Riff on Revkin: The Potential of Puberty

The world I live in heals me and frustrates me. This world that is so placidly beautiful and stable, while simultaneously cruel, shortsighted, and unresolved. I can sit here in my cozy home while I write, comfortable and content with the sound of the rain and the birds, knowing my husband and son are well, and we are stable physically and financially. I can think outside this moment and feel the fear, the disturbance of a world that is frenetically busy, growing exponentially without plan, raping and destroying so many species of plants and animals, and undermining systems including cultures, histories, ecologies. The dichotomy in my single cadre of experiences is sometimes overwhelming.

I want to riff a bit on the concept of our world being in its puberty. And by our world, I mean we, all of us, our societal make-up of personages, are teenagers in experience, in reaction, and in potential.

I find each of these quotes informative to our present state. And where else will you get quotes from such a diverse pool of contributors?

  • “Take chances, make mistakes, and get messy.” Ms. Frizzle, the Magic School-bus
  • “If you are going through hell, keep going.” Winston Churchill
  • “Other than dying, I think that puberty is probably about as rough as it gets.“ Rick Springfield
  • “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” Thomas Edison

We are physically strong, yet emotionally underdeveloped. We want what we want when we want it and are capable and strong enough to get it. However, this is a phase of life when we start to become adult and learn that true power lies in compassion. A couple of deep breaths might help us to make better decisions, yet we don’t always take those couple of breaths. We reflect this lack of compassion in political decisions affecting border crossings and in the intensely disturbing revelations of abuse throughout our societies. “Might over right” is affecting our relationship to planetary systems as well. Just because we can pump water 400 miles over mountains to allow development in a desert area, should we? Breathe.

We are proud and slip often into arrogance and dismissal of others. As teenagers, we start to take pride in making our own decisions and in doing things for ourselves, but we forget we build our successes on knowledge shared by others, and on the foundation of support of parents and peers. And we push away inputs and have no respect for people who have experienced more. Their experience is not ours. Every time we take credit without sharing credit we create isolation and deny ourselves the springboard of even greater achievement. I see this in dynamics throughout society including “starchitect” firms and in political parties and in neighborhood dynamics. And in the legal process of reducing risk in every transaction, instead of collaborating for even greater gains. Luckily, I also see this dissipating as we engage in Integrative Design Process, in ecological thinking, and as we increase diversity in our power generation. We must work together for significant success.

We are self-confident yet crave approval. There is an odd clash in our responses in that we seek uniqueness and want appreciation for that singularity, yet we are not brave enough to be unique without the approval of our social set. We are pleased to be different, and lonely in our difference.

We are pleased to be different, and lonely in our difference.

This is amply reflected in the current political divide in the USA. We say we are different from the other party and we desire approvals from our own party so much that we make that divide larger and deeper in each and every debate. This political separation is causing unbelievable damage worldwide as we neglect the things that really matter, such as clean water, clean air, clean energy, equity of access to solutions and diversity of solutions and participants.

We are so very smart, yet we are actively pruning our brains. We lose a lot of learning in our teenage years so that our brains can strengthen the most important branches of gained knowledge. Our situational knowledge and even core concept understanding can be dangerously spotty. We resolve this with forced tunnel vision to helps us get through the tasks at hand, and this focus, ignoring context and peripheral inputs, undermines our ability to create real, lasting success.

We are figuring out “I” and have not yet identified “we”. We have grown past needing our parents and sometimes push them far away. We are striving for independence and have not yet achieved the higher level of interdependence. Many people never reach this level of understanding and engagement in life. We draw any line designating an “us” and “them” when we could do so much more as “we”. Each time we speak of nature as separate from us, we lose ground. We dismiss other species as animals to be dominated by us in nearly the same way the popular kids at school (as depicted in every John Hughes movie) ostracize, abuse, and use the geeks or the misfits or the brainiacs.

We are un-restful in our own bodies…on our own planet.

We are experiencing a heady mix of angst and anticipation tied to this transitional phase. Think of zugunruhe, which is the agitation of a species just before migration. There is a hope in this agitation, a preparation for flight, a deep, connected pull that is part of the evolutionary story. And the flight, once achieved, is a release and a welcoming to our next phase.

In some ways we are also experiencing Koyaanisqatsi: life out of balance. And we are constantly seeking the answer to this lack of balance, but we are so caught up in making the small immediate corrections that we have not addressed the fundamental issues creating the lack of balance, and we are unable to take the long view that can help us to keep steady. A pubescent cacophony of mixed needs and gaps in our awareness has us trapped.

We are currently going through this hell of puberty. We must keep going, it will be about as rough as it gets, it will be messy, we will make mistakes, and yes, it is truly an opportunity for us all. If we transition well, we will learn strength within the arms of compassion. We will learn that the wisdom of many is more innovative and honest than the wisdom of one, and we will learn from and grow with colleagues and fellow travelers while we humble ourselves enough to learn from nature’s millennia of experiences. We will maintain focus and will become more aware of the inter-connectivity across ideas, cultures, and systems to see the synergies. We can then maximize those benefits while avoiding the harm inherent in “externalities” which truly don’t exist in a closed system such as planet earth. We will finally come to a comfortable and fulfilled recognition of “we”, celebrating the flight that releases us to this next phase in which we start to work with and in nature’s complex systems and limits. We will understand that benefiting ecological systems benefits us and will realize the vast power in nurture and support rather than domination.

Here’s to the disruptive potential of puberty.


– Thank you to Andrew Revkin’s blog piece “Puberty on the Scale of a Planet”, and his recent article in National Geographic June 2018, “Climate: The More Things Change…”

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