“The plain fact is that the planet does not need more successful people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind.”
-David W. Orr, Earth In Mind: On Education, Environment, and the Human Prospect (1994)
I think we all navigate by the stars in our sky. These stars give us a way to chart our course, to decide where we are and where we’re going. Steer towards knowledge. Steer towards money. Steer towards love. These stars give us a way to understand our actions. Pushing around two chunks of melted, refrozen rock-stuff doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but “health” and “shallow self love” might both lead towards lifting weights. I don’t know if it’s possible to live without stars, without looking up to check your progress against some set of goals and values–I suspect it is, and I’d like to think about that–but as long as I’m doing this kind of celestial navigation, I should be careful about the lights I steer by.
Growing up in America, I kept seeing people point out “success” as the most important guide. Were you succeeding? That’s how you knew when you were doing terribly–or, sometimes, when you were doing well. The thing is, if I go out on a clear night and look up at the sky, I’m not at all sure that “success” is my favorite star. In college, I spent some months living by friendship. I gauged my days by how much time I’d spent with the people I loved. I liked that.
These days, as I watch my students, I’m reminded again and again how we point out these constellations for each other. Young people pick their stars, but they usually pick the ones that other people seem to talk about. It’s easy to do that, and it’s hard to leave the talked-about ones behind. When I try to go ahead as a peacemaker, I sometimes find myself wondering why I feel like a failure. In that moment, Orr walks by, and asks, “Well–has your ship gotten off course, or did you choose another star to steer by?”
I’d rather be a lover of any kind, I think, than a success. And I wonder: if you’re honest, if you’re brave, if you go outside on a clear night and look at all those stars, what do you want to be?