How to Live Well in a Post-Collapse World: A Love Letter to My Children and Grandchildren

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If we’re honest, most adults know we are leaving a world for our children and grandchildren that is much less wonderful than the world we grew up in. Turning 80 this year, I think about what wisdom I might offer them.

I am a rational scientist by training with a PhD in International Health. So I had a difficult time believing the vision I was given in the summer of 1993 during a traditional Native-American sweat lodge ceremony that was held during a Men’s Leadership Conference in Indianapolis, Indiana. I have written about the vision and what I have learned in a number of articles, mostly recently in April, 2023, “Transformations: The End of the U.S. and the World as We Know It and The Truth About Our Collective Future,” Part 1 and Part 2.

            What I was given in the vision was nothing less than seeing the sinking of “The Ship of Civilization” with most people going down with the ship and also I saw the “Lifeboats to the Future” captained by many individuals who recognized the reality of the sinking ship and had the courage to connect with others and launch themselves into unknown waters to create a new, more sustainable, way of life for humanity.

            My wife, Carlin, and I have lived a good life during a period that William R. Catton, Jr., author of Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change, calls the “Age of Exuberance” when it seemed, mistakenly, that we need not worry about limits to growth and human ingenuity would solve all our problems.

            In Catton’s book, one of the most important books I have read that explains our present situation and what we need to do now and in the future, he describes two paradigms. The first, he says,

“is embedded in Western thoughtways by 400 years of exuberance that made the following assumptions plausible and popular:

P1. People are masters of their own destiny; they are essentially different from all other creatures, over which they have dominion.  

P2. People can learn to do anything.

P3. People can always change when they have to.

P4. People can always improve things; the history of mankind is a history of progress; for

       every problem there is a solution, and progress need never cease.”

Catton wrote Overshoot in 1980. Even more than forty years ago, he recognized that over the previous four hundred years, culminating with the discovery of long-buried plant matter that could be turned into fossil fuels, humans had exceeded the carrying capacity of our planet and were headed for a crash. He didn’t blame anyone. He understood that people with the best of intentions, set us on a path of pain and collapse that no one had anticipated because we didn’t understand the ecological paradigm that humans had followed for the previous two-million years of our ancestral history.

“The ecological paradigm,” says Catton, “clearly recognizes the following basic ideas:

E1. Human beings are just one species among many species that are interdependently involved in biotic communities.

E2. Human social life is shaped by intricate linkages of cause and effect (and feedback) in the web of nature, and because of these, purposive human actions have many unintended consequences.

E3. The world we live in is finite, so there are potent physical and biological limits constraining economic growth, social progress, and other aspects of human living.

E4. However much the inventiveness of Home sapiens or the power of Homo colossus may seem for a while to transcend carrying capacity limits, nature has the last word.”

You can watch a wonderful interview with Dr. Catton recorded in 2008, seven years before his death at age 89. 

For My Children, Grandchildren, Great Grandchildren, and Future Generations

            I used to feel guilty and ashamed that I couldn’t do more to bring about a healthier and safer world for future generations who I know will live in a world that will be much more challenging than the one I was blessed to live in. But after reading William Catton’s analysis, I now realize that we all did the best we could, given what we knew.

            Whether we do it now or sometime in the future, we need to live within the paradigm that is based on the ecological facts of life. I hope you will learn these ideas and put them into practice now, and forever. They have been, and will always be, part of the owner’s manual for human life on planet Earth.

            So, while I’m still here in physical form, I have a few things to say to my children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren: Jemal, Angela, Aaron, Dane, Evan, Antonia, Shelby, Jacob, Cody, Sierra, Hailey, Gunnar, Christian, Teanna, Deon, Derrick, Trey’Shawn, Matej, Natael, Nela, Jonovan, June, Flora, Naima, and those still to come.

  • You are loved.

As families get bigger and the world gets more complicated, we sometimes forget that we are part of long family lineage and on a day-to-day basis we may not be aware that we are seen, recognized, and loved, we all need to remember and remind ourselves of who we are. Traditional Native American practice had us recognize and express our love in the decisions we made seven generations into the future. I hope my love for you will inspire you to share your own love forward.

