What do character, culture and race have to do with each other? That is the subject of my blog this week. I believe that each of these concepts is not well understood by people in America or in any other country for that matter. There is a science to understanding these concepts but there is also an art that comes from experience and living. Both science and experience are necessary to understand each concept and their relationship to each other. Since my experience can only come from where I stand, I note that I stand as a white, USA born, male in the early 21st Century. Standing anywhere else would no doubt give me a different experience and a different perspective on these ideas. Let me start with first defining what the term Character means to me. I am going to give you my take and not Webster’s dictionary…
All of us believe things that might be inconsistent, not based on how the real world actually works or not shared by others. That’s what makes us human.
There are some questions we can ask ourselves about our beliefs that might help us create the change we seek:
Is it working?
If your belief is working for you, if it’s helping you navigate a crazy world and find solace, and if it’s not hurting anyone else, it’s doing what it’s supposed to do. Often, beliefs are about finding human connection and a way to tell ourselves about our place in the world, not as an accurate predictive insight as to what’s actually…
This week’s Map Monday was inspired by a comment from a fellow blogger, who mentioned that some of the world maps I shared put her in mind of the Pale Blue Dot. Thanks, AM, I hadn’t thought of that expression for some time.
The expression Pale Blue Dot comes from this photograph of planet Earth, taken by the Voyager 1 space probe on Valentine’s Day, 1990. It was taken at a distance of about 6 billion kms (3.7 billion miles)! I’ve added the yellow arrow so you can find the (tiny) pale blue dot – our planet – more easily. Even from this unimaginable distance, the blueness of Earth is visible!
Pale Blue Dot (Wikipedia).
An earlier perspective of our planet from space, from a far closer distance, is this well-known picture of an earthrise, taken from lunar orbit on Christmas Eve 1968 by Apollo 8 astronaut William Anders. This…
Everyone deserves someone in their life to tell them “Yes you can”. Even better if everyone could have many, many people telling them that they can and should reach for the stars. But one voice alone can make all the difference in providing the self-confidence someone needs that is otherwise missing. The self-confidence we need to sees ourselves through the challenges that we may face in life. The ‘Yes you can’ ingredient.
For all of those children, students, would-be athletes, and employees who have dreams of what might be, only to have them dashed by a parent, teacher, coach or boss – or sibling or neighbourhood bully – who unthinkingly or otherwise knocks their abilities, having someone who encourages their dreams is life changing. Remember that words of encouragement cost nothing … and may give the world its next astrophysicist or Supreme Court justice. And that astrophysicist or Supreme Court…
A number of years ago, I wrote an article about the famous “Golden Mean” of Greek philosophy. The mean was basically a rule that said the best way of living is to balance extremes. Another way of looking at what this rule implies is that evil or bad things happen when we over do something. We need to take all things in moderation. Thus, drugs, smoking, guns, watching TV etc., are not evil or bad in themselves but when we take them to extremes they became dangerous and counterproductive.
Life is an ongoing struggle to find our proper balance. However, it may never be a question of equal balance because the proper balance can never be static. There are many dimensions or polarities in life where it is not really a matter of moderation or balance but more a matter of dynamically imposing a temporary order between two extremes. …
Bob Ezrin Contributed to The Globe and Mail Published 6 hours ago
Bob Ezrin is a guest lecturer at Trent University, a board member of the Canadian Journalism Foundation, an inductee of Canada’s Walk of Fame and the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, and a fellow of the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto.
Finally: Climate change is now being addressed seriously by some of Canada’s most consequential news outlets. But still, I remain concerned. In terms of quantity or quality placement, the media industry’s coverage of the climate emergency doesn’t come close to matching the topic’s degree of importance to our lives right now, not to mention to our future as a country and people.
Media coverage, of course, at least partly reflects public interest. So what the tenor of our public discourse offers up is a dim view of our society – that we have yet to wake up to the stark reality that humanity is hurtling toward creating an uninhabitable planet.
