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Monday, July 16, 2012

07/16/12- Lessons on Human Nature

It's about half a week until I hit the road. My gear is mustered, and most of my supplies are laid in. I'm exchanging final emails with contacts about details. I'm hitting that angsty stage just before a trip- as Steinbeck wrote about in Travels with Charlie, there grows a conviction that it will never happen, that home is infinitely preferable to the discomforts of the road, that you're crazy to even think about going.

Where am I going? The “map answer” is: From West Central Minnesota up the Dakotas, across some of Manitoba and Ontario, back down to the Twin Cities via the North Shore of Lake Superior, then across Minnesota to Home. The “people answer” is: I'll be visiting folks who have accomplished things involving Sustainable Agriculture and Local Foods. The “philosophical answer,” the true core of my quest, is that I'm looking for signs of the new world that will emerge from our current predicament-ridden era.

Not to belabor the point, at the least we now face the end of about two centuries of energy-intensive, exploitative, “business as usual,” Industrial Civilization. Some respectable sources say that we may be facing much worse. I hope not.

Three of my efficient, courteous staffers
I experienced an incident the other night which has lessons for the situation. I'm Assistant Manager at a small-town, three-screen movie theatre. This means that I open and close, run projectors, sell tickets, supervise the cleanup and concessions staff, count money, and generally keep an eye on things. It's a great job for a writer- I can study and write during films and before we open.

Like any Mom and Pop scale business we have regulars. Among them are residents of local group homes for “challenged adults-” that's folks with handicaps, especially mental ones. A couple of nights each week they arrive in groups of five or six, with a caregiver/minder. That night I'd sold tickets to such a group. After the obligatory high fives and “have funs,” they went in to see The Amazing Spiderman.

About half way through the movie another regular came running out.

“Quick! Call 911! There's a guy in there having a heart attack!” he shouted.

I made the call, and ran upstairs to stop the projector and bring up the lights. The Good Samaritan said that he'd keep an eye on the cash drawer and all while I was gone. Three more guys came running out, saying, “Whatever we can do to help, just tell us!” They went out to wave down the emergency vehicles and make sure that the double exit doors were unlatched and wide open.

By the time I got back downstairs the EMTs and First Responders were there, working on the guy. None of the twenty or thirty folks in the movie freaked out. Many asked whether they could help.

In a very few minutes the ambulance arrived, and they wheeled the unconscious victim out on a gurney. Shit! It was one of the group home guys! As the Caregiver shepherded his flock out after their friend, one turned to reassure me with a big grin and two thumbs up.

“Thas' OK Shuck! We'll be back ta da movie next time!”

He had no idea what had just happened. I could have cried.

The first lesson I see in this is that most people, when they see trouble, want to help. It's pretty much an Article of Faith for me: Most people mean well. The other is that when bad things that are beyond their experience happen, they either put a good face on it, denying the severity, or they get mean, attacking the messenger: All people have limits on the bad news they can absorb. Both are normal. Humans are just like that.

The trouble today is, that while most people mean well, few can wrap their heads around the scope or time scale of the trouble we're in. Warning, warning, warning them isn't doing much good, as they freak out or stick their fingers in their ears and shout “la la la la la.”

We need to be able to say, “Yup, things are bad, but they'll get better after they get worse. Here's what we're gonna do...”

That's what I want to find out- what are those who see, doing? What comes in the next chapter of Humanity's saga?

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