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  • Writer's pictureDavid Carlson

561 Each human being is bred with a unique set of potentials that yearn to be fulfilled

Day 561: Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Each human being is bred with a unique set of potentials that yearn to be fulfilled as surely as the acorn yearns to become the oak tree within it.


My indigenous Pomo neighbors call this the "Acorn Falling Time." In days gone by elders would teach the children which oak trees were the best for collecting acorns. The acorns were stored in large baskets. When the right time came, they were ground with stone pestles, leached with water to take out the tannic acid, then boiled over red-hot stones. This produced the flour from which the bread and mush were made which kept the community alive through the winter months.

Out my window I sometimes see a squirrel likewise preparing for winter as did my Pomo neighbors. The squirrel spends much of the day dashing from a hiding place to the oak trees, finding acorns and scurrying back to store them away for the days that are coming.

So why am I going on about acorns? Is it simply the ramblings of a 90-year-old man sputtering in his dotage? Well, that's for you to decide.

I believe we are in for a harsh cultural winter in our American nation and we must prepare. It seems to me that our sense of community and interest in the common good, except in some local areas, has vanished. Many will say this is because of the former president. That is wrong. Donald Trump became president because our nation was already fractured. Why? There are many theories about that. The real question is what each of us should do now. I am convinced it has something to do with the intellectual nourishment (acorns of the mind) that various generations can provide for each other.

I read that for the first time in history we have five generations present in the workplace. Those veterans of life born between 1922 and 1943, which includes me, have self-identified as the “Greatest Generation.” Those born between 1944 and 1960 are known as “The Boomers.” Then there are those born between 1961-1980 — “Generation X.”

Between 1922 and 1980 we were mostly at war. This was brought home for me when I was early for a meeting at the State Department. I looked through their art gallery and all the pictures depicted war! Andrew Cordier (1901-1975), who I was related to by marriage and who was at that time an Under Secretary-General of the United Nations, was coming down the stairs.

I told him I was surprised to find that all the pictures were of war. In true diplomatic language he responded, “Toby, I am only surprised that you are surprised.” It is often argued that in those days there was also a declining interest in the common good and more concern about parents wanting their children to have a “better” life than they had. That often lead to a focus on making money. War and money frequently march together.

Many see Generation X as a kind of bridge. Perhaps this was the first generation that took seriously the quest for finding a balance between personal life and career. Then we come to the Millennials, born between 1981 and 2000, and Generation Z, those born after 2000. As one study puts it, “They are incredibly pragmatic, hopeful, determined to change the world.” They also live in an alternate universe of “social media,” often with hundreds of friends on Facebook. They can self-design means of getting information on current events or anything else.

My original point was, if you haven't guessed it already, that Generation X, the Millennials, and those in Generation Z are our acorns. They must be treated with the same respect and importance as the Pomo treat their acorns. However, we all know many people who do not fit in those generational baskets.

There are not many folks left in the “Greatest Generation.” The vast majority of those I work with and consider friends and colleagues would be called “boomers.” They have been, and still are, advocates for the common good in all its many facets. I'm very impressed by the Millenials and Gen Zer’s I know who constitute most of my family. But I also hear about people in the same generations who are randomly killing others, setting fire to grasslands, engaged in hurtful financial schemes, and doing a host of other things that indicate a total disregard of the common good.

So where does that leave us? Far be it from me to attempt to give general advice to young adults. People who left them such a mess are not the ones to instruct them on how to clean it up. But there is a challenge for those of us in the older generations. Oh, the rocking chair can be quite appealing at times but so can engaging in the struggle to shake up the status quo! What we in the older group know as experience, the younger people have to learn as history. Experience and history are not the same thing. Our experience is needed.

For example, on May 4, 1970 at Kent State University in Ohio, four students in a rally protesting the extension of the Vietnam war into Cambodia were killed by members of the Ohio National Guard. Reading about it in a history book is nothing compared with living a few miles away and knowing the national struggle in which this terrible tragedy took place. We know, and can often share, something of the actual impact of events of this nature.

As we older folk remember the experiences we've had, we must also recall the dreams and the disappointments of our life. As Ram Dass (1931-2019) puts it, “We are still here.” There is a quote possibly from Mary Ann Evans, whose pen name was George Eliot (1819-1880) that none of us should forget:

It is never too late to be what you might have been.

Ok, she may have lifted it from Cato The Elder (234-149 BCE). Though we aren’t sure of the source for the quote, it is a good one to remember. Let's all try being what we might have been! In my case I'm a few months away from 91 and it’s not too late to ask myself that question. You can do the same. Whatever that gap is, it can be filled.

We are all acorns. Our unique life experiences provide one aspect of intellectual nourishment needed by those who have come after us, just as the newer generations nourish their elders’ broader understanding of the world. The future lies within all of us. Lest you think this is a new thought, here is another quote from way back — Aristotle ( 384 BCE – 322 BCE) said: Each human being is bred with a unique set of potentials that yearn to be fulfilled as surely as the acorn yearns to become the oak tree within it.

And I would gently remind my younger colleagues engaged in the task of making the world better, that it is said that the finest acorns fall from the oldest trees — actually I just made that up, but you can quote me.

A Reflection by Brother Toby

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