Learning to fly

Seeing change as adventure instead of calamity

There is a series of photographs published on Facebook that is getting a lot of attention. I suspect the main attraction is the look of joy and amazement on the faces of infants in the arms of their sky-diving parents while jumping out of airplanes. You can see the photos with this link to the Facebook page of Timothy J. Nemeth: Sky-diving Babies

An interesting aspect to this photo series is that it raises issues of developmental psychology and faith. Children at this age haven't had the life experience necessary to think like you and I. When they're with a trusted and loving parent, they don't know enough to be afraid. They're operating almost exclusively on trust. And, in exciting experiences like this, what they see in the faces of their parent's is joy and awe. The child's framing of the experience and thus their response is modeled by mom and dad. If parents display fear, that's what the child will feel.

In other words, fear is learned. I would even say that we are brainwashed to respond to significant change with fear. Our evolutionary history has programmed us to meet strange new experiences in nature with responses of either fight or flight. In modern times, flight can take the form of willful ignorance and apathy. The inadvertent modelers of this automatic response are the first brainwashed brainwashers in our life - our parents.

Now for the philosophical or faith part ....

We - all of us in the collective western world - are on the precipice of cataclysmic change. Our global political order is changing. Our economic system is changing. We have pandemics, climate change, threats of bloody war and nuclear annihilation, overturned social norms, overwhelming propaganda and a host of other influences challenging our feelings of personal security. Babies don't feel that sense of existential threat except as it's modeled by their parents' responses - by their behavior.

As sky-diving babies indicate, it doesn't have to be this way. We don't have to cower or wring our hands in fear over the changes coming our way. It depends on how we view those strange new experiences of the world. Most brainwashed people, raised on unquestioned fear as an automatic and legitimate response, suggest that these children should be terrified of their experience. Children "should be terrified" - like them - as if terror is the officially sanctioned response and beyond question.

Perenial wisdom, on the other hand, as embodied in the teachings of Christ and others advise that we re-frame fearful anticipation so we see what's coming as an adventure in 'mysterious ways' - as a personal challenge to live fully and grow. And to trust that the world is a safer, more friendly and supportive place than our fearful brainwashers would have us think.

That's what I think anyway. But I could be as wrong as these photos are fake.


Until I looked deeper, I believed the photos were real because they were so convincing and I wasn't following the development of Artificial Intelligence as applied to image making. Mainly, though, I believed for a moment in sky-diving babies because I wanted to believe such fearless joy is possible. I still do, even without a lot of material evidence. I was aware of some research that made it possible for me to believe babies might not fear sky-diving. I suppose we won't know for sure until moms with babies start jumping out of planes in the context of a controlled experiment. And with proper goggles and helmets for the kids.

It's not impossible. Let's face it; we saw the same kind of doubts about babies swimming underwater.

So yeah, I was wrong in my initial assessment of the sky-diving babies. By admitting that, I've given cynics a reason to laugh at me now. Of course, I was afraid to admit I was wrong but I'm doing it anyway.

Why? Because I trust. I have faith that the gods, the universe and people in general will support someone else being wrong on their behalf. So they don't have to open their mouth and remove all doubt about their intelligence. So they can see that it's okay for them to learn and reflect on the nature of frightening changes. So they can face a scary future without cowering in fear, hoping some magical authoratative power will save them from what's coming.

With shared courage, we can find new ways to perceive our challenges and adapt as we must ... for the love of our children.