CBC radio

Making Waves (even soldiers are doing it!)

<May 5/10>

I suppose it would be accurate to say I’m a bit of a “shit-disturber.” I say things out loud that others seem more inclined to “keep quiet” about. Ironically, I would actually prefer to lead a quieter life – more time for walking, appreciating Nature, reading (in 5 lifetimes I probably couldn’t read all the books I’d like to!) & writing.

It’s also true that I grew up in a family in which keeping quiet & not making waves – not standing out, shall we say – was…well, let’s just say it was a good idea to be a little on the quiet & obedient side when I was a kid.

Now, I make waves. And noise. Why?

Because we live in a world that is teetering on the edge of collapse. Did I just say teetering?? It’s more than teetering. Cancer has become epidemic. The ice sheets are melting & the ocean rising. The weather has gone plain cuckoo. Among many other things…

All our human-made “systems” are broken & breaking more & more by the day (find me one that isn’t & I’ll give you a kewpie doll!). Only people with duct tape over their eyes & ears can fail to see this. Now, I like duct tape as much as the next person, but I’m not interested in wearing it, thanks!

I wrote a blog post a while ago called Telling the Truth: American soldier & Iraq about Shannon P. Meehan, a former U.S. Army lieutenant who fought in Iraq & has published a book called Beyond Duty: Life on the Front Line in Iraq. This is a soldier whose book is almost certainly making waves.

Soldiers are expressly expected to keep their lips zipped. Doesn’t matter what they’ve seen or done or how many atrocities they have witnessed, the script they are given says, “Keep it zipped & move on!”

Of course the problem is, when we do keep quiet about atrocities, & about pain & violence & our own personal horrors (& our own personal histories of abuse of whatever kind we underwent as children), it makes us sick &/or crazy, from the in-side out.

In some cases, it makes us violent. Or maybe we just have occasional outbursts of anger/rage so over the top & so out of proportion to what is actually taking place in the present moment that one finally has a sudden Aha! moment & thinks “Hmmm, I wonder what the heck THAT was really about???”(1)

Well. There was an interview on the CBC Radio (on ‘The Current’) on Wednesday, April 28th with another American who’d been a soldier in Iraq & whose life was also changed (much the way Shannon Meehan’s was) as the result of a particular offensive on a particular day. He couldn’t get the images out of his mind, & when he went to his superiors, got no help beyond basic advice to keep quiet & suck it up.

Eventually, this fellow left the military &, with another soldier (or ex-soldier; sorry; not 100% clear on the details…) wrote a letter of apology to the people in the village where the offensive had taken place.

The two (former) soldiers’ names are Ethan McCord & Josh Steeger. 3000 people have signed their letter of apology.

McCord commented in ‘The Current’ interview that an integral part of being part of ‘the system’ is taking responsibility. You can’t always “go with the flow,” he said. Sometimes, you gotta make waves.

This made me recall another CBC interview with men who work on skyscrapers in New York City. One of the men interviewed commented that “you can really go places, provided you keep your mouth shut.”

It’s pretty easy to see that folks who believe in making waves are people who are not just thinking about themselves, & about “going places.” These are people who feel a sense of responsibility to their fellow human beings – while people who are determined to “keep their mouths shut” & “go far” see themselves as more…well…isolated, perhaps?

Personally, I really enjoy feeling I’m part of a tribe.

Devra Davis once said, quoting an African proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

I think a lot of us have had about enough of the “me, myself & I” routine by now.

& I’m here to tell you 2 things:

  1. When soldiers & former soldiers start speaking out, that not only takes a lot of guts, it really sends a powerful message about the way the world is going.
  2. We really can go far when we go together! I’ve been “going far” with fellow activists for 20 years now. I’ve had tons of grand adventures & fun – even an occasional triumph! – & personally have my doubts that life really gets any better than that.

A Filipino proverb says, “A clear conscience is more valuable than wealth.”(2)

I say, a clear conscience iswealth.

For sure, the only way I can live with my own is to keep right on making waves.

It’s wonderful to know that I’m in marvellous & ever-expanding (& even more & more unexpected) company!!

