Friday, December 28, 2012

5000 Days: The School of Life Project



We asked Rick Stevenson, director of 5000 Days: The School of Life Project, if we could share part of his Christmas letter with our readers. He agreed. Please support this project by buying or downloading the LISTEN series or TWO BROTHERS movie.

As I interview kids turning 12-15 in my 5000 Days project, I find so many of them growing more disillusioned every year. They lose their joy and with it their high expectations. Part of this is just growing up, becoming a teenager and learning the realities of the world. But in an age of political polarization, economic implosion and institutionalized terrorism, what are we supposed to do with all of the bad news?

We found a pretty good answer during our trip to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico in October. My family was with me helping set up the ninth country in the 5000 Days Project. While interviewing the kids there we came upon a fascinating fact. The ancient colonial town has no less than 238 celebrations a year where people fill the town square and affirm the joy of being alive. That’s more than four celebrations a week and, astonishingly, they treat each celebration like it’s the only one to happen all year. They dance, they play music ... and they do it all as families in a multigenerational sort of way. Grandma is right in the middle of it all. Life is messy in Mexico and things are somewhat dysfunctional by our standards. And the people are generally poor, very poor. Yet they are happier than we are. They are grateful for what they have rather than disappointed by what they don’t have.

It seems to me that we have a choice. We can check out or go numb when faced with the preponderance of bad news before us or we can choose to feel it, to feel empathy -- because maybe our humanity depends upon it. And maybe we can take in the bad as long as we’re also celebrating the good through our acts and outlook.

When I was a small boy, my favorite book was HAROLD AND THE PURPLE CRAYON. It spoke to me because Harold was a boy who was not content to lie around and let the world determine things for him -- in his case, bedtime. He actually took his purple crayon and drew up his own adventure. He wanted to take a walk so he drew a road. He wanted to swim so he drew a lake. He started to drown so he drew a boat. He was getting hungry to so he drew some pies upon which to feast. You get the picture.

Harold realized that while he could not fully control the events of the world (bedtime), he could control his reaction to them. He realized that HE was the author of his own life, the illustrator of his own adventure, the ultimate arbiter of his own choices. He was empowered by the fact that he had in his own hands the tools to determine whether “I would become the hero of my own life or whether that station would be held by another.”(David Copperfield, Charles Dickens)

Just like the teens in my 5000 Days Project, there are lots of things reminding us out there of how powerless we are. There are few things reminding us of the power we possess by being the authors of our own lives ... by making the bold, self-dependent choices every day that define us and may in turn help redefine our world.

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