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 …
I spent some years as an onsite consultant to Sciex, a formerly Canadian-owned research powerhouse in Concord, Vaughan. The place was packed with super-bright engineers developing some of our world’s most advanced analytical instrumentation. Many of them came from the aerospace industry that once flourished in the GTA. An exciting potential new use for these devices was their application to medical diagnosis. These guys had a catch-phrase that helped them lateral think about uses for their mass-spectrometers that seemed very far from their personal expertise. It was, “Recall the interconnectness of all things”.