(Dear Charles #2) Cultivating Cultural Change
I’ve started and stopped this letter about 10 times now. It’s like, how do you capture a crystallized moment of what you’re thinking and feeling? Then you look back and recognize that the person you were before is just an echo, and you’re slightly changed despite being the same.
Moreso than before, I’m coming to appreciate how everything and everyone is in a constant state of renewal and transformation.
We might take someone’s outward appearance for granted, just beneath the surface though everything is always flowing. It takes listening to one another’s stories to feel just how malleable life is; and there’s so much beauty in that.
In terms of where I am lately, I’ve been trying to do a better job of expressing gratitude. Before meals, for example — and I don’t always remember to do this — I’ll touch my necklace of an Andean cross under my shirt to be thankful for the meal, and to recognize all of the processes required for that food to arrive in front of me. In this way, I’m trying to make more aspects of my life sacred, in a world where so many things are made to feel cheap and disposable.
In your last letter, you wrote about how technology has accelerated the rate of change between generations, and how some Gen Zers look to millennials rather than elders for guidance on navigating life’s challenges. I feel that. We’re all improvising, learning from one another, taking things a step at a time.
This also leads me to think about our institutions and cultural practices. My gut feeling is that many of our institutions are inadequate, on an existential level, to address the challenges of our times, including these generational gaps that you mention. For sure this challenge isn’t unique to our moment — still, it’s wild to think how we’re facing a climate crisis, mental health crisis, pandemic, and more all at once.
In face of all this, I feel like social media and technology is a way of putting a bandaid on something that’s broken and needs tending to. It’s easier to caught up doomscrolling, to get a dopamine rush, than to address how we can create a fundamentally healthier culture overall. Maybe though that does begin on a person to person level, like this, you and me, talking about stuff as we see it, maybe thinking about what could be.
You spoke briefly about how our approach to creating technology contributes to the divide between generations and is fundamental in the issues we face. Of course, someone — in this case, millennials, Gen X, and Boomers — were the ones who created and financed all of these systems. So a big question for me is, what are the cultural values in place that allow such institutions to flourish? If we had a different system of values, would we as a culture gravitate towards different kinds of experiences?
It’s a tall question. Myself, I’m thinking of what it takes to make a shift in culture, even in my own life. I’ve been trying, as mentioned, to think more deeply about my connection to the earth and the processes around me. The small acts of gratitude I’ve been doing are, I think, contributing to a sense of consciousness and connection that has started to make me feel, rather than fragmented and anxious, whole.
It’s still an ongoing process, and I’m not sure where this ends up for me. I do know that, rather than taking a plane to see my family in Florida for a wedding this October, I instead booked a train despite it being more expensive and taking more time. It’s a sacrifice for sure, and it was painful to do it. At the same time, I feel at least that I’m living a truth that goes beyond the individualistic, frenetic emphasis on everything being fast, and cheap, instead thinking more holistically about how my actions impact the planet, trying to cultivate different ways of being within myself.
I’ll leave you with this last thought: I recently got myself a plant. It’s a bromeliad, an offset from one owned by my mom. It’s such a seemingly insignificant thing; for someone so mired in technology and disconnected from nature here in NYC though — always thinking about being more productive, more of this, more of that — it felt like a step towards something. Who knows how these little changes will add up. It’s a journey for sure, and honestly I’m just being led by faith and intuition, a sincere belief that everything will lead to a better future and, in a traditional Andean view of reality, that the mind and body are one.
Anyway, I’ve been so glad to be able to write this to you. Apologies for the delay, and I’m looking forward to reading your next letter (which has already been published for a while now!)