Is Retraining our Brains our Generational Burden or Privilege?

Is Retraining our Brains our Generational Burden or Privilege?

Last year, I spoke with a respected thought leader in the area of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and the topic of “generational burden” came up.

It was proposed that my generation’s burden is that of “cultural identity.”

I believe in reframing things – maybe it’s not so much our burden, as our privilege.  Maybe, just maybe, our children’s children will look back on 2020 and recognize the beginning of a new era. One in which enough humans decided that their being and their story mattered and this awareness gave them the courage to listen and learn from the story of “others” – to value all humans as equal individuals, no matter how different, no matter how far away. Because how you think and feel directly impacts how you treat yourself and how you treat others. Those interactions, minute by minute and day by day, determine our reality.  

Will we continue to accept the status quo? Will we believe that nothing can change, or will we start to allow ourselves to entertain the most radical thought ever – “What if?”

What if our descendants asked the following questions based on the histories they heard told or read about on the internet or in books…

“Mom, what was bullying? Really??? Kids used to do stuff like that to each other?! That’s crazy.”

“Dad, can you tell me about the Civil Rights Movement? Oh wow, we actually needed a movement like that? Why didn’t people get that all humans deserve equal rights? That doesn’t make any sense to me.” 

For you, childhood reality was probably a little different.

Do you remember the first time you became aware that you were different from someone else? Maybe it was your gender, or confusion about what gender was even all about?? Maybe it was based on the color of your skin, or the language that was spoken at home, or what your parents packed for you to take to lunch – or what they couldn’t afford to.

Somewhere along the way, you felt “different.” Somewhere along the way you learned that there is an “us” and a “them.” 

And if you were anything like me, maybe you grew up straddling those lines. Maybe you identified as an “us” and a “them.” Maybe because you “technically” were – with parents of “different” origins, or maybe because you were raised or identified that way.

For some humans in this day and age, albeit a relatively small minority of humans, we are fortunate. Fortunate that the struggle to survive which our ancestors faced, is no longer our primary concern. Where we once spent our days hunting and gathering and defending ourselves from others who were after our resources for survival, a select few of us now have the time to tackle more luxurious human problems, like “who am I,” “do I matter,” “what’s my purpose?” 

But for far too many of us, survival itself is still a struggle – a struggle which can not only be glossed over, but which must be addressed by us all and for far too many, the question of “Do I Matter?” seems to be answered with a resounding “No.”  Or at least, there is a sense that “they” matter more. From inequities in education, healthcare, professional opportunities, the rule of law, even digital access – so many feel that their lives DON’T matter.  

Is that okay with you? Is it okay with you that you and/or your fellow human beings are still questioning whether your very existence has value?

The fact that I am even posing this rhetorical question for your consideration makes me wonder if our basest evolutionary instincts of “us against them” just keep finding a way to reinvent themselves in modern society.

Maybe identity problems which often lead to things like mental and emotional illness or even suicide at the individual level, also lead to bullying, hate crime and even, human trafficking or homicide, at the collective level?

Enter 2020. Enter COVID-19. Suddenly, and for the first time in our generation, a novel virus enters the world and levels the playing field.  

For the first time, not knowing what the future holds for the existence of our species, the world faces both a dilemma and an opportunity. An opportunity to have our minds and hearts expanded with the realization that we are all one “HUMAN kind,” and that we have an opportunity to work together against a common “unseen” enemy – in fact, we must. Cooperation is the only sure fire way to promote survival and end the series of disasters the disease has brought forth.  We have lost loved ones. We have watched our friends and colleagues lose loved ones. We have felt the fear and emotional damage the disease has caused – the isolation for so many. 

And on the flipside, we have felt the frustration and desperation the disease has caused as it created market volatility and has driven unemployment through the roof – as the differences in governance and the corporate handling of the disease have caused further polarizations amongst us.

Observing all of this, I can’t help but wonder…

Is it our generational privilege to retrain our brains – individual, collective or otherwise – to take this opportunity, this moment in time, to ask ourselves “why do I think the way I think and feel the way I feel about “myself” and about “others?” 

Us and them.

The concepts of harmonious human living are not new. In many ancient cultures they were in fact, central to daily life. But theory must move to practice once again. 

“Grandmother, what was a refugee? That’s the saddest thing I’ve ever heard. I’m so happy we don’t need to have refugee camps any more.”

“Grandpa, what was human trafficking? You’re kidding me?! There’s no way that humans would do that to each other! That’s insanity. Just to make money?! There are so many better ways to make money! This is the saddest thing I have ever heard. I’m so glad we realized that that idea sucked.”

Imagine that world. Imagine hearing your child or grandchild utter these words.

In the words of the now immortal “Black Panther,” delivered by the beloved Chadwick Boseman, who only recently left us to feel their impact in his absence: 

“Now, more than ever, the illusions of division threaten our very existence. We all know the truth: more connects us than separates us. But in times of crisis the wise build bridges, while the foolish build barriers. We must find a way to look after one another as if we were one single tribe.”

In a world of “us” and “them,” I choose “us.”

And that world begins in one place – our minds.

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