Maybe that idea is just too big to get anyone’s head around, even for the truth-sayers in the media. Maybe that’s why we tend to devote focus and attention to the issue in small ways, so that we can feel like we’ve done enough to protect our children’s futures. Many people and corporations alike no longer use plastic straws, for instance. Many of us are eating less meat, or driving and flying less. Going green is in fashion. But like too much of the coverage of the issue, it’s ultimately inconsequential.
The reality is that 2020 is on track to being one of the hottest years on record. The western United States is burning, and the flames are moving northward; the smoke from the fires led Vancouverites to experience some of the unhealthiest air in the world. But while the photos from San Francisco and Portland may have looked like the end times, it’s not even the worst of what’s happened this year. The polar caps and Greenland’s ice sheets are melting away, and so the seas are rising and warming everywhere; that has led to the flooding and potential erasure of entire coastal communities, which will have even more dire consequences for Canadians. Hurricanes, meanwhile, are becoming more frequent and powerful. Insects carrying viruses and parasites are working their way north as the climate warms; dengue fever is suddenly on the rise in North America, and leishmaniasis – a terrible and painful disease that is highly lethal if left untreated – is following closely behind. And just this month, the World Wildlife Fund’s Living Planet Report declared that since the 1970s, more than two-thirds of the world’s wildlife populations have disappeared due to human activity like deforestation, pollution and overconsumption of natural resources. Where are the screaming headlines about that? Where are the Big Announcements from Ottawa?
Tragically, our inaction thus far has meant that we’re now past the point of being able to completely stop climate change. But we still have a chance to fight back against the advancing climate emergency and potentially even reverse the worst effects of it through changing our social practices. That won’t happen until we come to terms with the immediacy and significance of the threat of carrying on as we have been. Instead, too often, we’re content to write or read a few articles, give or hear a few speeches, and shake our heads about how terrible it all is while putting on a serious face – before we carry on doing what we’ve always done, which is to say, continue to march toward extinction.
Are we really so comfortable with what is happening all around us that we’re still willing to be proper and careful with what we say about it? How can we be? This is war – either we fight, or we’ll die – and we don’t even seem to realize the enemy is approaching. Our governments and our institutions need to reflect this urgency – starting with what I hope will be an unambiguous declaration of war against the coming climate emergency in the Liberals’ coming Throne Speech.
In recent days, I have taken on a new role. Quite by accident really, but nonetheless I have joined the special task force unit known (only to me) as the Mask Police. 😷
Allow me to explain.
In case you have been living under a rock for the past 7 or 8 months, you might not be aware that across the globe, we have been grappling with a little thing called a pandemic, namely Covid 19.
While the rest of us muster on facing the challenges to varying degrees of living with Covid hanging, quite literally in the air, there are countless experts working tirelessly trying to figure out the best way in which we can come out of this pandemic with the least amount of casualties.
Of course there are also groups of nitwits people who feel this is all just a hoax, claiming some sort of conspiracy…
Every year my tribe, the Lummi Nation located in the Pacific Northwest corner of Washington State, hosts a First Salmon Ceremony to honor the return of the first salmon of the season, the Spring Chinook. This ceremony is conducted as an acknowledgement of the reciprocal relationship between people and salmon. We are told the story of Salmon Woman, who saved us from starvation by sacrificing her children to nourish the people. The story contains the values and practices that uphold our sacred obligation to care for and respect the salmon for their sacrifice.
We honor the first salmon according to custom. We sing songs and offer prayers. Each person in attendance is given a piece of the fish to eat. We are instructed to put the bones aside to be collected and returned to the sea. This is done so the salmon can swim back to Salmon Woman and tell her that we have honored her gift and that we are carrying the sacred relationship forward to the new generation by telling her story and following her instructions on how to care for the fish:
Never waste a salmon. Offer gratitude and never turn your nose up to their gift. Practice respect and care for the rivers and waterways they inhabit. Acknowledge the rules, such as never bathing in areas where salmon spawn or dumping waste of any kind into rivers. Only take what you need. Let nobody go hungry while the catch is being shared. Never abuse the gift, or it will not be there for the people in the future.
