29 May 2011

What Giant Uncontrolled Experiment Are We Performing on Kids?

"Doing an uncontrolled experiment on your own child is otherwise known as parenting."

I read that on a blog somewhere (sorry to the author, can't remember your name), and it's an apt opening for what I want to talk about this week. What we're doing to our kids.

Now, right up front I need to admit that I've already crossed the threshold into "Old Fogey." But I still love kids in general and my own students (this does not apply to them) especially ... and I worry about all the children in the world. So today's rant is brought to you from a place of concern and compassion.

If you think I'm going to talk about the impacts of the global climate change emergency on the youngest and all future generations, nope. Here's what's on my mind (and weighing heavy on my heart):

I took some students from the local school camping this week. (Long story ... part of their directed independent study on "survival," which they've been studying for weeks now, an hour and a half each Tuesday morning.)

I only had one rule. No technology allowed (you know, iPods, cell phones, etc.). I figured it would help them connect with the natural world.

Turns out they were bored. And boring.

It was a short trip of 24 hours, from noon to noon, with a rugged hike in and out. Aside from the complaints, all these kids could talk about was how much they missed their music and texting their friends. And which friends they'd be texting right now if they could. And how late they stay up texting their friends at night. And which songs they have on their iPods.
Let's go for a hike along the beach! They talked about their technology and how much they missed it.

Let's do a scavenger hunt for edible wilds! They talked about their technology and how much they missed it.

Let's cook dinner together! They talked about their technology and how much they missed it.

Let's make "Secret Santa" gifts from natural objects and exchange them! They talked about their technology and how much they missed it.

Let's walk along the ridge to that lookout and catch the view! They talked about their technology and how much they missed it.

Let's do a mini-solo. Ha! Then they wouldn't be able to talk with the other campers about their technology and how much they missed it.
They were so bored and boring, I thought I was going to die of boredom. How can kids be so uninteresting — and disinterested — for so long?

What have we done to our kids that they can't live in the here and now? That they can't just "be" in the natural world without an invisible umbilical to their techno gadgets? That these technologies — present or not — disconnect them almost entirely (see comment above re complaints) from the rest of Nature? That they can't be alone even for a few moments (even when they are alone!), revelling in the sea, the birds (eagles, osprey, geese with goslings), the fresh spring greenery?

I came home tired from the fresh air, with sore muscles from the hike, but with a heavy heart. We have placed another wall between kids and their True Mother, and made that wall an addictive one. That means this young generation has even less of a chance of producing those who love the rest of Nature and are willing to work hard to safeguard it.

We are doomed.

p.s. I know, you might be thinking that I could have done a better job of entertaining the kids. Ah, not my job. I was the supervising adult, not a hired clown.

22 May 2011

Compassionate Climate Messaging

Something a bit different this week. I invite you to visit Joseph Romm's Climate Progress blog, and particularly his 5 January 2011 post, Why science-based (dire) warnings are an essential part of good climate messaging.

I found it fascinating not just to read that my instincts have been right all along (or at least vindicated by the small sampling in question), but to see the breadth of responses in the comments section. (Most are from people who understand the science of climate change, and a few actually speak to doing the right thing for our children and future generations.)

Here's the gist of a Berkeley study, as summarized by Joe Romm:
This study, if it proves anything, finds that the strongest possible s
cience-based messaging is effective. There is a vast sea of thorough scientific literature that makes the case that we risk multiple catastrophes if we don’t get off our current emissions path. Climate hawks should feel confident explaining to the public as clearly as possible the dire consequences if we fail to take action to reduce emissions together with the myriad cost-effective solutions available today that make averting catastrophe so damn cheap compared to the alternative.

[...] If people want to draw conclusions from the small sample of this study, then it would seem to be telling us:

  1. The message that does work is we face Hell and High Water if we don’t act but fortunately much of the technology we need to solve this problem already exists.
  2. The message that doesn’t work is that the problem is so hopeless science doesn’t even know where to start.
Anyway, if you're not a reader of climate change blogs, Romm's is a good one to start with. He chronicles both the catastrophic impacts we'll get (and that some parts of the world are already experiencing) and the solutions that already exist, just waiting for political will to change.

As I've been trying to get across to friends, family, colleagues, older students, neighbours and strangers for quite a while, making a (now urgent) transition from our fossil fuelled economy to a perpetual energy economy will create a world that is safer, cleaner, healthier, more equitable and more peaceful.

How's that for compassionate messaging? So far, I've never had anyone argue with me!

Now, go enjoy the straight up, unapologetic, wonderfully assertive writings of Joe Romm at Climate Progress.

14 May 2011

Com + Passion = To Suffer With

It has struck me recently that we use the word "compassion" perhaps without understanding its original meaning.

Compassion is a Middle English word that came to us via Old French from the Late Latin compatī, meaning "to suffer with" (com - "with" + patī - "to bear"). Compassiō meant "fellow feeling."

A definition might be deep sympathy and concern for the suffering or misfortune of another. Synonyms include commiseration, mercy, pity, charity.

