I arrive late to life’s lessons, funnily enough because I often take the road with potholes. Take debt, for example. Growing up, no one told me a word, good or bad, about taking on debt. So like a good consumer, I fell for the slickness, and boy did I fall. Car loans, student debt (the lies I told myself!), a hasty mortgage, and oh, the credit cards. I have ridden all the cultural financial waves and as I approach life in my fifties, it’s fair to say that I am finally taking responsibility for myself. Realizing that I would be paying off a final round past the age of fifty was a harsh wake-up call. But in that lesson, blessin’. What has happened for me is the queering of a long-lived idea of linearity — in this case, wisdom has allowed me to face a truth and reframe my story.
Truth Takes a Gap
As a Gen X kid, I found my footing in a time when newspapers, universities, science etc were still revered as bastions of truth. Not only did we lean on them to understand the nuances of topic X, but we relied on them to inform us on the daily about ABC and D. Now we find ourselves legitimately trying to find our way through a post-truth world. Our feelings about the reliability of this outlet or that organization are irrelevant- there is no universal fact-checking moving us forward. There is no conspiracy here nor planned obsolescence. It is the result of many things and nothing. So where do we turn? What, if anything, is left standing? You. Everyone stands in their truth, all to different degrees. But there is no institution or philosophy that will work for everyone today, so we must learn to trust ourselves in new ways and retell the stories that matter.
Speak to your fam
Perhaps one of the most culturally damaging parts of the story we tell are the missing ones- where do we come from, who were our people and what were their stories. Huge caveat here, the we on this one is specific. I am speaking about white people in dominant cultures where our lineage explicitly comes from colonization. If this were something easy, it would have been done in the 90s. But here we are. And praise be, in many of the courses and sharings that I participate in, many people are placing this front and center. This may mean speaking to your living people, or not. If you’re estranged from your family or if you find that no one seems to know anything more than you’ve already got, that’s ok. Keep working. Check your genetic record. Get yourself on Ancestry.com. And when you get stuck, or before, make some room in your home and invite them in. Find practices that work for you but are not appropriation. The ancestors communicate, but believe me, they will also block or call you out if you aren’t reaching out to them in ways that honor them and their journeys. And if all you have is the name of a great-grandparent and you feel that’s not enough, dive deeper into that water. Your ancestral trail runs back to the first humans and beyond. Include them, speak to them, feed them. When you get some comfort with your practice, speak about it to your circles, make it part of your story because that history is essential to it. And don’t be surprised if, while doing this work, you start to think about yourself as an ancestor-to-be and what that means to how you live now.
Know Your Place
Another disjoint for many people in dominant culture societies is a sense of homelessness. This is not to detract from or diminish the stark challenges of lived experience. Rather, it is a reckoning that bouncing around from city to state to country, whether willingly or not, creates a dissonance in our lives. Historically, the more we knew about place, the better off we were. Today we cram our minds with digital fiber unrelated to place, unable to digest or make use of it. And for most of us, the best we can do around the idea of homeland is to make a pilgrimage or two. But each place has a story, all nuanced, and you are a part of the story of every place you’ve lived, as it is part of your story. And there is so much to know. History. Geography. People. Animals. Climate. Trees. Future. Staying in place in our societies, in this time, is incredibly hard. Additionally, increases in frequency and intensity of polycrisis will generate mass migrations like never before, with far reaching effects. Yet we can commit to knowing our place, giving time every day to learn, record, reflect and make our lives with place as an equal partner. Place matters, for better or worse, and while we can’t change the history of where we come from, we can take ownership of where we are now and how we incorporate it into our story. There is truth where your feet stand.
Education across all levels is now facing its own crisis. This is not a crisis of access, evaluation or even of pedagogy, but rather a crisis of meaning and worth. What does it mean to learn now? What should children, teens and adults be learning? How does it guarantee value? Will education for profit consume itself? While politicians and neoliberal chancellors may think they know the future, they are only ever guessing- with as much certainty as an incoming high school freshman. But there is good news about education- you can study anything you want today and create your own path to get there. There are incredibly knowledgeable, approachable and wise teachers who are still eager to share, regardless of the state of education. So go learn something new, or something old, every day. Maybe it’s a YouTube tutorial. Maybe it’s that PhD you always thought was too hard. It doesn’t matter- what matters is that you recognize and seize this moment, which may be a short window. Find your elders. Pursue your fire. Rebuild mythology. Or just learn how to fix a light. The more you learn, the sharper and rounder your mind becomes. This process will help you to make sense of the world, of what is true or not, and how to think about the crisis of education. It will offer much to help understand, synthesize and elucidate the story of your life.
Just as there is much to be gained through learning, there is even more to be gained in unlearning. Unlearning isn’t as simple as forgetting. To benefit from the process, one needs to understand first what it is you want to unpack and uncover the five Ws (plus how) of what you took on. Then start fresh, building on the resources available and including diverse lived experience whenever possible. One place you can start is the cultural scripts of our lives. If you’re unhappy with your work, your relationships, your trajectories, seek out the scripts and seek out all the scripts you’ve got and cosplay Sherlock. The more you hone this skill, the more you can apply and share it. At its core, unlearning demands that we get to the truth of the matter. What better way to become a subject matter expert in the story of your life?
Have you ever been burned by a novel or film that had a sudden and terrible end? Then you understand that how a story ends matters- always. If there are aspects of your life that aren’t being driven by a future version of yourself, then you may find things coming to a sudden and terrible (or drawn out and still terrible) end. Looking ahead is a challenge, no matter whether it’s one person’s story or the future of AI on humanity. But in both of those instances, things will move along regardless. If we don’t think about either, then we are likely in for some rude shocks. If you’re in your 20s, it’s probably manageable for you to imagine life (or a few) in your 30s. But what about your 50s? 70s? What do you see? What do you definitely not want to see? What will it take to get there? What needs attention, or avoidance? And how are you living now that will help your ideal meet you in a few decades? Imagine yourself with the qualities you hope to achieve and hold onto. Record it, just for yourself, and find truth in living up to that. For example, I chose to move out of the work I was in to help myself find meaning and to provide an example for my kids. That comes from appreciating a future version of myself- it also recognizes that I wasn’t doing this in the past.
Memes the Word
Hyperindividualism and saturation of social media both played significant roles in the destruction of institutional truth. In learning to trust ourselves, it is vital to check our truth against these larger forces. Despite these, and the many other challenges of our time, it’s vital for your truth to be shared. Whether that be through craft, creativity, research, coding, no matter. What is important is that a truth was pushed out, and there are people craving it. Don’t sweat the likes, disregard the views, don’t monetize your story. Yeah you’ve got to eat, but trust that your truth will take care of you, and that it does more by feeding the hungry and helping them to fish, as it were. Put it out, get back to your efforts, and then meme us again. We’re not sated.
What has been shared here is only touching on the ways to get to truth and integrate it into your story. Truth is embodied, it is in our hearts and souls, it dwells in our familial and community relationships. And it shifts, from person to place to day to experience. We are now in a time when reliance on self as an arbiter of truth is an essential skill. Yes it’s work, but it’s worth the effort to hone and speak your story through the lens of self-validated truth. I’m not suggesting that anyone get on a pedestal and speak to capital T truth. Rather, it is time to let go of the idea that truth will eventually sum to wisdom. With wisdom, we can observe and decide what is true for us, how that affects our story, and share both the essence and the process with others.