Grandfather’s Apology

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CommonDreams.org

Grandfather’s Apology

by
Robert Barkley Jr.

Dear Spencer, Sarah, and Brooke:

First, I must tell you once again that I love you dearly. And the same was and is true of my two children who are, with their spouses, your parents. But in their case, I was fairly confident I would be there to protect and guide them through tough times -- as well as to celebrate the many good times. And luckily, so far, there have been far more good times than bad.

But, alas, unfortunately, I fear some very bad times ahead. And I suspect I will not be here for much of those times -- although they coming so fast and luckily I am in such good health that I may see more of these bad times than I had hoped to. The upside of that is that I will be able to see each of you some more -- despite the hard times.

Now let me get to the real reason for my letter.

And that reason is that I want to apologize to you. I want to apologize for what I, and my generation, have left you to clean up. You cannot help but do a better job than we have. I guess we did some good things along the way, but it sure doesn't feel that way now as we approach one of the most important and negative presidential campaigns I have ever experienced. And no matter which candidates win that election, I am not confident we can get our mess cleaned up soon enough and well enough to make the difference I had always envisioned for you and your generation.

First, there's the environment. What a beautiful world we live in -- still despite all we have done and are continuing to do that is destroying it. We have allowed our worship of cars and energy and fancy buildings and animal slaughter and uncontrolled population growth and chemically manufactured foods and drugs and easy living to go on so long that we have literally plundered our land. Now we are threatened with an irreversible change in our planet. I sure hope that you can all survive and be happy here and that your friends will also, but the prognosis sure isn't very good. I apologize for leaving you with all that. It isn't fair.

Second, irresponsibly we have even done many of the things I just mentioned beyond our means to pay for them. So we have built up this awful thing called debt. It means that we spend money we don't really have and don't even see our way to getting. It's silly I know, but our government has done it, our businesses have done it, and many of us have done it personally. It was stupid and greedy and horribly unfair to you, but it's done. I apologize for leaving you with all that. It isn't fair.

Third, as mentioned already, we have grown our population to such an extent that we apparently will not have the water, food, and employment opportunities to handle all those people. This means that the already extremely high levels of poverty and starvation now present in our world will only grow larger -- even among people who came from decent families and are reasonably well educated. How could we allow this to happen? It's sad and very depressing. I apologize for leaving you with all that. It isn't fair.

Fourth, I spent my entire life working in public education. In many ways the system we have has failed us. Too many people tried to use the system to push their sordid ideas on you rather than to preserve and nurture in you and your friends an abiding love of learning. No matter what, always pursue greater learning. Don't think that when formal school ends, like so many of my generation have done, that you can ride out the rest of your life. Doing so produces huge numbers of uninformed voters who are ill equipped to lead our society or even to pick those who should. Also, learning is not about all those crazy subjects you take in school. It's about making sense of the reality you face, making connections between all that's going on around you, learning how to survive AND help others to do so as well. It's not about competing and winning against others. It's about growing and winning for everyone. Many will tell you what I just said is naïve. Don't believe them. I apologize for leaving you with all that. It isn't fair.

Fifth, and maybe worst of all, there is this thing called war. It is stupid, almost always unnecessary, and can be avoided only by engaging with others not just like you. I use the word "engage" very purposefully while many would use the term "tolerance of others" instead. Being tolerant is not enough. We must engage with others so that we really get to know them and they get to know us. Anything short of full and ongoing engagement will prove inadequate and will eventually lead back to competition and that leads to wars. You see, we are part of a worldwide community, and being a community means accepting that we all belong together. A whole lot of people can't accept that concept -- particularly when it comes to religion. This all means that we have to engage with others, not just tolerate them. We celebrate those who have sacrificed for our country's interests in times of war, and most assuredly they have done what they felt was right and necessary at the time. But I celebrate even more those who did their utmost to engage with others and avoid war and avoid killing and objected strenuously to war and tried desperately to bring wars to quick and peaceful conclusions. I apologize for leaving you with all that. It isn't fair.

