It’s going to be a long four years …
It’s going to be a long four years …
January 20, 2017 to be designated as
International Turn Off Day.
Yes, at exactly 9:00am Washington D.C. time zone, all Canadians and Americans who believe in Truth, Justice, and the Way of the Peaceful Warrior are going to turn off their TV sets, their cell phones, their iPads and computers, and take a walk with a friend / a loved one in the great outdoors. We are going to ensure that the inauguration of the 45th president of the united hates of america will achieve the lowest ratings in television history.
Having watched the outgoing President’s farewell address, his honouring of his friend and Vice-President, his salute to his staff in CNNs “The End: the final days of the Obama administration (“It’s not about me – it’s about the team.”), and having seen the intelligence and class with which he and his family have carried themselves in this most difficult of times, we salute you by turning off our “black mirrors” and stepping out to the sun, the clouds, the snow, the rain, the wind.
As my son Will said watching as The President prepared to leave office, “It is going to be a long four years.” Let us remember our better selves, that the Twit Who Would Tweet is but a brief journey to the dark side of The Force, and that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.
Skid Crease, Caledon
You know, there are just some times when I hate being right.
It happened la few weeks ago at a popular fast food and coffee spot in Caledon. Now, keep in mind, that as a storyteller and author, I love to observe people, join in on their conversations, and get to know their stories. Every once in a while you meet an elder, the kind we are taught to respect and honour. I have found them in some of the scientists, artists and authors, spiritual mentors, systems thinking engineers, and educators with whom I have had the privilege of knowing. I have equally found them in farmers, hunters and trappers who, contrary to popular belief, deeply love the land from which they gather our food, and they pass on those wisdoms quietly and firmly with few words.
I also meet the synapically challenged, whose uneducated opinions are largely formed by the bogus untruth websites and the kind of “big boys” locker room talk that provided the fodder for a narcissistic megalomaniac to become President-Elect in the U.S.A.
Ideally we all try to see the best in others, accept other people on their individual merits, and avoid stereotyping. But every once in a while we fall into the trap.
So, when I saw a group of four older men, who are always sitting at the same table, having coffee, pontificating their views on the world, and hoarding a stack of free newspapers, I couldn’t resist. My first reaction in observing them (and picking up on snippets of conversation) was: white old boys club, maybe high school education, read the Sun newspaper mainly to ogle the Sunshine Girl, vote Conservative, watch Fox news, listen to right wing radio talk shows, and think Donald Trump is the Second Coming. I wanted to be wrong.
I walked right over, sat down at their table and said, “Gentlemen, I’d like to join your table.” A chill spread through the group. I had violated their sanctum sanctorum, but I just sat right down and introduced myself. There was a younger man with them that day, the only one among us who wasn’t retired.
They ducked out for a quick smoke break, and when they returned the fun began. The older man, who had retired from something when he was only forty-five, began a long rant on the glory that was Donald Trump and the horror that was Barack Obama. I had no idea, until I listened to his holy words, that Obama was responsible for every disaster from hurricanes to floods to the financial crisis that pre-dated his presidency. Nor had I realized the extent of the terrible scandals that Barack and Michelle hid away during their eight years in the White House.
The younger man tried to explain that the U.S. economy was on the upswing, like employment figures and growth expectations, but he just couldn’t get a word in edgewise. The older man was in that zone where, as my mother used to say, “Don’t confuse me with facts; my mind is made up!”
Now, our elder couldn’t name any legitimate sources for his research, but that didn’t stop him from believing in nonsense and passing it on. The earth is flat, the sun revolves around us, and the planet is only 6000 years old. And I thought all the dinosaurs were extinct. My worst fears were confirmed. I came, I stereotyped, I was right.
As children we are taught to respect our elders. Their years on Earth have supposedly given them insights into life. They made all the mistakes that the passion of youth demands, learned from those mistakes, and grew in wisdom and vision. At least, that is what the best of our elders bring to their communities. And some of our “elders” are young in years but born with old souls.
I have had the privilege ever the years, through my work in Global, Environmental and Outdoor Education, to work with some of those elders from various Ministries and Boards of Education, from businessmen and farmers, from truck drivers and mechanics, and especially from my father.
I have also been blessed by learning with elders of the First Nations from Manitoulin Island,, Brantford Six Nations, Inuit hunters in Nunavut, and the Mississaugas of New Credit. During those times I developed an even deeper respect for their wisdoms and their stories. They have survived the lies of broken treaties, forced relocations, the horrors of smallpox and missionaries, the deliberate culling of their independent transportation system when the RCMP nearly wiped out the entire breed of Canadian Eskimo Dogs, and the holy evil of the residential schools.
What doesn’t destroy your culture makes you stronger and wiser if you survive. Hopefully those elders will be able to guide the next generation through their Vision Quests to find the talents and gifts they can bring back to their communities. Children desperately need those positive elders in their lives. Those wise and humble elders give us hope.