Janet

P.S. You can listen to the Ethan McCord interview here

Quote of the day’ w. this post: “Once you know the difference between right and wrong, you have lots fewer decisions to make.” – Joseph Campbell, quoted in the biography “A Fire in the Mind – The Life of Joseph Campbell” by Stephen & Robin Larsen


(1) I wrote about Eckhart Tolle & his concept of the pain body in Pain Bodies on Parade or Oh, To be a duck! & highly recommend that any & everyone else read Tolle too!! Understanding the pain body concept is enormously freeing & given the state of the world, potentially world-saving, even! You can also Google Tolle & find a short YouTube in which he explains his pain body concept.

(2) Funny. When I went to my quotations document to locate that one, these 3 other very relevant quotations popped right out at me: “Revenge has no more quenching effect on emotions than salt water has on thirst” (Walter Weckler); “I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain” (James Baldwin) & “Anger is often more harmful than the injury that caused it” (English proverb).

Courage, Apathy...& Evil

*** Quotes on courage here! <March 18/10>

I’m reading a book called Country of My Skull – Guilt, Sorrow, and the Limits of Forgiveness in the New South Africa,(1) by Antjie Krog. Bit of a tough read, at times – but very well-written, provocative & rife with interesting thoughts, insights & quotations. Rough because one learns in detail some of the horrific acts of violence & cruelty visited upon so many citizens of South Africa in the apartheid era. Its recounting of the operations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission makes for fascinating reading (parenthetical thought: I ought to let the author know of my deep appreciation for her book!).

We human beings are certainly a curious lot. We can be so marvellous, generous, compassionate, creative, loving & wise – & by the same token, so thoughtless, self-absorbed (2), cruel, violent, homicidal, and … dare I say, evil?

I will leave it to the philosophers to debate whether or not evil really exists. (though I personally feel we are a bit short of time here on Planet Earth for long-winded philosophical debate & time-consuming study; seems to me more like a time for concerted ACTION.)

I will add that I have encountered my fair share of nasty (even homicidal & sociopathic & kind of scary) characters in my time – in a professional capacity, shall we say – so I am not unfamiliar altogether with the sheer nastiness capacity of some human beings…

Anyway, whether or not evil exists, I will say that I think the apathy of so many people I know & meet – in the face of the most serious & horrendous crisis our species has ever known – borders, to my way of thinking, on evil. (Edmund Burke said “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” I rest my case…)

It frightens me.

It astonishes me that most people I know would be more upset to hear me describe myself as an anarchist (3) than they would to hear that our robot-man prime minister is quite knowingly destroying a huge swath of Canada (read up on the tar sands ) in the name of profits for his corporate buddies (George Monbiot has described Canada as a ‘corrupt petrostate’).

It surprises me that the thing most people seem most curious about when they ask me about my sit-in/arrest experience last Nov. 30th, just before the Copenhagen meetings, is what it was like to have to wear a diaper all day. They are dying to ask me whether or not I peed in it. (The answer, for the record, is no. I skipped my morning coffee that day, which for caffeine addict me was frankly the most challenging aspect of the whole experience!) But the experience wasn’t so much about using a diaper as about getting outside my comfort zone – something I think a lot more of us need to start doing.

I know there are a lot of reasons for our apathy.

But it scares me.

I heard a report on the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) radio yesterday, on ‘The Current Review.’ It was about a TV show in which participants were asked to cause fellow participants to be given electric shocks. Apparently, most did order the shocks.

What kind of people are we?

It worries me.

Author Antjie Krog asks in Country of My Skull (in reference to the goings-on in South Africa during the apartheid years, & afterward, during the time of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission, which began operating in December 1995), “What the hell does one do?”(4)

& I wrestle with this question myself, pretty much daily. What the hell does one do?

I am not a philosopher, dear Reader, nor any kind of “expert” nor (supposedly) brilliant scientist.

I’m a woman, mother, environmental activist & writer (a person who is unpaid for the work I do; that’s not a complaint, just a statement of fact) – & I am no longer confident about the ability of our species to survive.

We have made/are making such a frightful botch of things.

Still & all, what is one to do??

Throw up our hands?

I say, Take action.

Let’s raise our voices.

Let’s quit stepping over the elephants in the room, & start calling them.

Let’s grow some courage. Grow some balls...as it were. Shake things up a little.