Sixth, there is the horrendous amount of greed that is present in our society. Greed is a terrible thing. It means we want too much for ourselves without regard for what others need and deserve. We see it most in our economic system. That's the system we have put together to allow people to work and earn money. Some people -- like your parents -- do very well in that system, but some do not. Some try very hard and are good people but they still don't do well. Some are simply born into poverty. You are each very lucky. Why should a poor child born to poverty get less than you? They did not pick their families or their country. Did you get to pick the great parents and homes and schools you have - oh, and your great grandparents? Heck no. It just happened. Don't ever forget your good luck and the bad luck of many others. Try not to become greedy. Try hard not to want too much when others have so little. There is far too much of that in our world. And if you continue to be lucky, please remember to share freely what you have. I apologize for leaving you with all that. It isn't fair.

Seventh, much of what I have talked about is caused by bad habits. Habits are hard to break. But we have to do it sometimes. And doing it means we have to embrace change and growth. I say change AND growth because change is pretty much inevitable but growth is not. You will find when you study the world of politics that change and growth take on very odd dimensions. A very smart man, about a hundred years ago, pointed out that conservatives (those who tend to resist change) would rather live with what is already wrong as opposed to progressives (those who tend to pursue change) who would like to replace what we do now with something that will also probably be wrong. I guess the point there is that change isn't the issue, growth is -- but growth can only occur when we accept change. Don't be closed to change. Most of our problems today are caused by our unwillingness to change and our comfort with old habits. I apologize for leaving you with all that. It isn't fair.

Eighth, and last for this little sermon, I have always been fascinated with what it takes to be a leader. We have not done very well in providing you good leaders. I have come to understand that leadership requires humility. And humility requires having and listening to your conscience. Always be humble. It will serve you much better than being boastful and too full of yourself no matter what you accomplish. Leadership requires that a person surround themselves with people who will challenge their thinking rather than endorse it. Leadership includes making and admitting mistakes. Leadership requires establishing meaningful relationships, and this requires the ability to project into the lives and feelings of others -- particularly those quite different than you. There we are back to that concept of engaging with others. Leadership requires engaging with others -- not just telling them what to do. Your best teachers are not those who tell you what to do but those who you become friends with, who understand you and engage with you on a very personal level. Good leaders are good teachers. We don't have many good political leaders in our country right now. I hope some emerge shortly, but I am worried they will not -- or if they do that they will not be able to truly lead because of those around them who are greedy and have no conscience. I apologize for leaving you with all that. It isn't fair.

Well, that's it for now. There are lots of other topics I could write about, but I just get sadder and more apologetic all the time. I love you very much and I'm sorry to leave you with so much of this to figure out. But then I also inherited a bit of a mess that my parents and grandparents left to my generation, and somehow we survived and much of the time we have been very happy. I hope you are at least as lucky as I was. While I'm still around I'm going to still try to make sure I leave you with the best possible world. And please do the same for your children and grandchildren. We are all in this together. It's all about making things better for ALL of us. Please don't forget that part.

Again, I apologize. I better stop now because I'm crying. (Yes, we old people cry too when we're hurt, or sad or worried.) Please forgive me and my generation. I hope you'll do a lot better and cry a lot less.

Love,

Papa

Robert Barkley, Jr., is a counselor in Systemic Education Reform, retired Executive Director of the Ohio Education Association, served as Interim Executive Director of the Maine Education Association, is a thirty-five year veteran of NEA and NEA affiliate staff work, long-term consultant to the KnowledgeWorks Foundation of Cincinnati, Ohio, one time teacher, coach, and local union president. He is the author of Quality in Education: A Primer for Collaborative Visionary Educational Leaders and Leadership In Education: A Handbook for School Superintendents and Teacher Union Presidents.

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