The only thing I know about the future is that it will be different than today. This presents an interesting dilemma when it comes to deciding how to raise my daughter: what world will she spend her life inhabiting? What can I impart that can last, can remain useful? Many, most of my ideas will –inevitably- be dismissed as the laughable prejudices and stupidities of the past, so many of my skills will be rendered outdated within my lifetime (let alone hers); so much of what seems absolutely vital today will be dragged out with the tide into the sea of obsolescence; my ‘best guesses’ are fragile sand-castles destined to be crumble in the face of the lapping waves of time.
What can I impart that will be worthy enough for her to carry forward, into those years I myself cannot go?
Ultimately I don’t… I can’t know. But to look at my own life, I think I can spot a few concepts, qualities, skills (and meta-skills) that I have utilized (or sorely missed the use of) throughout my whole life:
- Attention Management It is a truism that in this particular moment, we live in an age of information hyper-abundance. Funnily enough, men and women complaining about the glut of information and the discussing the problems of the endless mewling of distractions has been a common refrain since we’ve had the written word to record it. Moreover, even a human being alone in the most Spartan, barren environment imaginable is receiving more information than they can possibly hope to keep complete within their awareness: the sounds of their own heartbeat, the feel of sunlight playing across their skin, the way the breeze tickles the small hairs across their nape and on and on. There is more information held within a grain of sand than can fit within the human head (even if most of this data is beyond the scope of our senses). Regardless, I bring this up only to point to the fact that being able to manage one’s attention –most especially in the arms race of experts and algorithms who get ever better at convincing us to direct our attention where it is most useful/profitable for them- is something I believe was vital yesterday, I know is pivotal today, and am very confident will be critical tomorrow.
- Mood Management For me, this is so strongly related to attention management that I’m almost against listing it separately as –other than pharmacology- nothing shapes our emotional landscape so much as choosing where\how to shift our attention. But, there’s other tools by which we manage mood (or how it is managed for us): conscious use of exercise, socialization, eating… every aspect of our physical\mental input\output gives us a lever by which to move our emotions (always leverage though, never tyrannical control). It is the primary social superpower to be able to stoke a particular set of emotions in others and then suggest how people should *use* those emotions. To be able to decide for oneself how you wish to feel, to nudge oneself in that direction but most importantly to decide what actions one will take in response to feelings is a massively important set of metaskills. Advertising, the media empires, the ‘news,’ the public face of political communication, charities, girl scouts selling cookies are all about inducing millions of people to feel a certain way so they’ll act a certain way; to be equally as adroit, as calculating in the emotional management of oneself can feel almost inhuman but is is perhaps the only to thrive in a media environment that would see you sobbing useless in response to tragedies about which you can do naught, supporting policies that only lead to the needless suffering of yourself and your fellows.
- The Full Compliment of Relationship Skills Relationships are not skills, but there are dozens of skills that you can develop that allow you to develop better, richer, more satisfying relationships. As long as there’s humans, as long as one wishes to remain human in the fullest sense of the term; relationships will be there. These are the skills I think about here are being able to signal that someone is important to you, separating your feelings and issues from those of your dance partner, parsing out which issues are manageable/acceptable and which can not be abided, setting boundaries, wielding accountability, practicing honesty and vulnerability and on and on.
- Goal Setting There are ultimately two paths, though we tend to jump back and forth between them in an endless drunken stumble: an individual can have their aspirations determined by the suggestions or arguments of others, or one can set their own (or, this might be impossible, but it is a worthy ideal to chase). I think a lot about the William Blake quote, ‘I must create a system or be enslaved by another man’s …’ I hope I can teach my daughter to set her own goals, to orient herself to and for her own ends, and give her the tools to create a framework wherein she can evaluate herself in the pursuit of her ideals.
But what else? What am I missing? If you have kids – what skills (rather than values) are you trying to teach? Whether or whether not you’re reproducing, what skills do you have that are valuable now, and that you’re convinced will be valuable in the future?