The story and its instructions teach us how to be in resonance with the laws of nature. By acknowledging our obligation to follow certain rules that govern a delicately balanced ecosystem, we are practicing reciprocity.
Since ancient times the practice of reciprocation has been a powerful cultural force throughout the world. It is only very recently that, as a global species, we have stopped practicing equal give-and-take relationships with the planet’s nonhuman communities and adopted a one-way relationship of extraction to serve the short-sighted interests of a select few. I believe the shift was caused by our turning away from localized nature-based beliefs to adopt homogenous, patriarchal religions, which established a hierarchy that places men at the top with all other life on the planet subjected to their whims and existing for their exclusive use and benefit.
We started calling trees, and fish, and animals “Natural Resources.” That allowed us not to think of them as having their own autonomous life source and purpose, but rather as commodities over which we are guided by divine edict—or, among secular people, by force of custom and assumed human supremacy— to exploit.
It is only very recently that, as a global species, we have stopped practicing equal give-and-take relationships with the planet’s nonhuman communities.
Think of Inter Caetera, the Papal Bull of 1493 under which the doctrine of discovery was established. Think of Manifest Destiny. Think of any legislative act or court decision upholding the rights of corporations over the rights of people and animals to have access to clean water and a healthy environment.
In 1880 John Waller and The Alaska Packers Association destroyed a Lummi fishing village that had been in use for millennia. They forced the fishers to leave using threats of violence. In 1895 Lummi filed a case against the Alaska Packers Association in an attempt to uphold our treaty rights to fish in our usual and accustomed fishing grounds.
The village was a source of social and cultural exchange, as well as a place to harvest sustenance in accordance with a contract of reciprocity with the natural world, which would allow the community to be fed by its abundance into perpetuity. Nets were woven with willow bark and people harvested in manner that involved no bycatch or destruction to surrounding landscapes or waterways.
The Alaska Packers Association saw an opportunity to partake in this bounty, and rather than honor the laws of reciprocity, they displaced the Indigenous Fishers and usurped their village site to be used as the new location for a canning facility. Environmentally friendly Indigenous harvest practices were replaced by the installation of fish traps that caught humpback and pink salmon as well as Chinook.
In 1897 the court ruled against the Lummi, saying the treaty had not been violated. “It is not competent for this court to interfere by an injunction with the fish traps of the Alaska Packers’ Association,” decreed the court, “which are authorized and licensed by the laws of the state. Let there be a decree dismissing the suit, without costs.”
In a 1972 interview with Ronomus Lear, a Lummi Elder, he recalls an incident that he estimates to have occurred in 1913:
“When I was really young, the traps owned by white people would take in all the fish, but they dumped their humpbacks, the pinks. They just dumped thousands of them and they were dying since they had been kept in the traps for so long; they drifted to shore and died. They had the whole Legoe Bay just covered with dead fish. After they drifted away the rocks were still oily from the fish. The rocks would shine on the beach and they smelled like hell. God. Just thousands and thousands of dead fish.”
At this time Indigenous fishers were not permitted to harvest fish, and many worked in the canneries that had displaced them from the waterways and our ancient way of life. It must have been a spiritual blow to see our sacred food treated in such a way. In 1934 the fish traps were outlawed, but by then the fishery had sustained wide scale devastation and the practice of overfishing had established deep roots in our region.
Too often, the science of fisheries management favors economic gain over ecological reality, resulting in a decline in fisheries worldwide. Rather than a science guided by laws of resonance and reciprocity, we are guided by a science of exploration and conquest, motivated by discovery and extraction of resources. Even worse, the innate human drive to honor the law of reciprocity is used to manipulate us into giving up our rights to clean water and a healthy environment in exchange for whatever compromise is on offer.
The science of social psychology has identified a powerful negotiating strategy called the “Reciprocal Concessions Procedure for Inducing Compliance.” It operates on the understanding that if you are offered something and you refuse, and then you are offered something in compromise, you are more likely to meet the compromise as an offer of your reciprocation. You might be familiar with it in retail settings where it is widely used to inflate the price that we’re willing to pay for something by establishing a wildly expensive price point for the most desirable item, thereby making the middle-range item seem reasonable.
