Maria Popova (aka “Brain Pickings”) gave me a writing assignment for which I did not read the instructions. Whoops! I thought Maria asked me to write an open letter to children of the world, and I wrote it. But when I looked more closely at the instructions, I realized I had botched it. So here’s what I wrote accidentally ...
Dear future stewards of the world,
I never really understood the word “steward” when I was a child. It isn’t a big word really -- but it is a special word because its meaning is really big, at least for me.
The dictionary will tell you -- or maybe more relevant to your era, a search query will tell you -- that the meaning of “steward” includes: “1. a person who looks after the passengers on a ship, aircraft, or train and brings them meals.” And even thought I might be a little hungry while I write this message to you, you can rest assured that I am not asking you to bring me my meal.
A further search will reveal additional definitions of “steward” that include: “2. an official appointed to supervise arrangements or keep order at a large public event, for example a sporting event.” And that’s a little closer to what I think the word “steward” becomes as you get a little older -- pertaining to a kind of power and responsibility “to supervise” which sounds like getting to be the boss. Some people love to get to be the boss -- but if you knew me you would know that isn’t me.
I think the first definition is a better fit for how I think it feels to be a steward in the way that I address all of you. The “ship, aircraft, train” needs to be understood less literally as those specific vehicles made of metal, plastic, gears, and computer chips -- and to think instead of the earth, your family, your culture, your city as if they were different vehicles that you ride. And the “meals” you serve in those different modes of transportation through life might not necessarily be actual food, but it might be a hand to hold, or a bouquet of flowers, or a timely appearance or a song.
You see, once you realize that you are a steward of your worlds -- both big like the earth or small like your family -- life gets harder and easier at the same time.
It gets harder because you feel you have to do the right thing, which is often difficult because it requires extra effort. As you get older you will see there will be fewer people out there who will encourage you to do the right thing. So learning to become resistant to what everyone else thinks around you will help you become a better steward for the primary vehicle that you are a steward to -- which is yourself.
It gets easier when you start to understand yourself in relationship to all the various life vehicles that you ride and serve “food.” You’ll be more generous in dishing out servings in some vehicles than others -- it will all be a matter of timing. It will all be a matter of experimentation -- failing, recovering, failing, recovering. Constantly. And getting comfortable with knowing that understanding yourself in relation to the world is a process of constant, wonderful change -- if you are lucky.
So in closing, to the future steward of your worlds, and to the future stewards of *our* world, I wish you many meals served -- and sometimes spilled mistakenly, but quickly tidied up and re-served -- as you ride the many vehicles of your lifetimes. You’ll find me out here doing exactly the same kind of learning and serving and mis-serving and re-serving as I steward what I came to know over time starting when I was your age. Good luck!
Copyright 2009 - 2016, John Maeda