Starting with Gratitude

First: the video link for ocean0that0merges0into0the0drop  that I promised. By now everyone probably already knows that predators are keystone species affecting all the members of their local web of life. The idea that they even have an impact on geography was news to me …

How Wolves Change Rivers

 

ordinary pigeonsEnvironment Writing is a Treacherous Thing

As fragile as the environment is, people’s feelings are even easier to damage making writing about the environment a treacherous endeavour. With each sentence multiple possibilities for offending people appear — magically — the way aphids always show up on milkweed. Yet, is this not the issue of our times?

I know preaching is a deal breaker. And anyway I have my own house to get into order.

Bad news is too depressing. Even mentioning some topics will fill people with intense shame. We all have too much pain already that I feel it is probably a terrible thing to dump more onto someone. The endless series of bad news we all hear just paralyses our will anyway.

Speaking from the heart offers a different peril. I’ve come to realize that there has been an important shift in this culture within my lifetime. Strong emotions have become so suspect that people find them repellent. Trolls and people like Rush Limbaugh who make a living from hate-speak have not only capitalized on the power of anger’s addictive properties but turned topics for rational discourse into a hellish cacophony. No sane person walks into that roaring fire willingly. Yet, there was a time when anger was seen as a battery or fuel for change.

red eyed coot

Opposition in general has become pathologized and so polite people turn away from its expression. The psychiatrist’s bible, the DSM (go ahead and pick any version) even has a term for it. They call it Oppositional Defiance Disorder and I can’t help but wonder how many would be Malcolm Xs and Martin Luther King juniors of the world have been prevented from acting out because they have been medicated with powerful antipsychotic drugs. Record numbers of children, some even in elementary school, have been placed on scary psychiatric drugs in the past two decades. And it probably won’t come as a surprise to hear that a lot of them happen to be impoverished children of colour — the people who are probably most aware of injustice and have the most to lose.

So suggestions and strong emotions are out. But, simple facts tend to put people to sleep. That might be even worse than accidentally provoking someone because it completely shuts down the possibility of a conversation.

So where can one go?

I think maybe the work of Joanna Macy and Molly Young Brown might offer a guide out of the tangle. They suggest using a multidisciplinary approach drawing on systems theory, deep ecology and spiritual practices. They use four steps and those steps look a lot to me like the way people work through other forms of grief:

  • Begin with gratitude
  • Honour our pain for the world
  • See with new eyes
  • Go forth

Reading about the first practice immediately reminded me of Donna Donatella’s blog where she has chosen the word ‘soar’ to use as a mantra for 2015. I know from my own experience that if I start a day with the intention of feeling gratitude I am much less likely to be sucked into despair. There is still much in this world to love.

The last two suggestions are the ones that I probably could work on. And I don’t see them as chores but opportunities. If I understand correctly, seeing with new eyes is an invitation to be creative and to think divergently. Going forth implies volition and I know from my own life experience that taking action (even when it fails) is the best prescription for overcoming grief and solving problems.

So moving to the issue of climate change denial …

i read recently that if we can see climate change deniers as people who are suffering, their denial looks a bit like a misguided attempt to relieve pain. People in distress reach for any lifeline they see to help them cope: some people binge on tv while others may turn to alcohol or impulse buying. Actually, humans can be amazingly creative when it comes to finding ways to dull pain. Climate change deniers look to me to be reaching out to cultural icons that have always looked powerful in the past: religion, capitalism, the power of technology to create solutions etc.

This shift in perspective could really change the conversation. instead of seeing climate change deniers as evil bastards ruining the party maybe I can begin to see them as people in need of compassion.

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34 thoughts on “Starting with Gratitude

  1. You’ve nailed it, Debra. It is so difficult to find the right note of encouragement and truth. I fear sounding like a Pollyanna sometimes, when I choose to highlight good news in the midst of all the sadness I feel for the world. I’ll read about some disaster in which countless creatures were destroyed, and the official comment will be, “Thank God no lives were lost”. I think, “WHAT?” Oh, they mean, no human lives, as if that is all that matters. I have considered becoming a teacher, pulling together art and and nature therapies but I am not sure this is authentic for me. I think my path is to continue painting nature, hoping to touch hearts that way. Robert Bateman sometimes hid trash in his gorgeous paintings to make a point.
    Anyway, I appreciate this well-expressed post. Here’s to gratitude, and finding the way forward.

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    1. I believe if anyone can save us it will be the artists. We all kind of already understand the problem intellectually but these messages haven’t quite reached people’s hearts and imaginations. Dickens taught people about child poverty. Erich Maria Remarque showed how futile war is. Art and literature really can make the world a better place so here’s to you!

