October 29, 2012
by Kevin S. Baldwin
We really do coinhabit the earth with mythical creatures. Werewolves have recently occupied my home. Let me explain: Two of my kids are young teens, who have transformed practically overnight into hairy, musky, snarling, nocturnal beasts with insatiable appetites for food, media, novelty, and the company of other werewolves.
Of course, I am not the first to make this lupine-teen connection, and I can still appreciate the situation from my kids' perspectives: One day you're a fairly carefree child and suddenly you have hairs sprouting in new places, insistent demands from your digestive and reproductive tracts governing nearly every decision (tubular hells?), and are facing fear and loathing from peers and parents alike while trying to decipher and navigate a suddenly unfamiliar, yet vitally important social landscape.
Adolescence is a human universal, yet there are some features that make our 21st Century, First-World situation a bit unusual. One is that our kids are entering adolescence earlier than ever. Whatever mismatches exist between our bodies and brains during this transitional period may be exaggerated as a result of this shift in timing. Immature minds partially in control of mature bodies is less than ideal for lots of reasons. Another feature of our society is that it fetishizes teenhood and young-adulthood to an extraordinary degree. Yet another feature unique to our situation may be that so many more of us actually survive adolescence and live to a ripe old age. For much of our evolutionary history, the aspects of our lifecycles that have mattered most, played out while we were still essentially adolescents. Teen marriages were common. Vanishingly few of us made it past the age of 30. No wonder we, as a species, are such crooked timber! Only recently, have there been enough older folk in the population to have much of an effect on population level characteristics, or even merely reflect on the phenomenon of puberty itself.
Adolescence is akin to metamorphosis from a tadpole into a frog or a caterpillar into a butterfly plus all the angst of being somewhat self-aware. You couldn't pay me enough to relive those years, yet I suppose it is a form of karma to have to relive adolescence from an adult's perspective:
Could I have possibly been this irrational, self-absorbed, and ungrateful?
Should I try to impart to my kids what little I've learned in the roughly three decades that have elapsed since my own adolescence?
Will it do any good?
Probably not. They will have to learn these lessons themselves.
We are consigned to an intergenerational version of "Groundhog Day:" The same mistakes over and over again with seemingly little chance of resolution. Perhaps this is one aspect of the cycle of suffering that the Buddha alluded to. In some ways, youth is wasted on the young and by the time we begin to figure it all out, we're in decline or perhaps even nearing the end of our time on this planet.
If species can be thought of as having life cycles, Homo sapiens may be in its adolescence as well. The Fall symbolized our transition from the hunter-gather life to the blessing and curse of the agricultural revolution. With our newly discovered independence we severed many of the ties and connections that had previously held us in check for so many millennia. Industrial capitalism, has locked us further into this adolescent stage of self-absorption and instant gratification. We have enjoyed the power resulting from the increase in our numbers and our ever-growing technological footprints, but have yet to own up to the responsibilities associated with being embedded in a larger community. We are metaphorical teen-wolves, convinced of our own self-importance, with little regard for others.
Eventually, I hope my werewolves will realize that despite all the gadgets in their lives that begin with the prefix "i-," life is not really all about them. They are of course individuals, but ones that live within a family and a community that ranges from our neighborhood to all the other people and species on this planet. Hopefully, humanity can also weather the transition into adulthood before we irreversibly damage all the relationships that surround and sustain us.
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