I have been mentoring an Orff student/ teacher who has studied for years with me in different venues and today and tomorrow was to be the final concert with the kids after a satisfying full semester. And then on Friday he got Covid. So now we’re all scrambling to re-arrange the schedule to make it possible if he tests negative by tomorrow and if not, then I can lead the concert. All of this last-minute re-arranging done on behalf of giving the students the closure they deserve, the parents the sharing that will make them happy, the school a chance to re-dedicate itself to the most important three words of good education— “whatever it takes.”
This is a micro-example of yesterday’s theme— low stability/ predictability equals high stress/anxiety. We all expected one thing and life with Covid gave us another. Now we have to choose to be smaller people— “too bad, we can’t change the sacred schedule, so no concert!” or larger souls—“of course we’ll ask everyone to be flexible on behalf of the students and also the parents and ultimately, the character of the school." (To their credit, the school is choosing the latter).
Now telescope this relationship between unpredictability and anxiety to the larger world. If one lives in a farming village, parents are pretty relaxed about the future of their children.“ My grandparents were farmers, my parents were farmers, my children will be farmers. My grandparents plowed the field using horses, my parents with tractors, my children may use computerized milking machines, but they’ll know how to milk cows if the electricity fails and our biggest anxiety will be what it always has been— drought, storms, a locust plague, all the unpredictable and uncontrollable patterns of the natural world. But we’ve always survived them and imagine that we always will."
Now if it’s a suburban or urban world in say, the 1950’s or 60’s in America, it’s a different form of high predictability. If you’re privileged to be a white person in a racist society (another theme we’ll put to the side for now), it’s expected you will go to school, get into a decent college and graduate with a job waiting for you in multitude of possible fields— doctor, lawyer, businessperson, scientist, teacher, storekeeper, bus driver, plumber, construction worker, etc. etc. etc. With a basic effort and average luck, you can expect to buy a house and a car with a middle-class salary that keeps everyone fed, sheltered, comfortable, with enough left over to go on a nice family vacation and a Social Security check awaiting you upon retiring. There might be some mild stress and anxiety about which of all these professional choices is right for your children, but mostly society is built to make it all work. You can count on it.
That brings us to today. Even back when my first daughter was accepted to a prestigious university in 1998, the competition was so fierce that a mere few years later, it was common knowledge that she probably wouldn’t have gotten in then. That only got worse, coupled with astronomical prices and a lifetime of student debt ahead. Nowadays pregnant women are applying in advance for that spot four years later in their local prestigious preschool. Rather than go to business school and advance slowly through the tried-and-true steps up the corporate ladder, today’s billionaires were nerdy kids working things out creating computer software in their garage. The economic energy is being pulled up to the 1%’ers and the middle class is slowly disappearing. Housing prices are through the roof (so to speak) and rents barely in reach for professions like teachers. One can graduate with a degree in a particular field, only to discover that your profession has been sent offshore, taken over by robots or there are 200 people applying for one position. You can't count on much.
Add to this the cultural instability of people attacking the Capitol Building, a President who incited them to do so, told 20,000 lies and refused to accept the results of a proven fair election, a mean-spirited group of politicians trying to subvert the right to vote, the right to control one’s own body, the right to express one’s own sexuality, the right to get a decent public school education, a Texas House Representative who recently complained about our “two-tiered justice system” in America because “if you’re a Republican you can’t even lie to Congress or lie to an FBI agent or they’re coming after you” as if this was unfair. Then stir in a little climate change and Russian wars and oh, a pandemic still with us after two years and there you have it: Low, low predictability/ stability, the sense the you can’t count on tomorrow what you counted on today and the resultant high, high anxiety.
It helps to know this. It helps to understand why parents can put so much weight on teachers and demand they be everything to their darling children. They’re scared. They’re terrified about what the future holds for their loved one. The children themselves, carrying so much weight on their little shoulders, pick up on it all— from their parents, their teachers, the TV news— and behave as people do in high stress situations. Maybe next time a parent lays into a teacher, the teacher might consider “Is that about what actually happened in my class or is it your fear about the future for your child.? That I can understand and so should you, so let’s talk about this incident with that in mind.”
And that’s the moment to decide. Am I going to let this turn me into a smaller person who lashes out, hides inside bottles and pills, desperately searches the internet for crazed conspiracy theories, tries to find a particular political group/ race/ religion/ gender to blame for it all? Or can I use this opportunity to grow a larger soul, to think more deeply, feel more compassionately, dream more imaginatively, act more responsibly? Am I going to give the children the love and care and protection they deserve? Make sure they get to play some great blues, Latin jazz pieces and soothing nursery rhymes in tomorrow’s concert?
I hope so.