The Mythologist

In March, PLC hosted a talk by professional mythologist, Richard Schwab. Not only was I delighted to learn that there actually are professional mythologists, I found much of what Richard had to say to be profoundly connected to the work that we do with young people. Some of my favorites:

  1.  Taking control. He spoke about the lack of initiation rites for young people in our educational system and society. He mentioned how adults essentially direct the lives of young people minute to minute through the first 18 years of their lives to the point of requiring 18-year-olds to ask permission to use the bathroom in school. And then a couple of weeks later when they have graduated and are off to college, we ask them to declare a major and tell everyone what they want to do with the rest of their lives. Teenagers are capable of so much more. Perhaps we can find ways to start giving young people more control and real responsibility earlier in the process.
  2. Stable ground. Getting used to being self-directed can sometimes be a bit disorienting. Richard gave the example of horizontal walking escalators in airports. When you walk on those for just a couple of minutes and then step off at the end and start walking under your own power again, it feels a little bit weird and disconcerting for a couple moments. Now imagine young people who are essentially on the school-college-career conveyor belt for 15-20 years. Stepping off and starting to live life under your own power can take some time to get used to.
  3. Empty space. Richard talked about how Eastern and Western traditions view empty space differently. In the West, we view “doing nothing productive” as a waste, an empty tea cup as offering nothing valuable. In some Eastern traditions they see empty space as valuable potential. How many of us run from thing to thing being “productive” and “busy” and filling up our time with “stuff” and never have time to consider if all of that “stuff” is really what we want in our life? Do we expect our children to essentially do the same thing – fill out worksheets, study for tests, “produce” and “perform” in the most general sense without considering if this is what is best or has value? Is it just busywork?