Campfires, Stories, and Saving the World

This past July 4th weekend we were with our amazing friends in NJ, playing in boats, drinking…drinks, eating excellent homemade food, and relaxing near a campfire as the sun went down and stars (and fireworks) played above and around the lake.

And we talked. A lot. And we listened. A lot.

At one point someone brought up transgender and their discomfort with people identifying their preferred pronoun, expressing great confusion and resistance to why this happens. “Aren’t they just wanting attention? We all can be whoever we are so why make a fuss, an announcement?” I won’t go into the whole discussion as it was many layered, it ebbed and flowed, it got heated, frustrating, and it got personal at several points. I will say it was always respectful, curious, and enlightening. And we left the fire and the discourse with thanks and hugs. No one won and no one lost. Actually, I take that back. We all won as I truly believe we all learned something about the issue, each other, and/or ourselves.

There were several years near the end of my mother’s life when I tried to connect with her and hear some of stories about her childhood. I figured as she was born in 1927, a depression baby, she had experiences magnificent and debilitating, and I wanted to hear about them. 

When I was younger I certainly heard an occasional funny family tale when there were late-night, congenial gatherings. A recognition on her part that she disliked hand made clothes because everything she ever had was hand made in the years of the depression. Some cute, romantic stories about my mom and dad and how she chased him until he caught her. Whispers of something about my grandmother being accused of poisoning her dad? And something about a very phallic wooden carved torch that was gifted each Christmas and often caused mass hilarity. Little detail, and I wanted to know more. 

I wanted to know more about the experience of the 1938 hurricane along the CT and RI coast. Was my grandmother really a bootlegger, smuggling illegal bathtub-gin in her veggie basket to market and neighbors when she was 8 years old? I wanted to know more about why we have a stand up Edison phonograph and many slate records, and is it true my great uncle worked for Edison, and is it true there is more to that story. (Intrigue? Danger? Spying?) 

But she resisted talking about her life. I gave her a tape recorder. I tried to bring up things to discuss. I made very little traction before altzheimers took the memories… I got no “deeper” stories. No stories about illness. None about hardship. None about the war. None about McCarthism, or about the severe anxiety as my brother waited to be drafted to the Vietnam war…

We are losing. 

  • We are losing the ability to talk about difficult subjects and rail with disagreement and try to learn and win over others and personally grow while maintaining respect and love.
  • We are also losing our generational memories and transcendent generational knowledge.

Both are exceptionally valuable.

Why are we losing these? Enlightened, respectful debate is lost in part because we have become a society that self-selects nearly everything. This is the case with Pandora, this is social media, this is Netflix, this is pre-selective dating apps and any app that allows your pre-selected community to define your reading choices in news or entertainment. This is even where and how we live and where and how we work, though at a slightly lesser level. When was the last time you went to an event where you didn’t know most of the people? Setting pick-up bars aside, everything else seems aggressively pre-filtered to meet your selected traits, likes, and dislikes. We have learned how not to be challenged by experiences and thoughts different from our own. 

As a counter to this, I am currently posting this article while sitting in a bar the hotel recommended, and I had the barkeep pour me a flight of beers I know nothing about. Expand your tastes!

As for generational knowledge, In the USA at least, we move away from our families, and we move often. We interact with different generations less because there are fewer extended family structures, at least in middle income and higher, that cross several generations. We learn, typically in one direction, from those older than us, but we do not share true conversations with our elders. And we often partition off our elders in care facilities, away from us. We don’t hear family stories, let alone the history of our community, especially as our community changes often. 

Why is this an issue, I would say a crisis? By not engaging in free-form, friendly, challenging conversations we are losing our ability to function as a democratic society. Truly. We cannot learn, question, assess, or even be introduced to circumstances other than our own. We have lost our empathy due to lack of exposure and practice. Why are the homeless not us? Because they are not us or our FB friends: they are “them”. Why are the rich so different from the 99%? We don’t engage except I transactional ways. What about Democrats, Republicans, Tea party, independents, and non-voters. Do we ever talk to each other? 

By not learning from previous generations what can and has occurred, we don’t remember, as a society, fascism and nazi power. We have no experience with measles, no stories of what it was like to suffer and possibly survive from polio. No methodology for understanding how important water systems are as we don’t pump our own water from our own well anymore. We are now tragically repeating the thoughts and actions that led us, in history past, to terrible circumstances, but we don’t know any better, because we don’t cherish and learn from the experiences of our elders. 

The world and our place will not be saved solely by technology. It will be saved by vertical communities and open, curious, empathetic, communication. 

In brief, I highly recommend you hang out around campfires (or local, diverse bars and coffee shops) often, talk and listen, and begin to save our world.  


About 1/5th of the beer wall selections.
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