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  2. Whether it is climate, measles, evolution or anything else, it is about being a traditionalist. That is the motivating element. Calling them stupid won’t change their view. But neither will showing compassion to them. Really nothing has the power today to change their views because they are only hanging out with other traditionalists who all happen to agree with them. Liberals doubt things. Their whole essence is based on the idea that we must always be skeptical and question, because that leads to scientific and spiritual progression. Traditionalists, on the other hand, have no desire to enter a world view of doubt. They like things just as they are. They live in a land of certainty. They simply are not having any of your compassion, any of your empathy with their lifestyle. They want nothing to do with you, because, they can sniff you out a mile away. They know their own kind and know that you ain’t one of them. Over the years, I have contemplated the zombie phenomenon. I mean, why have zombies dominated our collective unconsciousness? I have come to realize that zombie movies make the traditionalists within ourselves feel good and certain in our world. By blowing away the “takers”, “the 47%”, the traditionalists can enjoy things as they have always been. They can happily use their guns, hang out with their own kind and not have to contemplate any degree of guilt about blowing the head off of zombies. So, whether you come at them with compassion or with science and logic, it won’t matter, because to them, you (and every blue minded person) you are just another zombie spouting gibberish.

    I love the post by the way. I am in love with the awesome video. It positively made my day when I watched it. I understand and agree with your perspective. If you were dealing with logic based life forms, then your approach would be precisely correct.

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    1. I agree about the zombie thing — it seems so clearly to me to be a collective unconscious image and quite powerful. Consumerism, guns, the mob — all those things connect in people’s hearts. Just as vampires spoke to many during wealthier times — power, prestige, glamour, youth. I wonder about doubting whether we can meet people where they are though. What could an environmentalist and a traditionalist have in common? A desire to protect the past. Pride in the natural beauty around us. In mediation people try to find the common ground. And no matter how diverse people are they are still people. I do think that if we stopped looking for differences we could find points of connection. I agree that talk like this won’t work with someone hell bent on destruction but I am thinking more about ordinary people — who just might be scared. I loved all of the book Green is the New Red but he introduced an idea that really stuck with me. He said something like: conservatives may actually be the most aware of the real implications and radical conclusions of environmentalist movements. When you speak for the earth you are really saying that everything we are doing right now is wrong. All of it. To repeat: all of it — from the way we grow our food, to how we rely on cars for transportation, how and where we build our houses, how we heat and cool those houses, how and where we get the electricity for those houses, the clothing industry, how we treat the sick and elderly, how we treat animals, how we treat minority cultures, mass imprisonment, the many global conflicts that fuel that lifestyle … The list goes on and on. As the Naomi Klein title says: This Changes Everything. Shaking -everything- up is a pretty threatening/scary thing. No wonder they are in denial!

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      1. Environmentalist + traditionalist = Teddy Roosevelt. :) All great disaster movies have a story line of all the people who were in denial of bad stuff happening. They either get washed away in a great flood, get eaten by giant radioactive ant, turned to salt, get left behind on earth when the asteroid hits, etc… Hopefully the storyline will be better for our world.

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  3. Your assessment is very kind. The trouble is that most climate – change deniers are unreachable, either because they have a vested interest or because they are stupid. But then ignorance and stupidity are at the root of many of this world’ s ills. But actually, you are right, it is fear that makes people believe impossible things or refuse to confront frightening truths.
    Have you read Jostein Gaarder’ s Sophie’ s World? He says ‘ A lot of people experience the world with the same incredulity as when a magician suddenly pulls a rabbit out of a hat’. He says that most of us crawl deep into the rabbit’ s fur and refuse to look over the edge.

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    1. Unreachable could be true. Denial is a powerful thing. Thanks for the book recommendation. It sounds like something I would really like.

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  4. Like you I wonder sometimes about how to manage myself when I climb on the high horse and gallop madly and forcefully into ranting territory( born out of my love and passion for the earth of course) but still one wants to carry the reader with you not alienate. I think at last I am learning to temper and include to become more storyteller than preacher tho’ the preacher be strong in me. I
    I love (and respect) your measured words on issues and never find you bleak . we need voices like yours that can put these issues into perspective and this story needs to be told again and again and again.
    Joanna s Macy work on despair and empowerment has helped shift perspective for a lot of people – daily we need to deal with overwhelming grief and despair and horror at what is happening and then we must turn firmly to the amazing uplifting changes taking place community by community across the globe.
    I have done a few deep ecology workshops in which these four stages are fleshed out and it is very very powerful work.
    as always I deeply appreciate your work debra. thank YOU
    sandra
    P.S. the fringe is always the creative edge ….

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    1. =) And I want to thank you, Sandra. Yours was the very first blog I found that actually talked about these things that I find compelling. For a long time I thought we were the only people in the whole world!

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  5. Debra this is a fine post!!! And I love your four steps!! The pigeons are wonderful, their low vibrating voices soothe the soul. We are the custodians of the garden and our brother’s keeper!!

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  6. There’s a huge difference between leaders and followers in the world of climate change denial. Your approach may work with some of the rank and file and is worth trying. As for the leaders, though – they really are evil bastards, and so are the shills and flacks they support financially. The leading deniers would rather have an environmental catastrophe in a few decades than lose equity in their investments today. Uh oh, did I forget to take my medication?