In Country of My Skull, Chilean philosopher & activist, José Zalaquett (who served on the Chilean Truth Commission) is quoted as saying, “The most important lesson the struggle taught me and my friends is that no one is endowed with remarkable courage. But courage is another name for learning to live with your fears. Now, after eighteen years and the Chilean Truth Commission, courage has again evolved a new definition: the guts not to give in to easy justice. To live within the confinements of reality, but to search day after day for the progressing of one’s most cherished values. Merciless. Accountable.”(5)

Wow.

I wonder, might we all try growing a little more courage in the face of the grave dangers now facing us? I surely do hope so….

Janet

p.s. A buddy of mine said to me in an e-mail message recently, in reference to the sorts of people who defended tobacco use until they were finally wrestled to the ground, & the people who were responsible for trashing the ozone layer (fully aware, btw, that they were doing so), & the ones who are now defending the oil business with their criminal conspiracy (do read Climate Cover-up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming, by James Hoggan, with Richard Littlemore), “These big business issues, like the pro-smoking debacle, are beyond my capacity to understand – it’s like there is a parallel universe of animal things that look like humans but behave like something else.” Rather nicely put, Richard!!

I’d say it’s time we turfed out politicians who look & act like robots (& criminals), & bring in some real human beings for a change!!

p.p.s. Shortly after I scrawled this essay, riding the GO bus to Oshawa, I resumed reading Country of my Skull. Author Antjie Krog relates on page 159 that just before midnight on May 10th, 1997 (the deadline for amnesty applications), “six black youths walk into the Truth Commission’s offices in Cape Town.” She goes on to explain that they had decided at the last minute to apply for amnesty because they had realized it had been wrong of them to be apathetic, & do nothing. “So, here we stand as a small group representative of millions of apathetic people who didn’t do the right thing.”

Wow...

Quote of the Day’ with this post: “Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality of those who seek to change a world which yields most painfully to change.” ~ Robert F. Kennedy, in a speech in Capetown, South Africa, June 6, 1966.


(1) Times Books/Random House, 1998.

(2) I have a very rude name for a condition I feel all too many of us suffer from. “Terminal heads-up-our-own arses” disease. (Sorry; I did try to warn you!)

(3) The Collins dictionary defines anarchist as 1. A person who advocates the abolition of government and a social system based on voluntary cooperation. 2. A person who causes disorder or upheaval. Kurt Vonnegut has a character in his novel Jailbird say “Anarchists are people who believe with all their hearts that governments are enemies of their own people.” I think a lot of us are anarchists, by this latter definition…

(4) Page 118.

(5) Country of My Skull – Guilt, Sorrow & the Limits of Forgiveness in the New South Africa, by Antjie Krog, Times Books/Random House 1998. Page 32.

Telling the Truth: American Soldier & Iraq

The topic of truth-telling seems to keep coming up. And I’m not the only person who’s talking about it. Lots of the writers I read (all of the writers I read??) are truth-tellers, one way & another.

In a culture that seems rife with, dare I say, bullshit & even outright lies (e.g., more is always better, “he who dies with the most toys wins,” buying things brings us happiness, etc.), it gets so that very few of us seem to be able to be really honest. Deception sets in early in our culture.

I was heartened to hear the other day of Shannon P. Meehan, a former U.S. Army lieutenant who fought in Iraq & who has now published a book called Beyond Duty: Life on the Front Line in Iraq.

I caught part of an interview with Lt. Meehan on the CBC. (I’ve said it before & I’m saying it again now; CBC – the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation – Radio is one of Canada’s greatest national treasures!)

Unfortunately, I didn’t catch the entire broadcast, but what I heard was plenty compelling.

Lt. Meehan was seriously emotionally damaged by his part in the Iraq war – particularly by (I understand) a particular offensive on a particular day. He remains deeply haunted by its personal emotional aftermath.

Meehan is now retired from the U.S. Army (for medical reasons, I believe he said) and has written a book that tells the truth about some of the emotional/moral challenges/dilemmas faced by soldiers. Needless to say, these are the very sorts of truths the military bigshots almost certainly do not want us hearing about.

Interestingly, Meehan has no ideological axe to grind. He doesn’t say we must stop fighting wars. He does say let’s be a little more honest & truthful about what war really consists of & what its real impacts are.