But when I encounter elders like the ones I sat with briefly at the restaurant a few weeks ago, it makes me fear for our future. The greatest danger facing humanity is not accelerating climate change, or a nuclear winter. It is the ignorance of the elders who may lead us there.
A long time ago I saw a poster of a very overweight man. sitting at an elegant table that was covered with crystal glasses and fine china. He was dressed in a fancy dinner jacket, sitting with hands holding a fork and knife raised over his plate. But then I saw that on the plate in front of him was a steaming pile of manure. The caption underneath read: “Eat excrement. 10 million flies can’t be wrong.” Choose your elders wisely.
Like young Anthony who, in busy line-up at a gas bar later that same morning, calmed down an impatient older man with the words: “Life is short – don’t rush it. We’re all going to get to the end sooner or later.” Now that is wisdom.
Skid Crease, Caledon
I just gave a talk on Wednesday night at Fairlawn United Church for their adult education Speakers Series. The topic was :The Origins of Spirituality. and we presented both the hard western science story that takes us back almost 20 billion years to the great mystery of how the billions and billions and billions of stars and planets and life all came to be. It was my task to tell the old stories, the kinds of questions that humans a million years ago would have asked as they migrated out of Africa and pondered the power of the world and universe that surrounded them.
The Church committee asked me to close the evening with this story about why the leaves change colour in the fall. They felt it honoured our human quest for knowledge from both the ancient wisdoms and the modern sciences that try to explain who we are, and from where we came, and to where we might be going. Being an oral storyteller, I had breathed in the story years ago and unfortunately had no written copy.
So late last night, and early this morning – on requests from both the congregation, old teacher colleagues that I met that night in the audience, and a former student who was in need of a really good story – I wrote it down for the first time. I give you all the gift of
Grandfather and the Teacher – you’ll find it in the story section of my blog.
Now, I have to go and play in the leaves…
My wife now calls me “The Phoenix” but my older son prefers “The Revenant” … in either case, it’s good to be back from the dead. It’s also good to be able to contribute again to my community as a writer and storyteller. It’s sort of like that challenge in “Saving Private Ryan” – you’ve been given a second chance at life, now earn it.
I remember asking my father when I was a child, “Dad, how do you become a good person?” HIs answer became my raison’d’etre as an educator: “Son, hang out with wise people, read what wise people write, listen to what wise people say, practice what wise people do, and then one day you too may become wise.” It takes some of us longer than others.
In my long and slow healing process, I began to reread some of my early influences and finally came to understand a few of them. One of those wise people was the incredible anthropologist, Gregory Bateson. His “Mind and Nature” and “Steps to an Ecology of Mind” were huge influences in my quest to become a wise teacher. From him, I learned that a wise teacher asks questions that demand far more than simple yes or no answers; instead, they demand a depth of thought and reflection and inquiry.
Gregory Bateson first articulated the idea that human ideas and communities are connected by a process similar to the natural selection process found in evolution. Why do some ideas resonate throughout history and others become extinct? He asked:“The pattern which connects. Why do schools teach almost nothing about the pattern which connects? …What pattern connects the crab to the lobster and the orchid to the primrose and all four of them to me? And me to you? And all the six of us to the amoeba in one direction and to the back-ward schitzophrenic in another?”
His daughter, after his death, produced a wonderful memorial film by the more grammatically correct title, “The Pattern That Connects.” I’ll stick with the original.
So, what connects me to you to songbirds and pesticides in Central and South America to Rachel Carson and a Silent Spring to an Inuit mother in the Arctic who can’t feed her child with breast milk because it contains too many toxic chemicals grasshoppered up from the “developed” world?
What is the pattern which connects my best buddy in Eureka, California and my lawyer in Toronto, Ontario to all older men with prostate problems, to an ancient African tea made from Pygeum africanum, to a quest for the “Origins of Spirituality” by members of the Fairlawn United Church.
And now I understand. The pattern which connects all of human interaction is simply that quest for the answers to the age old questions of; “Who are we?”, “From where did we come?”, and “To where are we going?” The first human child that could articulate asked these questions over a million years ago. Gaugin asked the same questions reflecting on the meaning of his existence while painting in Tahiti. The ideas that survive are the ones that keep us thinking and wondering and surviving and developing as humans.
And the human patterns which connect are inextricably linked to all of the ecological connections from which life continues to evolve. Understand the patterns, and we begin to understand our place in the universe. Then we become humble in the knowledge that some of the answers to those great questions are beyond human comprehension, but the quest for those answers may just be the purpose of human existence.
… to be continued … in Part Two: What is the pattern which connects Dr. Heather J. Ross and her cardiac team in Toronto to a remote community in Nunavut to space travel to tribal warfare in the Congo to cell phones. What connects me to the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa (father) to the Niger Delta to prehistoric plants to the Ogoni people to Royal Dutch Shell, to my grade seven students to my choice of gasoline, to the recent passing of Ken Wiwa (son)? Life and death on Planet Earth …