I always feel blessed to be in the peer group of amazing people, especially when they send me stuff that accidentally becomes a harmonic convergence. To wit: the always-essential Tammy sent a link to the 7 Billionth Person Project – a multimedia cultural tool that asks:
The 7 billionth person will be born on October 31, 2011… What would YOU like to tell this person about the world?
After sitting on the question all day, I noticed I was getting more and more negative. The world doesn’t seem more hopeless than ever, it just seems, um, vaguely shittier. I suppose I always believed that things necessarily had to get better for humanity, that we might experience a few hiccups, but the overall trajectory was positive.
I don’t really believe that anymore, or if I do, the trajectory – or the “moral arc” referenced by MLK – bends so barely that you’ll never see it in three lifetimes. That’s fine, I guess. The world doesn’t owe us anything, and humans are animals. But I don’t think that’s what the 7th billion person wants to hear.
Oddly enough, it was another email – from my brilliant brother Kent – that tweaked my mind back. His most recent blog mentioned the Oblique Strategies card deck created by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt. These “oracle cards” each had little phrases meant to free your creative process whenever it had foundered.
You see these kinds of phrases everywhere, now that industrial design has embraced detached idealism, but back in 1975, I’m sure it was a revelation. The cards said things like “Remember Quiet Evenings”, “Mechanicalize Something Idiosyncratic” and “Discover the recipes you are using and abandon them”.
Kent, of course, created his own oracle, the Obtuse Strategies Deck, cards “informed by my jaundiced world view, and in no small part, my own failings as a human being.”
A few samples:
• Leave out the important part
• Flatter the deluded
• Subvert while appearing to cooperate
• Niggle, always
• Curse the virtuous
• Laugh hardest at the unfunny
The whole list is brilliant, and it made me think of my own (and no doubt y’all can think of more). After really delving deep into the little sentences that sum up the worst parts of myself… suddenly, they all seemed like viable things to tell the 7 Billionth Person.
Or, at the very least, consider telling them, but really keeping them to yourself. Because privately accepting your most damaged self frees the rest of you to make the magnanimous pronouncements the world so clearly craves.