I haven’t read his book, but it sounds as though it would be a mighty interesting read.

If you want to listen to the CBC interview, go here Scroll down to near the bottom, to Part 3 of that day’s broadcast (paragraph 3).

I can’t help but think that hearing a man who is a retired U.S. Army Captain articulate his thoughts & conflicting emotions (pain, confusion, guilt, etc.) is bound to be a potentially life-changing experience for many of us. Not all of us soldiers, either. Lots of us have problems understanding our emotions. Most of us can use a little help.

Telling the truth, says Joanna Macy, is like “making oxygen.”

Hear, hear, say I. Bring on the oxygen!

Janet

P.S. Related blog post: 'Making Waves: Even soldiers are doing it.'

P.P.S. Another blog post that may interest you is Telling the Truth or, Too Many Elephants in the Room? Oh, & Bullshit!

P.P.P.S. Thinking of all this is reminding me of the Stephen Fearing song “Man O’ War.” It’s on his excellent ‘Industrial Lullaby’ CD. Very interesting lyrics about war &…here they are!

Man O’ War 
Stephen Fearing – 1996 ©

The war was nearly over when the general came

To tour the wounded soldiers in their beds

And he walked among the suffering and the amputees

Like he was an angel

Most of us were innocent until we heard his name

Too young for pints and Whisky in The Jar

But we were soaked in the tradition of the open flame

We were just sparks in the darkness of the man o’ war

Chorus

The man o’ war painting ancient battles

See the farmers in the trenches where the cowherds are the cattle

Every generation wipes the blood off of the saddle

For the man o’war.

How many thousand years since the start of time

Has the general led his people by the nose?

Corporate inspiration and a bloody mind

That’s how this game goes

And he took me from the playground showing me photographs

Corpses stacked like cordwood on a floor

He said “Your father and his father and on down the line

You’re all indispensable to the man o’ war”

Chorus

Oh the cheap broken china of civilians

And the anguish of a father breaking down

The long line of people and possessions

Searching for a child amongst the crowd

And the eyes just dry out if you don’t close them

And the heart becomes immune to the sounds

I lost my religion to a rifle

But I’ll talk to any deity now

The war was nearly over when the general came

To tour the wounded soldiers in their beds

And he walked among the suffering and the amputees

Like he was an angel

Some kind of angel.

Great song. Fearing is a wonderful singer (& song-writer).

‘Quote for the Day’ with this post: “It’s one of the secrets of the world. We all have the key to one another’s locks. But until we start to talk, we don’t know it.” – Michael Silverblatt, host of KCRW’s ‘Bookworm’ radio show

Knowing What’s Important

<Dec. 13/09>

It’s so important to know what’s really important in life…don’t you think?

I just had a “Janet has another adventure” sort of afternoon – and trust me, Reader, there is a LOT of background detail to my current life that is … well…actually kind of interesting, really, & which I’m not going into because a) I don’t feel like talking about it right now & b) I really want to cut to the chase here.

Ever-so-brief background: I was driving out to a friend’s place, from downtown Toronto. No snow tires – for somewhat complex but quite explicable & reasonable reasons. No winter coat either (see above).

Listened on the drive to our national treasure, CBC Radio (Omigoodness!! Listen to the podcast, if there is one, of the ‘Tapestry’ show from Sunday, December 13th – Mary Hines interviewing Victor Wooten. It’s an absolute treasure of an interview. I’d never heard of this man before, but wow!! I’ll be buying his book & telling folks about him; awesome musician & person).

And, once I got close to my friend’s wonderful home, got my little car quite utterly stuck in snow out on the road.

Hoofed it down the driveway (a 5-minute walk in un-snowy conditions) in my not-so-very-adequate boots (my good ones were in the closet, inside said house) – and what was the first thing I did? After turning the heat up?

Called someone for help.

So. This short essay, about “the important things” – is short mostly because today’s lesson for me is that the important things in life can be distilled down to a very short list indeed.

