When I was around the age of five, my parents gave me a little stuffed bear, who I named George.
He was no ordinary bear, of course. He had eyes that seemed very deep and knowing, and for a while he had a felt red mouth, though that fell away at some point.
Inside, he had a music box. There was a metallic key extending from his chest—the kind that's probably unsafe and illegal in the modern world where doubtless they must be made of fireproof, non-toxic, biodegradable, nerf-like sponge foam. But this old-fashioned key just jutted out harshly with a piece of metal like a penny that attached to the pole allowing you something flat to hold while you twisted it to wind him up. Thus armed, he would play a bit of the song Around the World in Eighty Days, which I came to like quite a lot.
One day the music box broke, though. I must have been in first or second grade and wasn't sure what to do. Twisting it didn't manage to catch something it needed to catch, and when you let go after twisting it would just play all the notes really fast in a kind of single quick metallic zing sound that took only a second or two to complete. It was quite disappointing.
So I did what kids do. I threw George against the wall. To my surprise, that fixed him, and the music box played again. I was thrilled.
Sometime not too long after, though, he broke again. But fortunately, I was now a skilled bear repairman. Or so I thought. Sadly, no matter how many times I threw George against the wall, and I tried it quite a lot before giving up, it just didn't seem to help and mostly seemed to be scratching up the wall with that bit of metal that stuck out.
And yet, sometimes I look at the way certain people approach the world and think it sad that they never had a George to teach them this lesson. Failing to understand science and causality, they resort to mysticism and a belief that if something once worked, even by accident, it will somehow find a way to work again, even without knowing why it ever worked or whether that reason is still in play.
Periodically I hear people referring to Climate Change as a natural process, as if that implies it will fix itself. They say the climate has corrected itself before, and so they seem comfortable that it will happen again. They don't say how or why or even when this will happen, so I must infer they are expecting it to happen by magic—and just in time to avoid any inconvenience to mankind.
Maybe it's just my personal experience that leads me to say this, but ... I'm just not so sure we can rely on either repeated good luck or outright magic.
It's time for some serious science.
I still have George. He's threadbare here and there, but still loved. My parents tried to get me to throw him away when they thought me too old for him, but I refused. I'm glad I still have him. His music box still doesn't work on its own, but if you help him by holding the key just right and refusing to let the key unwind faster than it should, you can still get him to play his tinny tune. It still makes me smile.
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Originally published May 16, 2009 at Open Salon, where I wrote under my own name, Kent Pitman.
Tags (from Open Salon): politics, climate change, global warming, science, mysticism, engineering, best practices, mindlessly, koan, lesson, childhood memories, lessons learned, bear, teddy bear, george, teddy bear named george, hypothesis, test, growth, experience, trust