Our Greatest Invention
Like millions of people I am in awe of the Sierras. Each summer, our family vacations in Yosemite National Park. And each summer I seem to have a moment where the mountains sing a Sirens tune.
- July 2015, wading through an Eastern Sierra creek in search of golden trout. One hand on my fly rod and the other used to stabilize myself scrambling over slippery rocks. In the middle of the creek, out of breath, I sat down and heard nature’s song. Miles from no where and completely alone yet overcome with a profound sense of connection.
- A couple summers ago I was swimming with my kids in the middle of the Yosemite Valley when for some reason we all stopped. We held still, staring at the sheer face of El Capitan, barely noticing as a family of ducks swim by.
- This summer I woke up early thinking I’d fish the creek by our campground. Heading down a path that disappeared into deer trails, scrambling across offshoots, over loose granite, I was so overcome with discovering beauty around the next bend that I never cast a single line.
This is why so many call our national parks our greatest invention. Countless miles of wilderness, owned by everyone for everyone to enjoy.
New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote a piece recently highlighting both the wisdom of our forefathers to set aside this land and the potential Congress has to widow our greatest invention to state control:
In an age of enormous inequality, these public lands are arguably our most democratic space. Wealth may buy political influence such that to speak of “one person one vote” seems naïve and incomplete. So the most democratic place in America is perhaps not the voting booth but rather our shared wilderness, as long as we sustain it.
Here, you find yourself in places where everything moves around and yet you’re overcome by the stillness. In an age of 24/7/365 connectedness there’s something profound in being disconnected from technology and intertwined in wilderness.
The Rare Gem of an Open Mind
Like millions of families school is starting for the McLane kids. Paul started 8th grade last week. Megan (tenth) and Jackson (kindergarten) will start next Monday. As Summer fades from our present reality to our memories new realities are setting in… back-to-school shopping and homework replace spontaneous trips to the beach or lazy walks to Yogurtland.
New-ness for school also means the return of people into our lives who want to get to know us better or, far worse, already think they know us based on how we look or how we dress or where we live.
I like the insulation Summer provides our family. Kids invite people into their lives who know them. They don’t have to bother with people who don’t know them or don’t like them. There’s no drama.
But school forces us back into a different, more democratic, reality.
We ask our kids to start the school year off with an open mind. You might get assigned to a class or a teacher you don’t like. Or you might have to sit next to someone or play on the playground with someone who doesn’t like you. Approach those moments with the same open mind we approach our visits to Yosemite. You never know what you might discover around the next bend? It might be that what you don’t already know is better than what you’ve already experienced.
That’s all fine and dandy until reality sets in. As much as I’d like to think our family celebrates open-mindedness, we probably don’t do it very well. Certainly, each day we experience people who are closed-minded.
Truly, an open mind is a rare gem. Like a diamond or emerald, it’s something you have to protect because everyone is out to use it for their own purpose.
Ascending Mount Assumption
Like millions of people I struggle with the assumptions people make about me. (and my family) You can sometimes see the calculations flashing before their eyes. “An overweight white guy, goes to church, drives a minivan, has kids. He must….”
“Don’t assume anything. When you do that it’ll make an ass out of you and me.” I remember my 7th grade English teacher saying that as the class erupted in giggles. She was teaching us to spell the word correctly. But that phrase is also full of truth.
One of the great challenges we all face is our own assumptions.
Like navigating an Alpine meadow trail to the next set of mountains we each ascend Mount Assumption every time we try something new or meet someone new. We assume things that must be true of them because of what they look like, what language they speak, where they went to school, how they dress, the color of their skin, their gender, on and on and on. Likewise, they also assume things about us.
The challenge we all face is ascending the mountain of your own assumptions to get to the heart of the matter. Not all people are ___. Not everything thinks ____. To get there we have to open our minds to new realities.
To find common ground we must both ascend Mount Assumption, on our own paths and at our own pace, to meet at the summit. At the summit, now clear of the hard work of our ascent of Mount Assumption, we truly see one another. Together we forget about the process and enjoy a shared experience.
But this is hard work. It’s a test of character. And failure is an option.
But, just like in hiking, once we’ve gotten to the top the first time it’s easier the second because you know what to expect!
And, I believe, it’s the people who will embrace this hard work– Ascending Mount Assumption– who will truly help us regain a society of shared trust. See, just like our shared ownership of the National Parks binds us together the continual hard work of ascending Mount Assumption to embrace the Sirens tune of a share experience becomes our own Greatest Invention.