  • You are special and have gifts and a unique calling to share during your lifetime.

Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross said,

“You are not a powerless speck of dust drifting around in the wind. We are, each of us, like beautiful snowflakes-unique, and born for a specific reason and purpose.”

Throughout your life, if you are open to it, you will learn more about what you are called to contribute to the community of life during the time you have on Earth.

  • Be true to yourself.

When I was young, my mother, quoting Shakespeare, told me:

“This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.”

It is never easy to know ourselves and to be true to the self we have come to know. None of us exists separately from others and we are all influenced by parents, friends, and the media who have their own beliefs about what is best for us.

The comedian and actress Lilly Tomlin said,

“All my life I always wanted to be someone. I see now I should have been more specific.”

Indeed, there is no one who can be you and you can’t be anyone else, so keep going deeper to find and hold fast to your own authentic you.

  • We all live in challenging times and you must accept the challenges of the time in which you live.

I was born in 1943. I still have vivid memories of seeing news footage of the first atom bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan in August, 1945. I grew up with the fear of bombs dropped on us and the guilt of knowing what we had done to others.

Each of you has come into the world at a certain time in human history and each will have to deal with both personal and social challenges of the times in which you live. There is no way to avoid your time and place, so you might as well get to know it, appreciate it, and have the courage to be your best self while you are here.

  • Recognize that every day, every moment, is a blessing.

In elementary school, we got extra credit if we memorized the “saying of the week” and were able to speak it outload when called upon. I still remember this one,

“Lost between the hours of sunrise and sunset, two golden minutes, each set with sixty diamond seconds. No reward is offered for they are gone forever.”

Even when I was young I felt that being alive was a great gift and I never took life for granted. As I get older, I am awed by the mystery of life and want to taste and experience all that has to offer me for as long as I’m here.  

  • Take care of yourself.

When we come into the world, we are dependent on others. Hopefully you have had good enough caregivers. Those of you who are parents or will become parents, know that you will always fall short of being the parents you hoped to be. None of us are perfect. We do the best we can.

There is wisdom in the instructions given on airplanes that if there is a loss of cabin pressure, oxygen masks will drop down. Be sure to place your own mask on first before trying to help others. Too often, we become so focused on helping others, we don’t take care of ourselves. Always be good to yourself. Take care of you, and when you forget, treat yourself like your most precious child.

  • Walk every day.

When I was growing up we walked everywhere and most everything that was important—the movie theater where we went every Saturday, the river where we caught crawdads in the summer, our friends’ houses—was within walking distance. Now most of us live in cities and most of what we need is not close to home.

Humans have walked for millions of years. Walking is still good for us. I believe it is nature’s always-available anti-depressant and stress reliever. It also connects us to the Earth. I still walk every day and I’m glad I formed the habit young. Wherever you live, find a way to walk.

  • Do something for someone else today.

There is a saying in my Jewish tradition:

“If I’m not for myself, who will be? If I am for myself only, what am I? If not now, when?”

I’ve found over the years that these are not really separate acts. One of the things that makes me feel best about myself, particularly when I feel depressed and unloved, is to do something nice for someone else. It doesn’t have to be something big—a caring smile, a hug, a flower—can make me feel good and help someone else at the same time.

It is easy to think, I will do it tomorrow, but if not now, when? We never know when it might be our last day.

  • Be kind.

When things become stressed in the world, and they certainly are now, and it’s likely to continue, there is a tendency to feel that others are being “mean” and are to blame for the many problems in our lives. We can react to harsh words, indifference, aggression, or violence, with more of the same. Or we can remind ourselves that others are hurting and the only way to reduce meanness in the world, is to add more kindness.

Dr. Gerald Jampolsky was a good friend of ours. He wrote the book, Love is Letting Go of Fear. He said,

“When we think we have been hurt by someone in the past, we build up defenses to protect ourselves from being hurt in the future. So the fearful past causes a fearful future and the past and future become one. We cannot love when we feel fear…. When we release the fearful past and forgive everyone, we will experience total love and oneness with all.”

There is more I would like to share, but that’s all for today. I look forward to your responses. What might you add to this list? Come visit me at MenAlive.com and if you are so moved join our Moonshot for Mankind.

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