There seems to be a sense of action in the word. Empathy is the ability to understand and share another's feelings, but compassion goes deeper and leads to some action to alleviate the other's suffering. If we "suffer with" the other, then we will viscerally want to help end their suffering in order to end our own.

That's why I cannot lose my focus on educating others about the climate change emergency. I do it to alleviate my own pain at witnessing those already impacted ... and the pain that comes from imagining all those who are going to be impacted. Call it an altruistic form of selfishness, if you will, but I just can't stop seeing African children in my mind's eye.

08 May 2011

A Compassion Tune-up, with a Hidden Message

Haven't done a compassion tune-up in a long time, so here goes (for Mother's Day).

What the World Needs Now has long been a favourite song of mine, though I always seem to forget how special until the next time I hear it. Well, I heard it the other day in a coffee shop, and burst into tears at a certain line.

I'm going to include two versions here. The first one had me bawling yesterday (and again just now). I'm old enough to remember the assassinations of John, Martin and Bobby — the end of an era of innocence, it seemed, even at my young age. Please watch this version first, as a general compassion tune-up. Then I'll explain why the song itself made me cry over my chai latté the other day.

This next version focuses on visuals that support the lyrics. (Some of the lyrics aren't quite right, but I applaud this speaker of English as a second language.) See if you can pick out the lyrics that impacted me so much in the café.

Did you guess these two lines?
Lord, we don't need another meadow...
There are corn fields and wheat fields enough to grow (not "glow" ;-).
It's more a curse than a blessing to know how devastating the impacts of climate disruption will be on agriculture. I've realized that the world needs more than love. It's no longer the only thing that there's just too little of. The food security of vulnerable regions and populations around the world is already and increasingly at risk, and even in developed nations, we are only one or two bad crop failures away from chaos. (And this is more and more likely as we allow the Arctic summer sea ice, which serves as an air conditioner for our summer crops, to disappear.)

We forget that we've evolved into an agricultural species, and we could soon be experiencing food shortages that will shake human "civilization" to the core. Indeed, climate change has the potential to turn us into anything but civilized; when food and water are scarce, love and compassion will be the last things on our mind. (That's why the US Pentagon sees climate change as a huge security threat.)

My Mother's Day wish for all the mothers in the world? That our leaders — local, national, international — acknowledge this urgency, and seize the day and take action before it's too late. Perhaps if enough of us become like mother bears — fiercely protective of our children — our leaders will have to listen, "get it" and act. What the world needs now is a very different kind of love.

01 May 2011

Compassion and Courage: Mother Bears are Strong, Protective, and Not Self-Conscious

Mother's Day must be coming up. Last week, I talked about phoning my mom, and this week I've realized I'm feeling like a mother bear. (Note to self: get Mother's Day card in the mail tomorrow!)

Yup, I'm a Mother Bear. You know her reputation. She'll stop at nothing to protect her cubs from danger. As Edmonton's Mother Bear Journey to Healing explains, "In a state of self-awareness, our instincts — like those of the mother bear — drive us to nurture and care for one another...."

I've been railing lately against election rhetoric that doesn't mention children (thank you, Green Party leader, Elizabeth May, for remembering the young ones and the future ones). I've been writing searing responses that I never send to friends who just don't grasp the seriousness of the climate change emergency. I've been hopping mad and deeply saddened by ignorant (or evil?) denialist nincompoops who continue to spew the most egregious lies about global warming and climate change. (If I read one more blogger or commenter saying it can't be happening because there's snow in his backyard ... grrrrrrr.)

At the same time, my husband keeps reminding me that the public "know not what they do" because they have been lied to and misinformed by both sides. That I must take pity on them.

Plus, I had no fewer than four girlfriends this past week suggest that I should be taking care of myself first. That is a foreign concept to me ... how can I put myself first when 2 billion children in the world — this Mother Bear's children — face a chaotic future of failed agriculture and famines, floods and water shortages, heat waves and dangerous storms?

The one gift I give myself each week is a Thursday evening event called Spirit Moves: Meditation in Motion. It's a lovely, quiet time to dance, move to music, pray, meditate, stretch, read tarot cards. Last week, I pulled Athena from a deck called Messages from Your Angels (I figure tarot cards tell us what we aren't open to hearing from our own hearts). Here's the message I received:
"It is safe for you to be powerful. You know how to be powerful in a loving way that benefits others as well as yourself."
On the way home, I mused to myself, "Mother Bear never cares what other people think of her. She just does what she needs to do to protect her children."

So, with "loving" being a relative term these days (as in "tough love"), I've decided that the way for me to find and hold onto my courage (the compassion comes easily) is to be a Mother Bear on behalf of all the children — of all species — and I am going to use tough love on people who aren't thinking through the climate change issue rationally or taking the time to deeply learn about it.

"Make of yourself a light," the Buddha suggested. "Make of yourself a Mother Bear," I suggest to all the women in the world!

Thanks to Shirley Reade and Makiko for the artwork.