Friday, October 12, 2007

The following is from a book by Elizabeth Gilbert The Last American Man, quoting Eustace Conway:
"The world is ruled by a few basic physical laws--leverage, inertia, momentum, thermodynamics--and if you are out of touch with these fundamental principles, then you can't hammer a nail, carry a bucket or roll a wheel. That means you are out of touch with the natural world. Being out of touch with the natural world means you've lost your humanity and that you live in an environment that you completely do not understand. Can you even begin to imagine my horror at this? Can you begin to comprehend what's been forgotten in just a few generations? It took mankind one million years to learn how to roll a wheel, but it only took us fifty years to forget."

We've forgotten, of course, because of the oldest natural law on the books: Use it or lose it. Kids can't manage the simplest tools because they have no need to learn. It serves no purpose in their comfortable, well appointed lives. Their parents can't teach them this kind of physical dexterity, because they, by and large, don't have it either. Don't need it, never learned it, no call for it anymore. But we know things weren't always this way. Even a century ago, for instance, there wasn't a man in America who didn't carry some kind of knife with him at all times. Whether it was for skinning bears or trimming cigars, a man needed a knife as a basic tool for living, and he knew how to take care of it and sharpen it and handle it. Who needs a knife now?
One of the surest ways to counter the consumer mentality is to stop buying our children the kinds of objects that distract and entertain rather than educate. This year, for Christmas, instead of plastic objects with hazardous lead paints, how about buying them real tools and materials for their education in physical reality? Knives and scissors might be the best way to begin a renewal of American creativity. Give them tools and the opportunity to engage with real materials in the real world. They and you will learn that happiness isn't something that comes in a box... that there is a deeper thing called joy, that is discovered in relation to the natural world when shared with mentors and lived as wisdom.

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