In the case of how we relate to nature, we are told that clean water and a healthy environment are much too costly. For example: “Oh, so you want a healthy fishery? Do you want to limit harvest, forgo hydroelectricity, and prohibit development to preserve habitat? No? Well, okay… How about we install a very scientifically sound fish hatchery operation and you can have hydroelectricity and catch all the fish you want?” It seems like a good deal.
And that’s the system we are in right now. That is the very scientific system by which we are trading away our ability to live on this planet without extirpating other species or driving them to extinction.
The science that governs hatcheries is the same science that was implemented over 150 years ago to serve the interests of hydroelectricity. It is based on weak evidence of efficacy and has operated as a substitute for the sound science of conservation and habitat protection. It has allowed for excessive use of hydroelectric dams and overfishing and has not made good on the promised returns. But we continue to fall for it—to accept the thing that we don’t really want in order to reciprocate the compromise offered by power companies, canneries, polluters, developers, and politicians.
The Spring Chinook, whom we Lummi honor in ceremony, face the threat of extinction. The Southern Resident orcas, icons of the Salish Sea, our relations under the waves, whose primary food source is the Chinook salmon, face the threat of extinction. It is estimated that up to one million species are threatened with extinction within decades. Globally, Indigenous cultures are faced with losing knowledge and life ways which connect them to their lands and waterways through sacred bonds of reciprocation.
Are we ready to let it all go in order to hold onto a belief in man’s place at the top of a hierarchy which requires no gift in exchange for the gifts of the natural world? Are we really ready to let it all go to avoid sacrificing anything at all in exchange for the sacrifices of Salmon Woman and her children? To avoid acknowledging the sacrifices of beings who die every day so we can live?
I say we should splurge; decline the compromise and instead make sacrifices in order to buy ourselves the nicest most beautiful and expensive item on offer: a sustainable and resonant relationship with our fellow creatures and this glorious living Earth.
An industrial fishery, and indeed industrial scale production of animals for human consumption is not sustainable. It relies on the myth that you can have something for nothing. The Law of Conservation of Energy states that “Energy cannot be created or destroyed, only transformed.”
Over the last century, we’ve transformed a lot of life-giving energy into carbon. It’s going to take more than technological innovation and creativity to restore balance. It’s going to take a transformation of our most deeply held beliefs.
In order to muster the willingness to enter into respectful, reciprocal relationships with nature, we must get something back for what we give, and what we get must feed our spirit as well as our bodies. In the Salmon Woman story what we get is the gift of gratitude for salvation from starvation. What new story will nourish us in this way? What new powerful story will be the catalyst of our transformation?
Rena Priest is a writer and enrolled member of the Lhaq’temish (Lummi) Nation. She is a National Geographic Explorer and holds an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College. Learn more at renapriest.com.
I hope our civilization will survive but I think it will do so in some convoluted ways unfamiliar to us currently. The rise of instant media has already fundamentally changed society and will continue to do so I think.
I watched ‘The Social Dilemma’ a few days ago, the Netflix semi-dramatised documentary exposing the business model behind social media, and what it’s doing to world society.
I wasn’t surprised; the social outcomes have been clear for a while. The ‘confirmation bubbles’ to which social media reduces people are a function of the way in which it’s been geared to make money. But the documentary didn’t go far enough. There’s also the nature of social media as a tool for interaction. It’s a limited and distorting caricature of the ways people interact in person, but it’s being used as a substitute for the real thing.
How limited? The documentary looked at the way photo filters are distorting self-image – highlighting the way it’s damaging children, particularly; and at the way ‘likes’ have become a mechanism for validating…
Kindness seems to be in short supply these days in many parts of the world. We need all we can get, now more than ever in such stressful, uncertain times. Hopefully these kindness quotes will resonate with you. Pick one or two of your favourites and help spread their spirit through your actions; the recipients will be forever grateful.
We may never know whose day (or life) we have changed by extending the hand of kindness, but rest assured it makes a positive difference. And we feel so much better ourselves when we treat others with kindness rather than responding with anger, rudeness, or indifference.