What Have We Learned?

It’s high school reunion time!

This is a milestone year for me and for all those who graduated high school in 1971. It seems like ages ago that we were singing our favorite songs with James Taylor, Carole King, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Or dancing to the best Motown music by the Temptations, Gladys Knight and Marvin Gaye.

We enjoyed being with our friends and made every effort to extend that time beyond our classes together. We were living in our protective high school bubble, filled with the usual school stuff like cramming for tests, talking on the phone for hours and planning for the weekends.

But on the outside, something was trying to burst that bubble.

We lived through the Vietnam War even though many of us didn’t understand why we were there. The world around us had experienced massive changes. Protests and unrest were the norm in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. Assassinations and tragedies seemed common place. African American and Women’s rights came to the forefront. Young people struggled to comprehend what was happening. Fear, mistrust and confusion entered our bubble and it was difficult to adjust.

At some point in time, it was as though a generation decided to turn on the lights in a very dark room.

Inside that room, visible for all to see, especially the young people, was not only dust and cobwebs, but rotted floorboards and peeling wall paint. There was also a stench that was indescribable. What do we do with all this? How do we clean this place and make it something beautiful? That question still permeates the thoughts of many young and older people today. They are still grappling with some lingering remnants in that now, semi-dark room.

It’s not easy to change the flow or to nudge it in a different direction. Some in my generation don’t particularly care to change much of anything and others are still energized to see it through to a better end. Some just prefer a comfortable familiar, where they have discovered another kind of protective bubble.

Bubbles eventually burst no matter how hard we try to keep them in tact. It’s okay. Being outside the bubble has the potential to give us a new perspective. It can help us learn more about ourselves and others.

Whether an activist or a pacifist or a status quo-ist, we all can learn from each other. Kids do it instinctively. We did too when we were children.

If left without hovering or biased adult interference, except for matters of safety, little ones learn how to navigate their challenges through trial, error and negotiation. They eventually learn to build bridges and on ramps. They learn that differences in thought are not to be feared or silenced. Initially, it may be easier for some than others, but eventually they discover their own value and what they can bring to the table.

In those moments, learning out of their bubbles, they are making something beautiful. They are building relationships.

As I remember 50 years ago and think about what I value today in regards to those high school years, it’s the relationships I made and still maintain. Each of those friendships may look differently today. Sometimes we blossom in different directions on the issues of life, like religion, politics, and family. But in the big scheme of things, we can agree on some basic principles if we so choose.

Kindness, compassion, understanding and humility, built on the premise that we are all created equal has now, as it did when we were children, the power to make something beautiful in our lives.

So, what have we learned?

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