The World Cup and the World’s Future

Steve Roberts color photo: stone sculpture of depicting human and nature

The day after Argentina was crushed 4-zip by Germany in 2010 World Cup play, I happened to begin Bill McKibben’s latest book Eaarth.  The agony of Argentina’s coach, 49 year-old Diego Maradona, in his relationship to soccer, the endeavor that has defined his life, has a lot in common with the agony of the human race in its relationship to our planet.  Each has been living in the glow of a former reality that no longer exists.

For Maradona, it is how soccer needs to be played today versus when he was arguably the best player in the game.  For the human race, according to McKibben, a leading voice for the past 20 years on the dangers of global warming, it is that we have changed our planet to the point that the life we humans have known for the past few centuries is no longer available to us: not today, not tomorrow, not ever again.  It’s not that irrevocable harm “will” occur if we don’t act; it’s that such harm already has occurred, says McKibben.  Our life forward will be dramatically different than our past.  This we no longer have a say about.  All we can do is make the best of a wounded world.  How (or even whether) we do that is the question before us.

Among the best things that can happen to any of us is to come face-to-face with the limits of our knowledge.  It’s a shame it often takes heartbreaking change to penetrate our ridiculous belief that we are mature.  There’s nothing wrong with us, just like there’s nothing wrong with a six year-old, but you’re probably going to be in for a rocky ride if you hand him or her the keys to your Jaguar.  Not even the most brainy of us are immune to immaturity: able perhaps to fuel a spaceship with a hard-boiled egg, but unable to manage fear.  Happiness on demand?  Fuggetaboutit!

What is mature?  How about this?  We take one hundred percent responsibility for everything we think, feel and do.  (Blame becomes one of those antiquated practices like hanging witches.)  And, we are committed to learn from our experience, discovering the implications of every choice we make––it’s impact on us, those around us and the greater world.  Sure, there are rare individuals who live this way today.  More all the time.  But as a species, I feel it may be a few millennia before we crack the code on being a grown-up.  Many of us still operate as if our experience were the Truth.

The 2010 Argentina international football team played as Maradona the player did three decades earlier: attacking ostentatiously.  This singleness of approach was honed at the expense of a corresponding relentless defense.  The imbalance resulted in humbling defeat.

“…this is the toughest moment of my life,” Maradona was quoted as saying immediately after the match. Yet, according to the New York Times’ account, he also made clear that attacking is the only style of play he knows.

Hmmm.  All he knows is what leads to ultimate defeat.

Sounds a bit like humankind’s approach to the world’s animals, vegetables and minerals.  Attacking ostentatiously without a corresponding relentless defense.  Hello gulf oil nonsense and all the other imbalances that leave a wake of devastation.

Will Maradona, in this lifetime, find that the only style of play he knows is not necessarily the only style of play he is capable of knowing?  Or will he remain locked in the past and forfeit his place in guiding the future of the game he loves so dearly?

And what about us chickens?  Bill McKibben might suggest that while we’re definitely shifting our insane relationship with ourselves, it’s going to take a while before that shift is at a scale where we’re creating fewer wounds rather than more of them.

Fortunately, pain is a great teacher.  A few thousand years from now (goes my story) our awakening will have coalesced into a vision more commonly held and more deeply understood of what it means to be a mature person––i.e., a healthy human being.  And when we meet in that incarnation, we’ll laugh tears of compassion as we compare scars from all those lifetimes, like this one, when we were so oblivious of our beauty.

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"I honor that we are killing the earth for the same reason I consider being an alcoholic a privilege: it is a doorway to the profound self-understanding required to make truly healthy choices."

The Essay: Honoring the Killing of the Earth