Is Life Still Beautiful?
One of the most common things I hear from my fellow New Yorkers is how impossible it is to “get away from it” – COVID-19, the coming election, the social unrest and violence that seems to be tearing the whole country apart. The saving grace for New Yorkers is how miraculously we’ve bounced back from being the epicenter of the virus: the place where people feared going, and where our family and friends pitied us for being stuck. I had the good fortune to be out on the tip of Long Island for a few of the worst months; I’m glad to be back now, especially since I began my long-awaited life as a grandfather just over a month ago.
As a new grandfather, I am drawn into the energy of new life. I watch the children across the landscape of the park, from infants in strollers to wide-legged toddlers finding their balance. They experience their bodies, their senses, their minds, trying to tame a world that–for a fleeting moment–centers around them. This is the way humans evolve. In a healthy process of human development, a child will come to see that she is at once at the center of her world and one of billions of living things in a larger world. The overly compliant, other-directed child will never behold her own unique greatness; the overly self-indulgent, inner-directed child will never understand her interdependence with the vast world that surrounds her. Thus far, our civilization doesn’t seem to have achieved a sustainable balance between the two. There are many societies (China, for example), where a child is so outer-directed that the individual struggles to experience her unique greatness, and others (like the United States) where each person’s unique greatness competes for expression with hundreds of millions of others.
I’ve become riveted by watching Babies, a documentary series on Netflix. It has become clear to me how we all begin with a brain, body, and passion to learn to grow and make an impact on the world. Even an infant as young as four months can anticipate the movements of her mother, and we are born with the innate knowledge of how to crawl and walk. The more a baby can explore, the faster and more fully she will progress in her development.
“Watching the infants’ sweet, cherubic faces exploring the world around them makes it clear that we humans have a powerful need to explore, learn, and shape our world.”
Now that my granddaughter is here, seeing her world of possibilities gives me so much joy and makes my life more beautiful. Just watching her sleep is a marvel – I can picture her tiny brain and nervous system processing her ever-expanding existence. It also starkly reveals to me, every day, that most children don’t have as many opportunities as she will. That balance of human fragility and wonder, so obvious in babies, feels like a metaphor for all of us right now. In my work at Opportunity Lab, as well as in my writing, I try to provide opportunities for more people while acknowledging the truth of that duality.