# 1: People/friends/community. I’m where I am in life (my in-so-many-ways very, very enviable life) because of people. Friends, family, community. When the chips are down (as the saying goes), who will be there for you? Your bank account? The “global economy”? I don’t think so. Your friends/family/community will. I hope…

** I could stop right here, btw. With enough of # 1, things fall into place, pretty much. The next 4 are not such bad ones to add to the list, though…

# 2: Common sense (not as common, I think, as the term implies). My brain kicked in fast & told me to order the priorities quickly. Several things fell immediately off the list. What was on it, first and foremost, was “Turn on the heat & call for help!”

# 3: Self-confidence. Along with knowing I need my fellow human beings like crazy, I have the self-confidence to say to myself “You can figure this out. Get help!!”

# 4: Resourcefulness. I’d packed my car in such a way that I didn’t have to schlep 452 items down that unplowed, snowy driveway (this is not always the case for me, I might add…), had had the good sense to leave the snow shovels right handy on the porch, and also had a flashlight right handy near the front door (dark was coming on fast).

# 5: Music!! Now that the little adventure is more or less resolved (with wheelbarrows’ full of gratitude to my saviour, George!!), the house is heating up, & some supper is now contemplatable. I’m very pleased now that there is good music here to listen to. (Pat Conroy said, “Without music, life is a journey through a desert,” & I couldn’t agree more…)

So. I suggest we all do our very best to teach our children what’s REALLY important in life - & you may have noticed that having a whole bunch of money &/or material possessions didn’t make the cut.

People, people, people. Community, community, community.

There you have it.

Janet

p.s. Long underwear, safety pins, matches, candles, post-it notes & one of those little travel sewing kits (along with a notebook & pen & a book!!) haven’t hurt, either!!

p.p.s. This blog post, in 10 words or less? Carry only the essentials. The rest is too heavy. (The post entitled ‘Light things, Heavy things’ may be of interest if you’ve enjoyed this one.)

 

Get Over Yourself!

<Aug. 6/09>

This phrase keeps coming up. A good friend of mine introduced it to me, as I recall. She & several other friends are (or have been) in relationships with very…hmm…shall we say, challenging men.

Actually, I don’t know whether I know any women whose men are not fairly challenging.

And before any male readers become offended, I consider most women to be pretty goshdarn challenging too. I spent too many years having women up on some kind of fancy pedestal – but the pedestal cracked & broke, pretty much – & we’ve all fallen off.

Seemingly, we are all challenging – male, female & otherwise.

And too, I do encounter the odd man or woman who looks to be not terribly difficult or challenging. I, however, seem to gravitate toward both women & men who are, you might accurately say, a “handful.” Needless to say, I’m a handful myself. No worries, readers, I’m in no denial whatsoever about that.

Well. As I say, this “Get over yourself” phrase has been in my head for some time. I’ve never dared actually say it to anyone, although I will admit to having been tempted on more than one occasion.

I heard an interview with Gordon Pinsent on CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) radio recently. He said that his wife used to occasionally tell him “Gordon, get over yourself” – & I note that he said this without any audible resentment in his tone. It seems their relationship permitted this degree of forthrightness.

Two things have been going through my mind since then. One was, “Boy, I wish I’d been able to say that to ––– sometimes! Maybe it would have helped.”

Secondly, I think maybe we all need to think about how this phrase might help us all. Never mind just women saying it to the men in their/our lives; them saying it to us, too. All of us saying it to everyone. All of us saying it to ourselves. Surely we all need to “get over ourselves,” hmm? At least some of the time.

I think we are all hobbled at times by our ancient resentments & grudges & even, in some cases, our repressed (& perhaps unacknowledged) rage.

We let our “old stuff” keep us tied up in knots. All – or at least most of us, I think – do this. Yes – I’m talking about all of us: female, male & otherwise.

I think there are women among us who don’t always (or maybe ever) recognize our/their own “stuff” – our own baggage – & since I’m one of them, I’m not really pointing any fingers here. I’m guilty of it too. Definitely.

Any regular reader of this blog will anticipate my coming up with a recommended book or two, & you’re right on the money. I think there are a few that could help lots & lots of us.

I think it would be most, most helpful for men to read Becoming the Kind Father – A Son’s Journey, by Calvin Sandborn, & I think women should read it too. It seems to me an enormously important & very, very helpful (& practical) book. If your library doesn’t have a copy, why not buy one & donate it? Or buy two, one for you (& friends), one for the library.

