Voices of our Time
The future holds promise and peril for humankind
By Tom McEnery
From your perspective, what have been some of the most important developments of the 20th century, and how will the world be different 100 years from now?
I asked my Mom that question on her 80th birthday- she’d lived decades that spanned from the Victorian age to the nuclear: “What was the most significant invention of your life?” I figured she might say “jet aircraft” or “atomic energy.” Without batting an eye or hesitating, she answered, “The refrigerator.”
As she explained, the “ice box” (as I anachronistically still call it) freed woman from the daily quest for fresh food and milk, enabling them to plan and hence control their lives more fully. No more daily trips to the market. It also allowed mothers to spend more time with their families. Simple, profound, accurate. Why is it that we always look toward the convoluted and complicated, when much truer and easier answers are right before our eyes?
Our time has been one of great advancement for the human race and also one of unspeakable tragedy. Our century has been a long progression of startling invention and monumental disaster, a period of unfettered wealth and horrible licentiousness. Gifts have been balanced by plagues. We have gone from Darwin to Schindler to “You’ve Got Mail.” We have traveled to the moon and gone online, only to arrive at Kosovo and Littleton. Something is missing. It seems that like the ancient dynasty, we have learned nothing and forgotten nothing.
In this blessed valley, once named for a saint (St. Claire) and now renowned for an element (silicon), we have seen much of the future invented. But just as I aimed too high with the question to my mom, so must we look honestly for the simplicity to cope with the brave new world we inhabit.
That world will be very different a century from now, with more miraculous advancements, thank God, but also peril. The “ice box” answer, our own Rosetta stone, lies not in science or medicine or industry. It resides in the wealth of strength and determination that we all carry within us, our ability to nurture and love.
A Jesuit philosopher, Tielhard de Chardin, said it best: “We have conquered the winds and the waves and tides, now we can harness for God the energy of love, and then once again, man will have discovered fire.” It is that fire that can warm Littleton, Kosovo or San Jose, and make it a different and, I pray, better place.
Tom McEnery, vice chairman of the San Jose Sharks, was mayor of San Jose from 1983 to 1990.