Uncertain About Certainty: Lessons For Your Children About the Economic Debacle
As I write this, I am in the process of melting down the remainder of my gold into portable and quantifiable gold bricks, as well as draining my 401k to buy stock–livestock, that is. No doubt, things are getting exceptionally weird in America, as well as the larger financial world, as we all collectively hold hands in this dramatic economic freefall.
For adults, it may feel like Armageddon time, but for children, it may seem as if adults are just crazy or simply worrying about something well outside of their control. Regardless of what the outcome may be from this financial crisis (either a hasty reshuffling of the financial deck, or a full on Road Warrior scenario) there are undoubtedly valuable lessons to be had (by adults) and valuable lessons to teach our children about this time. I am no economist, but it is apparent to me that a cautionary tale of impermanence and interconnectedness is one bright route through the troubling darkness.
Without getting into the specifics of the current economic debacle, it is common knowledge that systems failed (banks, lending institutions, and the U.S. Treasury Department) that were believed to be sturdy, enduring, and trustworthy, leaving millions of people scratching their heads, or better yet, puling our their hair in fear and frustration. Some people claimed they could see the impending disaster on the horizon, but most people were left angry, frightened and wondering how something like this could happen. The cause, the blame, and the details are relatively unimportant to a child. What is important is the timely, and exceedingly valuable lesson of impermanence.
Like a sand castle defying the tide, or a balloon imperceptibly loosing air and sinking to the ground, nothing is here for the long haul and everything changes, regardless of our wishes and plans. In these times of unpredictable change, we need to remind ourselves, and our children, that not changing was never really an option. Change is inevitable and nothing is genuinely everlasting. The way of nature (and of Wall Street as we have recently come to terms with) is that as things are created, things are broken down, restructured and ultimately destroyed to make room for something new, and something hopefully more evolved and beneficial to all. Ultimately we need to do what is within our reach and ability to protect ourselves, and repair what needs mending or fixing. We cannot wind back the clocks and retrieve lost money, lost years, or lost innocence, we could only direct our attention to what is in front of us, that we can directly influence and transform.
The other lesson we could take away from all of this, and share with our children, is the lesson that separateness is an illusion. Many people (subprime lenders, shortsighted investors, and corporate predators, to name a few) thought their actions of moving money around in unscrupulous ways would not have long-term and far-reaching consequences. People were seduced into following the money, but not the logic behind their actions, and wound up rationalizing their behavior to fit only their perceived short-term needs and desires. Unfortunately we have all learned the lesson that all actions produce a reaction, and that we are all interconnected (as is evidence by the subsequent and synchronized dramatic plunge in the U.S. and foreign markets). Like the popular butterfly effect theory, which draws connections between the smallest action (the flap of a butterfly’s wings) and the largest calamity (a tornado thousands of miles away), we are made aware that, despite our penchant for isolation, we are all linked, and if the ship goes down, we all need to swim the chilly waters together.
So, I am not going to tell you not to worry, or that everything will return to normal, because things are destined to change, and change dramatically. But our attachment (as parents/adults) to what once was, need not dictate our children’s understanding of the world. Things change, and to be uncertain is not always comfortable, but to be certain about anything, other than uncertainty, is just folly.
Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, N.Y. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.