market solutions. But I also believe left-leaning progressives, even the most radical ones who anger me, are trying to show me something that I need to see, and I don’t want to close my eyes to their message. I believe Capitalism and Democracy are the twin pillars upon which we humans should build our future, but they are not perfect. They need tweaking and adjustment just like all systems do, so that they adapt to our changing world.
And change is good. I welcome change.
There are people among us now, people from the future (often poets, artists and mystics), showing us how to make these changes, and we conservatives should pay attention to their message. Likewise, visionaries zealots, many of whom are young, should pay attention to an elder’s sense of pace, and how quickly we think this messy collection of human flotsam with its stone tools can move forward into a bright future. We modern elders have earned that perspective, and it has value.
The Buddha once said, “I am not the moon. I am just a finger pointing to the moon.” There is deep wisdom in that. We ought not to get distracted by the finger, what color it is, if its nails are painted, if it holds a reefer, or if its skin is mottled with age spots. Let’s keep our eyes on the prize, and the shared vision of where we want to be in 1,000 years. That’s perspective. Then let us set an achievable pace for getting there.