Learning to trust as we look through the fishbowl of life: growing up, getting old, giving back

Do you remember a time when all you wanted to do was to be like the bigger kids? The bigger kids were cool. They were faster, stronger, and older. When you’re young the bigger kids are idolized for how they dress, talk, and behave. It always appeared as if the big kids had more responsibility and freedom; they stayed up later, got to talk on the phone longer, and played more active sports. But as we age we learn that getting older is not as cool or as romantic as our young minds once perceived. In fact, the curiosity and excitement of our youth is perhaps as free as we ever are.

While youth yearn to be older, adults fondly recall the allure of childhood.  We gain wisdom as we age. Wisdom is collected and achieved from our life experiences. Although life’s lessons seem to manifest into wisdom later in life, when our bodies and minds have been well worn; it is never too late to remind ourselves to continue to discover that which provides us with a sense of promise and possibility. Youth does not interpret the things such as limits, controls, risks, and boundaries the manner in which adults do.

My 6-year old son is always telling me he wants to be older. His 4-year old brother has caught on to the “older is cooler” bandwagon as well. I tell them both that they are the perfect age, full of wonder and delight with the world around them, much like the way they have both gazed at their new friend, “Sunny Coleman,” a tropical freshwater Betta Fish species. The boys adore their new friend and member of the household.

The wonder of life

The wonder of life

Sunny is wonderful and a joy to have around. As far as pets for kids go, he is low maintenance. He doesn’t bark, scratch, itch, growl, snarl, hiss, poop, pee, or smell. Sunny is peaceful and beautiful.

Most importantly, Sunny has already begun to capture the imagination of the boys. For example, my wife and I were delighted when the boys wanted to watch Sunny instead of the iPad at meal time. Sunny has shifted the boys’ focus from YouTube, video games, and other electronics stimulation. Don’t get me wrong, they still love their iPad time, but with Sunny in the home they now take time out to learn about and care for another form of life.

As I see the emotional and cognitive growth of my two sons motivated by a fish they named Sunny, it reminds me of the power of life, in all of its forms. Humans are fascinated by all that is alive, as life makes us flourish individually and collectively. The diversity of life is so important to our wellbeing, yet each day “adults” make deliberate decisions to destroy life.

Sunny Coleman

Sunny Coleman

Whether we are at odds with each other’s religious or political ideology or choose to harm others for economic gain, the adult version of the wide-eyed children we once were is disturbing. War, terror, sex trafficking, child abuse, animal cruelty, ecologic damages - - these are indicators of anti-life behaviors. To end these behaviors we need to teach and show our youth a different, more progressive and promising side of humanity. The child daydreaming as they stare into the fish tank today may be the adult glaring out of an armored tank tomorrow.

Youth looks at the world as it is, raw and naked, and continues to see the value of life and its potential. In doing so they and often remind us “adults” of what truly matters in life. I’ve been grounded many times by my sons asking tough questions: Why do people fight? Where does God live? Why do we throw things away or waste them?  

These questions have direct answers; they also have multiple points-of-view and interpretations. The questions are difficult to address with 4-and-6 year old children because the honest answer is either “I don’t really know” or, “because adults are foolish and not as wise as we think we are, or as we should be.”

Most adults don’t want to admit they don’t have the answer, or let on that as we age we tend to become more rigid, pessimistic, and narrow-minded regarding our view of the world around us. Sadly, the fishbowl begins to look and feel less promising as we allow our life experiences, good and bad, shape our perceptions, values, and beliefs of the world around us.  

It’s time to change. It has been so for far too long. The question is whether "you, me, and WE" have the ability to put trust in ourselves and each other to truly make our world a better place. Our generation is the last hope to step up to the plate and do something to change our world. I believe that we can rediscover the power of trust to lead a Sustainability Generation forward.

Think big but begin small. Start in your home, your neighborhood, your community. But don’t stop there! Don’t stop yourself from seeing the world as the child looking at his new fish does, full of wonder, possibility, and potential. It’s time for us to show our children that we (and they) can become all that we have ever dreamed to be.

It's time to trust ourselves to openly address when and where unsustainable and destructive behaviors manifest and perseverate in society. It's time to trust our generation to mobilize, lead change, and to take swift action toward a more sustainable future. It's time to trust ourselves to see the world as we once did, full of potential and limitless opportunity.


Mark Coleman is the author of “Time to Trust: Mobilizing Humanity for a Sustainable Future” and “The Sustainability Generation: The Politics of Change and Why Personal Accountability is Essential NOW!” Mr. Coleman is President of Convergence Mitigation Management (CMM), a management consultancy focused in the areas of sustainability, risk, and innovation. Mr. Coleman resides in the Finger Lakes region of New York with his wife Aileen and two boys, Owen and Neal.

Follow Mark on Twitter @TheSustainGen.