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The Speed of Progress

People often speak about how change seems to be occurring ever faster. But I just realized that stagnation also occurs.

Yesterday, April 12 was the 30th anniversary of Space Shuttle Columbia’s first flight, and the 50th anniversary of the first space flight of a human being, Yuri Gagarin. In a mere 20 years, we went from putting the first human into space to landing humans on the moon to the first two space stations to the first reusable spacecraft. Amazing.

“But what have you done for me since then?” It seems our space program (in particularly the human space program) has stalled. More nations have joined in launching humans into space, we’ve built a new larger, more impressive space station, but that’s about it as far as humans in space are concerned.

We’ve focused on expanding our unmanned programs, but the spirit of the explorer has diminished in us as a people. Exploring is dangerous, and we have trouble stomaching sacrifice in the name of exploration.

We crave safety more than freedom and new horizons. We seem content to increase our luxury rather than our reach. Is this a phase or a real stagnation? Is it a natural rest after exertion or a real move away from exertion?

Is it all bad? I don’t know. I see benefits to enjoying and exploiting the fruits of one’s labors, but when the rest exceeds the length of the exertion, it is time to ask questions.

Yes, I know there are a multitude of complex factors that have contributed to our lack of drive in the human space program, but reasons can become excuses if aged too long.

The ‘Space Race’ was expensive, yet fueled amazing progress and simultaneously fired the imaginations and passions of several generations. Are we willing to lose that for ‘practical’ reasons, or treat the reasons as obstacles to be overcome?

We as humans need vision, dreams, things far beyond ourselves for which to aspire. As I talk with my students, I find their dreams are too small, they are too tired to lift their eyes higher, and too jaded to believe such dreams are worth having.

Yet, in many of them, with just a little prodding, I’ve been able to reignite the beginnings of a spark. All hope is not yet lost, but we are in danger of losing our innovation. It is fading in our young. They are becoming old before their time, and too easily tamed. Their intelligence and raw talent are still intact, but their hearts are crippled. They don’t believe in heroes, and don’t recognize they are weaker for it.

Am I reading too much into this? Maybe. If so, however, it is only a matter of degree, not substance.

What to do?
As I suggested yesterday, we need to share our stories.
We need to inspire vision rather than cynicism.
We need to aspire ourselves to nobler things and nobler attitudes.
We need to worry less about what ‘they’ think, speak truth plainly and graciously, and do right.
We need to not keep our kids running from this event to that, letting them grow at pace, not at breakneck pace.
We are raising them to be tired and overwrought, and the soil of their hearts is too dry for dreams to take hold. Just as it is possible to overfertilize a crop, we can over-enrich our children’s lives.

Our muscles require rest after a workout, and strength grows during that rest.
Our brains and spirits require rest after the struggles of daily life, and inspiration/creativity grow during that rest.

How much more so for our children.


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