What do we tell the kids?

Words don’t begin to

But then that’s all we’ve got. Words, and the stories we weave of them.

I’ve been wondering about this in connection with the study I’m putting together for my MSc. I’m asking pairs of friends who are also parents to record a conversation about climate change, how they feel it may affect the lives of their children, and what if anything they feel they should do about it.

I’m not sure we’ve got a language yet for dealing with these questions. It seems we don’t have the stories we need that would help us navigate this terrain.

A good story is seasoned by centuries of telling and retelling. It is something that evolves over eons, like an ancient, underground organism. It grows from the land as much from the people who live there. It tells of the present and future because it draws on a deep past.

There’s reassurance and certainty in stories that hum with that subterranean pulse. Stories which speak to us from deep time. Reassurance for the children, and wisdom for us all.

But over the past few centuries and especially in the past few decades, the pace of change in our habitat has accelerated off the scale. And the stories we tell can’t keep up. There isn’t time for the right stories to bud, and grow, and lay down roots.

Today we entertain, amaze , infantalize or terrorize each other with the stories we tell, but we look in vain to them for guidance. What use all those heroes and villains, star-crossed lovers, spoiled rich folk, neurotic loners, materialist teens, winning teams etc etc, in a world where deep time itself seems to have been trampled?

What I really want to know is: how do we brace for the changes ahead? What on earth do we tell the kids?

There’s some information about my study on Twitter @cmacdonald777 and I’m actively looking for people to take part, so if you’re interested please have a look and get in touch – thanks!


2 Replies to “What do we tell the kids?”

  1. Lately how to talk about climate change and GHG emissions has been on my mind more than usual, and I completely agree that we don’t know how to talk about them and even less how to act. So our knowledge never becomes a way of life; it doesn’t permeate everything we do in the way that other kinds of knowledge that we have had time to build stories and institutions around do. We know how to live our religions, our economies, our relationships but we don’t know how to live our climate yet. Part of the problem is that we are afraid of what we will have to give up when we start talking and therefore living climate change. If we start taking about climate change but still keep driving, flying, shopping, etc. then aren’t we just being self-righteous and hypocritical? I would say, no, that we have to start with talking each other and ourselves into living climate change – talking about avoidance, adaptation, and remediation – on a daily, ordinary basis. That shift is not going to happen overnight. But we can start talking , and trying to find practices and ways of life that can embody the talk.

    It is a fascinating subject that you’ve chosen to research!

  2. ‘Our knowledge never becomes a way of life’ – that sums it up very well, Michelle.

    As you say, we have to ‘talk’ our way into this coming world. Talk up our capacities for care and compassion, for adapting to what we wish weren’t so, and perhaps talk our way out of some of the redundant stories that still grip our imagination.

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