If children are the future, what sort of world will be waiting for them? Rabbi Rami reflects on his recent conversation with Mind & Life Institute president Susan Bauer-Wu on the Spirituality+Health podcast.
“Our children are our future.”
There are few statements more ubiquitous. Or more vacuous. I’ve heard it spouted by parents who don’t want “our future” (their kids) clouded by knowledge of our racist past, and I’ve heard it spouted by parents who don’t want our future (their kids) frightened by people armed to the teeth with automatic weapons. I’ve heard it spouted by parents who don’t want our future confused by a baby penguin who has two dads, and I’ve heard it spouted by parents who don’t want our future terrified by moms terrified by a baby penguin who has two dads. But as maddening as all this may be, it is nothing compared to what is really threatening our children: the climate catastrophe unfolding all around them.
The 2023 UN study on climate change tells us that at best, the Earth will heat up 2.5°F in my grandsons’ lifetime. This means that hundreds of millions of people will lack sufficient food to eat and water to drink. Tens of millions will be forced to migrate due to rising seas and severe weather. I’m not just talking about Haitians migrating to Florida—I’m talking about millions of Floridians migrating to Ohio. If Texans demand we close their border to hundreds of thousands of South Americans, just wait and see what happens when millions of Texans, armed with AR-15s, desperately cross into Idaho and face millions of Idahoans armed with the same.
As one neighbor said to me recently, “Our children are our future. That is why I am arming my ten-year-old now.”
This was on my mind as I prepared for my podcast interview with Susan Bauer-Wu, the president of the Mind & Life Institute, an organization co-founded by the Dalai Lama in 1987 to bring science and contemplative wisdom together to better understand the mind and create positive change in the world. Dr. Bauer-Wu’s new book is A Future We Can Love: How We Can Reverse the Climate Crisis with the Power of Our Hearts & Minds.
Sadly, Dr. Bauer-Wu and I are not of like minds. I do not believe we can “reverse the climate crisis” and certainly not with the power of the hearts and minds we currently have. What we can do, however, is mitigate the suffering the climate crisis brings, but that will require harnessing the power of what the Prophet Ezekiel calls a “new heart” and a “new spirit” (Ezekiel 36:26). This “new heart” is the opposite of what the prophet calls a “heart of stone,” which is our current heart (Ezekiel 11:19).
The stone hearts we currently have are hardened to the suffering of the planet and people outside our immediate circle of concern. The minds we currently have “see the world through a distorting lens” (I Corinthians 13:12) dividing person from planet, and separating people into warring religions and tribes.
There is no easy way to replace our old hearts and minds with new ones. Nor is there one right way to do so. Spirituality+Health Magazine is devoted to sharing numerous practices that can help you with this task. Find one that speaks to you and devote yourself to it. It will require serious introspection, meditation, and contemplative practice. Planting a forest is easy compared to planting a new consciousness in ourselves and our children. But remember: our children are our future.
Listen to the podcast that inspired this essay here.