I subscribe to the theory that we nine billion-plus human beings are all descended from a small group of ancestors who, millions of years ago, faced with an environmental crisis of world-changing proportions, learned fast the value of cooperation and making the best use of everyone’s particular skills.
Some were creative and innovative, some had a gift for organization, others had extraordinary intuitive powers, still others knew how to raise spirits when things looked dark, and finally there were those who were especially fleet of foot and physically strong. Everyone’s effort was valued and appreciated as they desperately searched for a place that offered the hope of life. They found it: at the shore of a life-giving, great river, or of a sea, or of an ocean teeming with food. There’s a reason, after all, why we humans are so drawn to waterfront homes. It’s in our formative genes.
But more to the point, I also believe there’s an essential goodness in what we are as human beings. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be here now; we wouldn’t have survived that critical moment millions of years ago. But we did, because we learned the value of working together, of a diverse and broad collection of skills, and of intelligence.
But, what do we value today, to a shocking degree, if not something quite different, something not human, in the best sense of what we really are?
And, I think it’s fair to say, as a result our survival is again threatened. Only this time it’s not the result of some natural or cosmic disaster. It’s the result of our own . . . well, there’s really only one word that’s appropriate: it’s the result of our own stupidity.
We really, really need to start thinking better of ourselves again, individually and as a communal group. That we’re a long way from that original, small, ancestral group of survivors in terms of time, is obvious. But in another more important sense we’re not. We’re still essentially the same beings. We, literally, have it in us to be better than what we now appear to be.
Where to start?
Each of us can start with ourselves: feeling good about ourselves again.
A wise young woman told me a long time ago, “there’s way too many people walking around feeling bad about what they’ve done, or what they think they’ve done.”
It was very true, and insightful then. It’s still true today. And it still strikes a chord in me.
I am trying, finally, to make a real effort to count my blessings, to think of something every day, preferably in the early morning, that I’m grateful for in my life. It’s an antidote to the Seasonal Affective Disorder (SADs) that I know pulls me down in this dark season of the year. But it also goes way deeper than that.
So, I go for a walk down the road with the dogs, and try to soak up some early morning light. I also make a point of greeting my touchstone, wiping away the overnight snow, putting a hand on it, and saying a little prayer; or I take a moment of quiet reflection.
I certainly don’t have any trouble counting my blessings with my large and growing extended family of three daughters, 10 grandchildren, and two great granddaughters, at last count. I try not to play favourites, of course. But one morning this week I thought in particular of my youngest grandson, Jake, and how this past fall he took such delight in helping Grandpa harvest potatoes from the garden here at the family farm. I remembered with a smile how he hung on my every word about potatoes and how I grow them — mulched with straw. Now, any mention of coming up to the farm to visit Grandpa lights his eyes up with much eager, little-boy talk of “potatoes, potatoes.”
So, I am grateful for Jake, and to have that to look forward to in the spring: teaching him to be a potato farmer. Now, if that’s not something to keep a spring in my step I don’t know what is.
I love you all, my children, and look forward to seeing you tomorrow in Guelph.
But sometimes I get down about the state of the world, and I find myself losing faith in human nature. Some might say I spend too much time trying to keep up with current affairs as I check the on-line and cable-TV news channels daily, in hopes some of the most troubling, on-going stories are approaching resolution, for the better. The continued politicized rise of racial and religious hatred, divisiveness, and atrocities in many parts of the world is surely one of the most disturbing stories of 2017. It gets to you after a while. I can certainly understand why a lot of people have likely become news-weary. But we can’t turn away; we, the public, must be engaged in a well-informed, thoughtful way with that reality; otherwise, democracy doesn’t work; and that is leading to tyranny.
By all means, take advantage of opportunities to balance the impact on your spirit of the bad news, with the good news that’s out there too – like the Grade 1 students at Corvette Public School in Scarborough, Toronto who came up with the idea of knitting warm, winter scarves for women in need at a local shelter. More than 100 scarves were delivered earlier this week, according to the CBC story I saw.
What a wonderful learning experience for those five and six-year-old children, facilitated by their teacher, Sanjay Ojjo. The students, also helped by a group of parents, spent several months, knitting the scarves.
“I’m so blessed and so proud of him,” one mother said about her son’s involvement
Here’s another piece of advice yours truly took to heart: Don’t shut yourself away too much. Get out into the community and re-discover, as I did over the course of a few hours one day last week, how easy it is to have one’s faith in human nature restored just by coming in contact with everyday people.
So, I say, thank you, to Allison, a waitress at Casero Kitchen Table in Owen Sound; to Phil, A mechanic at Earth Power Tractors and Equipment in Springmount just outside Owen Sound; and to Jason, a mechanic at the Wiarton Service Centre.
They were three nice people, and a pleasure to meet. And, incidentally, they exemplified the best of what’s meant by customer service, just by being themselves.
And for that reason they might be surprised to hear this, but I’ll say it anyway: they shone their light in my direction and made me feel good, including about human nature. I believe I could have met many other people that day in other local businesses or places where people gather and come away with the same, positive feelings.
Let your light shine. You are the hope of the world.
A version of this post was originally published in The Sun Times in December, 2017