As I travel across 48 states, I plan to ask people along the way, “How will we live tomorrow?” Why ask a question? Why ask that particular question?
A ready question is a conversation starter. Traveling alone is conducive to meeting new people, but a question kickstarts the interchange. A provocative question expands my interactions beyond pleasantries.
More importantly, asking the same question across the full spectrum of people will frame my experience. The most rewarding travel balances a general plan with serendipity. It’s useful to have a route, some destinations, and expectations in mind, but not be a slave to preconception. My question is a key part of my general plan. I’m not just interested in seeing stuff. I’m interested in exploring America. I want an idiosyncratic, unscientific immersion into what makes our eclectic country tick.
So why ask, “How will we live tomorrow?” Because it is simple and open ended. It can literally refer to the next day, or invite speculations of the future. Yet like many seemingly simple things, each word is imbued with conscious thought.
How. ‘How’ is a logistical word. In strategic planning we developed a facilitation approach with clients that focused on first defining ‘why’ there was a problem or opportunity, then determining ‘what’ the appropriate response was. Figuring out ‘how‘ to accomplish the objective came last. If the ‘why’ and ‘what’ were well articulated, the ‘how’ followed naturally. But too often we got so bogged down in ‘why’ and ‘what’ we never got to ‘how’.
The United States is, without doubt, rich in snarly problems and ripe with fabulous opportunities. ‘Why’ we should move in a particular direction or ‘what’ most strongly binds us might offer interesting speculation, but they’ll generate less traction than one tire rotation among the millions I plan to pedal. ‘How’ is more tangible. ‘How’ acknowledges that we already have a bevy of rights and responsibilities, privileges and prejudices. We don’t act in a vacuum. Everything we do moving forward will tweak existing systems. It will shift the perceptions of who’s a winner and who’s a loser. In an existing, complex system, ‘why’ and ‘what’ can’t inform ‘how’. Instead, ‘how’ we act will determine ‘what’ we become and ‘why’ that’s worthwhile.
Will. I like this declarative word. “Should’ or ‘could’ are too squishy. True, our future isn’t in our full control. But we’re human beings, not dust mites floating on a random breeze. We have more control over our fate than any other creature on earth. We cannot prescribe our future, but we will influence it.
We. This is the key word in the question. Its not ‘I’, its not ‘you’ and its not ‘they’. ‘We’ is the only pronoun that fuses the individual and the collective. It acknowledges that the only viable future on a planet with seven billion people must consider the needs of many as well as singular. It’s a word a lot of Americans choke over, since history and geography have blessed us with more opportunities for individual expression than any other country on earth. But it’s a word worth embracing as we become ever more connected to each other.
Live. This is my optimistic word. I like to think we are going to live, as individuals, as a nation, as a species, for a long, long time. Many say otherwise. Some welcome our demise through The Rapture, others quake in fear that our planet will turn inhospitable. But I choose to think that we are caring enough and resourceful enough to find ways to continue living.
Tomorrow. Tomorrow is never more than 24 hours away. It is also the distant future. This is the word that makes my question both practical and ephemeral. It invites specific answers as well as fantastic speculation. It takes today as a given and projects us forward as far as we wish to go.