I think a lot of women would do well to read The Dance of Anger – A Woman’s Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships, by Harriet Lerner. I think lots of us are walking around with a lot more anger than we care to acknowledge, & that we might do well to “wrestle” with that a little.

I also suspect tons of us would benefit from reading The Opposite of Everything is True – Reflections on Denial in Alcoholic Families, by William Crissman. (I believe the book is out of print, but you can always find even out-of-print books through Amazon or abebooks.com or an independent bookseller who really cares about serving her/his customers well). This book has certainly been very, very helpful for me, & since lots of us have/had alcoholic parents, I think it’s potentially useful for lots of us.

I’m going to keep musing on this “Get over yourself” phrase. In what ways do I need to get over myself? How am I being hobbled by old “stuff” – anger or old resentments &/or even shame? (shame is very, very corrosive indeed. John Bradshaw has written a book called Healing the Shame That Binds You, & I suspect it would be pretty useful reading for anyone for whom shame is a serious player).

Maybe we can all muse on this “getting over ourselves” business. I’m not so sure saying it out loud to anyone is really a good idea – it would take a pretty special relationship for this phrase not to sound pretty accusatory. I think we all need to be pretty gentle with ourselves, & with each other. After all, we’re all in the same darn boat, hmm?

Special note for women readers: I think a lot of us do some pretty crazy things sometimes. We’re very quick to throw darts at the men in our lives, but what about our own stuff? Some of us can be mighty petty, cranky, & even downright mean.(1) Lots of us are control freaks, it seems to me. Maybe instead of hurling accusations at these (admittedly very challenging) men in our lives, we could ask ourselves what our own “stuff” is. Our own ancient childhood “wounds” & knee-jerk reactions that sometimes have more to do with “ancient history” – old family dynamics from childhood – than with what’s happening right now. We too are often in denial about our contributions to our relationship problems & challenges, hmm? That’s what I think, anyway, for what it’s worth. However difficult or challenging our men may be, two wrongs don’t add up to a right. They never did

As I wrote in my as-yet-unpublished book Letters to Rebecca Musings on motherhood…& feminism & patriarchy & female/male relationships & the state of the world, I believe it is usually the women who set the emotional tone in families. I also believe we are often leaders – & I feel strongly that our leadership skills (& our integrity) are very much needed in our families (& the world) right now.

Janet

P.S. The books recommended here in no way cancel out or supercede any of the other authors I so frequently recommend: Pema Chödrön, Byron Katie, Elizabeth Lesser, Joanna Macy & Eckhart Tolle. They are all enormously helpful (& very compassionate & inspiring) writers.

P.P.S. Books I’ve found very helpful for understanding some of the challenges faced by couples are Getting the Love You Want – A Guide for Couples, by Harville Hendrix, Healing the Wounds in Couple Relationships, by Martin Rovers & Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus by John Gray.

P.P.P.S. The book Brain Sex – The Real Difference Between Men & Women, by Anne Moir & David Jessel, is most helpful in gaining understanding of the actual brain differences between the sexes.

P.S. # 4: Women Who Run with the Wolves – Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype, by Clarissa Pinkola Estés – has been pretty helpful to me on the subject of rage & forgiveness. Chapter 12 – “Marking Territory: The Boundaries of Rage and Forgiveness” is, in my opinion, brilliant – & very, very helpful.

P.S. # 5 (Sheesh!?) In packing up my book collection in preparation for moving, I’ve come across yet two more books I’d forgotten about that are real treasures: Care of the Soul – A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday LifeSoul Mates – Honoring the Mysteries of Love and Relationship, both by Thomas Moore.


(1) Some of us seem to me to be the best way I can think to describe it is real “pieces of work.” We really are. I say this with great compassion, because I know all too well that we don’t get to be that way without a heck of a lot of hard stuff having happened to us along the way…

Raise Your VOICE!

What a world! What a culture! It’s so noisy – & we’re all so polite. Well – maybe not polite, exactly – many of us are actually pretty rude & inconsiderate – & certainly many of us are almost fatally self-absorbed. (1)

I think most of us are terrified of silence – & of solitude. Yet if we don’t insist on some silence & solitude in our lives, we seem to behave like nothing so much as hysterical little rodents, running-running-running pointlessly in circles on that crazy little wheel inside the bars of our cage (all the time unaware that, not only are we on a wheel, inside a cage, but that there is a whole world outside the cage!).