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    1. heh =D
      I agree. Some of those guys really are evil bastards and they have a lot of power and influence. I do think they are a lost cause but there are also some people (and I am thinking of personal acquaintances) where I think there is some hope of having some kind of dialogue. And you know — just because I think I am right — there is always the possibility I have misunderstood or overlooked something so their voices really ought to be heard. In fact, I’d bet that situation is likely! Most of all I’d like it to be the case that when someone sloughs off the question with a pat answer like “Well, I am not a climate scientist …” that we could ask the followup questions. Like, when experts in their field offer you advice why do you think it is ok to be negligent in this particular case and not consider their suggestions?

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      1. I hate to say it but I have almost given up on trying to have those conversations. A friend made the exact same point on his facebook page and his denier friend posted a link to a list of climate deniers with science credentials. I could have pointed out this is a relatively tiny number of outliers but I didn’t have the heart.

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  7. I’ve heard several people posit the theory that the science deniers (and that like) are in their last throws–that they’re desperate and therefore more strident and hateful in word and deed. That somewhat resonates with me. Think of the insecure people that you know–aren’t they often the loudest and most obnoxious? Aren’t they often the ones who demand attention and focus on themselves? Maybe it’s an unconscious recognition of the battle lost. The problem, of course, is the damage done. Is it fixable?

    That’s where I really have to work on being positive. It is important to be purposeful in gratitude. After my daughter died and the abyss was always in front of me, as a gaping maw, just waiting for me to slip, I very, very consciously chose “life.” I chose to keep going, to remain positive and engaged, to keep her memory alive, to be present for my son and those I love because I knew that’s what she was raised to do and to do otherwise, desecrated her memory and lessened the value of her life.

    It’s not easy, but I continue to do that for my son, my community and myself–to choose a positive influence, no matter how trivial, in honor of what I am grateful for: family, a beautiful place to live, and a world deserves better than it gets.

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    1. I am so sorry to hear of your loss. For me, when my mom died everything changed but to lose a child … there are no words only hugs. Choosing life was my answer too. Because giving up meant giving up on the person I loved and everything good in the world.

      I now see the deniers as being in a similar category to addicts and we know how powerful denial can be. As you say there is an unconscious recognition that something really bad has happened and that can be nearly impossible for some to face. Is it fixable? Whether it is or not I have to say: how we live with ourselves if we continue to make it worse?

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      1. Thank you. It’s been a tough and difficult road, but we bring her with us. Choosing to move forward positively, to do good in the world, is one salve to the broken heart.

        Indeed, we couldn’t live with ourselves–so we continue to do what we can, in the microcosm of our homes/gardens, and in the larger world–through volunteerism, work, writing, teaching, voting–whatever and wherever.

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  8. Your passion and vulnerability in combination are a powerful match. Well said, and hopefully for a lot of us, soon also to be well accomplished. (or at least begun!)

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    1. Fine tuning my voice is probably going to take a life time and I am ok with that. I would like to think that simply speaking the truth would be effective but my experience suggests otherwise. Maybe if I lived in Iowa where people are notoriously reasonable …

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        1. Talking forever with like-minded people is a pleasant thing. But I feel it is so important to find a way to bridge the gap to those who differ. I’ve been working my way through Aldo Leopold’s writings. I am going slowly because I don’t want the experience to end. But in reading his words I have come to realize we still haven’t come far enough in building a land ethic — in making a love of healthy ecosystems a mainstream thing. Still. In 2015 caring about the land is still a fringe idea. How bizarre …

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  9. Interesting take on these deniers. And thank you for the link back Debra….we do need to approach them with compassion as they see the world differently….if I were to go to my dark side I would say they are people who will do anything not to be put upon or put out by having to make change…and if I looked at them differently I would say they want to see the proof with no doubt.

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    1. I do believe a small portion of deniers do mean harm and are acting out of greed or laziness. Some members of that segment are probably unreachable in the near future but I bet there are many more who would be open to a genuine discussion if they felt their fears or whatever it is that holds them back was honoured and heard.

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  10. Detailed post Debra with lost of valuable information but I do not understand why you feel as you do, I always enjoy and feel motivated by your posts, I am very sure other folk feel the same as me. Have I missed your point?

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    1. Thanks for saying that, Julie. I have unfortunately had many less than positive experiences when I’ve voiced my opinions in the past so I kind of thought it might be valuable to think about how I might be more welcoming.

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      1. None of us can please all the folk all the time and I am sorry you feel the way you do today. I thoroughly enjoy your blog and the environmental pieces you write, all said with compassion and a gentle touch. I am certain many many people really appreciate the information you share too.

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        1. Thanks Julie. I really appreciate the encouragement. I am actually feeling really good about trying to be more inclusive and learning how I might accidentally shut out conversation.

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          1. I understand and you’ll be pleased to know I am not going to repeat myself or try and make you cross a road when you don’t want to! I read your links and realise I had got the wrong end of what you were saying. Have a good weekend. 😃

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  11. Brilliant post Debra. You are right on so many levels. I will certainly check out Macy and Brown and those four steps. Thank you.

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