Every morning I wake up and watch life and death outside my bedroom window. We have two beehives perched on the roof of a first floor sunroom. As I watch the hive come alive with the morning sun, most of the bees begin their very full workday, zipping in and out, hovering as they await return entry. But a few of the bees have a different task: Their job is to pull the dead and dying out of the hive and deposit them on the roof, where some lay lifeless and others tremble with their last breaths.
It’s been one year and two weeks since Walk Out Walk On was launched into the world. I just returned home from Denver and Boulder, Colorado, the final two stops on the book tour, and now is a good time to reflect on what I’ve learned over these last twelve months. And here it is:
The United States has lost its sense of subtlety.
Or maybe it was never there to begin with. After all, we’ve always known that when it comes to humor, the Brits have far greater mastery of nuance and irony than we Americans with our screwball and slapstick appetites. But this inclination toward the obvious and unambiguous extends beyond humor. It is part of our daily experience, shaped and amplified by politics and the media. As small differences and distinctions pass through the public lens, they transform into grand polarities, blocking each other out of the light. We find ourselves perpetually choosing sides, picking winners, condemning losers and generally orienting around good-bad, right-wrong, on-off, in-out and anything else we can reduce into simple and opposing parts.
Last night, ten faces peered back at me from the glow of my computer screen—including my own. This was my first Google+ Hangout experience, and now nine strangers were gazing into my living room (and I into theirs) as we began a dialogue about educators experimenting with walking out and walking on. And who knows how many others peeked in, as lurkers were invited to watch the one-hour dialogue via live stream.
Ten years ago, I would not have invited nine people I had never met into my home at 9 PM on a Wednesday night. A year ago, I would not have “friended” someone I had never met in person. Day by day, my relationship to privacy, intimacy and social boundaries is slowly eroding. Much like the frog in boiling water, I am gradually adapting to the persistent incursions of social media into my daily life—and potentially destroying my brain in the process.
Last night, I attended a forum at MIT to reflect on the significance of the Occupy movement. Pete, one of the Boston Occupiers who coordinates the medical team, was sharing stories about the challenges of daily life in Dewey Square, which alongside activists and protesters, has attracted drug dealers, sex workers and the homeless. According to Pete, the Boston police have essentially handed Dewey Square over to the Occupiers, requiring that they police themselves.
Recently, my friend Manish Jain asked me to write some reflections about the relationship between resilience and jugaad, a Hindi term for ingenuity, an invitation to the imagination to play and invent new solutions using whatever is right in front of you.
It brought to mind for me a scene in the movie Apollo 13, when the NASA engineers realize that they have to construct a carbon dioxide filter using only materials available on the spacecraft—and that they’ve got a mismatch between, literally, a square peg and a round hole. They dump a mass of random material on the table, and the lead engineer says, “The people upstairs handed us this one and we gotta come through. We gotta find a way to make this [square cartridge] fit into the hole for this [round cartridge] using nothing but that [materials on the table].”
In my May 21st blog, I bemoaned the decision to shut down more than a dozen schools in the Boston public school system—most of which serve low-income neighborhoods. I wondered what “walking out” of this system might look like, and went as far as suggesting “…that might mean pulling our children out of the school system and turning to one another to create neighborhood learning spaces which replace schooling with discovery.”
Yesterday I was walking through a gentle snowstorm with my dear friend and Berkana colleague Tenneson Woolf. We were on Mt. Timpanogos, a magical place in Sundance, Utah. Everything was quiet up here at 6500 feet, as we trudged slowly along the slippery path. And then Tenneson asked me if I ever wondered whether what we do matters.