I was listening to the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) radio on May 18th & heard an interview with hip hop musician Emmanuel Jal on the Jian Ghomeshi show. (2)

Jal has written both a book & a song called 'War Child.' He was born in Sudan & has lived through unbelievable trials & experiences, losing family members to war & spending time as a child soldier. (If you are wondering what the war is about, I’ll give you one guess. Yes, oil. What else??)

He was eventually rescued by an aid worker & wound up in Canada. He now believes he survived in order to tell his story.

It’s notable that he did survive because a heroine of sorts (whose name I don’t know, but I expect it’s in his book) chose to be a person of action & use her life to help & serve people.

I was moved to tears, listening to the interview. This young man is using his voice as his vehicle &working very very hard to help the children of his native land.

A few thoughts came to mind as I listened. One was that I am eternally grateful to the wonderful CBC for its fantastic programming & interviews. Another was that I think we should never discount the power of our own actions & our own voice to make a difference in this world.

I know I try hard to use my voice. I’m not heroic like Emmanuel Jal – but like him, I do recognize the power of the individual human voice to make change happen in this very mixed-up world of ours.

I’m not sure why some of us use our voices, while so many of us are seemingly so afraid to do so.

Well, that’s not true; I suppose I do understand. It’s all about our dysfunctional families & behaviour & our dysfunctional culture & the thousands of years of damaging patriarchy & the endless specter of fear that hold us ALL back...

At any rate, I recall how powerful I’ve found the voice of singer Jewel, singing at the end of her song ‘Hands,’ “We are God’s eyes. We are God’s hands.”

We are also, surely, God’s voice – or at the very least, have the potential to use our voice for good.

Please, raise your voice. In a positive, life-affirming sort of way. Not with anger, I think – although I know we do have anger, & sometimes even rage, & that there are reasonable explanations for our anger & rage & pain. I think if we can work on transmuting the anger/rage into compassion & caring – & action – that is ever so much better for our own health, and, of course, for the health of our world.

Raise your voice, please! For your own sake, & for everyone’s…

Janet

P.S. As I wrote in another essay (one of the Earth Day 2009 ones), activism is its own reward. One need not know what the outcome of one’s actions/activism will be – indeed, we cannot! – but as Joanna Macy says, “Grace happens when we act with others on behalf of our world.” It’s true.

P.P.S. I was in Toronto just this past weekend, and as always, had a small stash of loonies & twoonies ($1 & $2 coins) in my pocket to give out to folks I saw on the street, begging. There was a man at the corner of University & Dundas, & as I passed by him on my way to the bus station, we made eye contact, & both smiled. (I’ve always thought it rather wonderful the way we smile not just with our mouths, but also with our eyes.) I then dug into my pocket & went back & put a loonie in his cap. We smiled at one another again, & he thanked me for the money. I think I must have had about a thousand dollars’ worth of joy out of that encounter! I wish I’d given him more money. His smile alone made my day. I’ve decided next time I’m in the city I’ll only give out twoonies.

But here’s the point, readers: supposedly my giving money to beggars is to benefit them. For sure, though, I get at least as much out of it as the people I am supposedly “helping.” This is equally true of all the volunteer work I do (& the charitable donations I make). I don’t do it for me - or at least, that is not my original intention. I want to help. Then I do it, & I get so very, very much satisfaction & benefit from it, one way & another. I recall hearing when I was a child, “Virtue is its own reward.” It surely does seem to be so…

P.P.P.S. Joanna Macy says in her book World as Lover, World as Self – Courage for Global Justice & Ecological Renewal “…you also know that each action undertaken with pure intent has repercussions throughout the web of life, beyond what you can measure or discern.” I choose to believe that this is so.

‘Quote for the day’ w. this post: “We are privileged, and the duty of privilege is absolute integrity.” – John O’Donohue, Irish poet, philosopher & former priest


(1) I’ve come to think of this as terminal “heads-up-our-own-arses” disease.

(2) You can find an article about & podcast of that show here