personal conscience

Tar Sands Action: Random Observations

(My 1st 2 posts on the Sept. 26th tar sands action in Ottawa are here & here – those posts have links to lotsa relevant sites/sources of more info on the tar sands project.)

So, drafted this on the bus on the way back to Toronto after the Monday events (a school bus, btw. Without the "deep pockets" of corporate types, we enviros have to do things on the cheap. We may be cheap, but we sure know how to have fun!! & as a very low-income person, I am grateful for the free bus ride!!!!)

Some random thoughts about the events of the Ottawa tar sands protest:

  1. I was/am super impressed by the fabulously well-coordinated civil disobedience training & overall event coordination of this event. Wonderful collaborative effort among different NGOs (non-governmental organizations) – all or most of the organizers young & wildly capable. Kudos to you all!!
  2. It takes a huge support team to pull off a happening like this! Tons & tons of work “behind the scenes.” So while the public sees 200 people willing to take part in this act of civil disobedience; they don’t see the HUGE amount of effort it took to put it all together. I’m so grateful to all the busy worker bees who pulled this off!!
  3. I was incredibly moved & inspired by the many aboriginal speakers who spoke so passionately & eloquently about the impacts of this horrid tar sands project on their land & their people. Nice to feel those emotions, that we 21st century folks have a tendency to suppress. Good Web source here on the tar sands’ impacts on our indigenous communities.
  4. Motherhood kept coming up! In a discussion about what to wear to the protest, someone said, “Wear something your Mom would approve of” & I thought “Yeah, & behave in a way your mother would be proud of, too.” And then at the rally on Parliament Hill, actress/activist Tantoo Cardinal, who was arrested in the Washington actions on the Keystone XL pipeline spoke of the Iroquois Confederacy, & the native tradition of having grandmothers choose the (male) leaders & placing children in the centre of the circle (& the centre of concern). Got goose bumps thinking of how the wisdom of women used to be honoured!
  5. Dysfunctional family imagery kept coming up for me. Human culture on the planet is something like a great big dysfunctional family. There is all kinds of nonsense going on. Someone has to call it, right?? & not everyone in the family feels real comfortable about that. Yet someone has to do it, or the whole family may be destroyed.
  6. The power of personal convictions…personal conscience. One of the police officers who arrested me commented “You folks sure have a lot of conviction.” Yup! (Norman Cousins said “Nothing is more powerful than an individual acting out of his conscience, thus helping to bring the collective conscience to life.”)
  7. The naïvete (or perhaps wilful blindness??) of human beings regarding the shocking venality of our governments & corporations. We behave like children – & indeed, have to be taught not to submit to police bullying, & almost browbeaten into insisting on our right, for example, to remain silent. Innocence is touching (& I could go off on a tangent here about why I believe most human beings are indeed touchingly innocent – I'll save that for another day!). Innocence can also be reckless. Wilful blindness is not an admirable thing, I think…
  8. Ensemble imagery kept coming up for me, from the wonderful choir event I attended in Ottawa on the Saturday evening (several police choirs & the Ottawa Children’s & Canterbury High School Chamber Choirs) to all the activities during the non-violent civil disobedience training & the events on Sept. 26th on Parliament Hill.

Frederick Nietzsche said “Sin is that which separates,” which has long struck me as a profound insight. We human beings have become islands of me-me-me-ness, or, in the words of Sister Joan Chittister, “pathological individualism.” Members of choirs & teams (& activists) presumably “get” this – that we are meant to be members of ensembles, or tribes. Bees in a beehive, working together for the common good. These big “protests” or actions show us how we are meant to be. Check the ego at the door, & do one’s very best for the team (when we do our personal best in these situations, it’s really for the whole team.)

Sooooooo delighted to have taken part in this historic event…


p.s. a few good quotations about civil disobedience here


Everything is all About ME…right?

<written Oct.’06/Dec.‘07/Jan.’09> <much later & similar-in-intent posting called 'Head Up Arse Disease'>

I guess there are a few things we could point to as the root cause of all the messes in this unbelievably mixed-up world we live in, in this the year of our Lord (as they say) 2009.

One of the things that strikes me as a largish problem is that so many of us seem to operate out of a mindset that whispers seductively inside our head – silently, but endlessly – “Everything is all about ME.”

We seem to have (in so many cases) lost the ability to see ourselves as members of a tribe upon whom the wellbeing of all depends – & we seem to think life here on Planet Earth is all about our own very personal gratification.

I think there are at least a couple of major contributors to this very unhelpful (and destructive) mindset.

One is that so many of us are products of terribly dysfunctional families – families in which our most basic needs were not met. We may have been given enough food to get us by, but so few of us were properly nourished – properly cherished.

We learn how to be – how to love and how to be – in our “family of origin.” Far too many of us didn’t get what we needed – what we deserved – & as a result, many of us have tended to spend the rest of our lives trying to fill up the hole that was left inside of us.

Post-World War II, along came television and the advertising business – primed to make us all “look good” through materialism. Pushing product was their raison d’être (a mighty profitable one, I might add), and now we’re all saps for products that promise to make us rich/attractive/thin/happy – but which in fact very seldom indeed live up to those endless seductive promises. (1)

Why did our parents mess us up the way they did? Why have our families screwed up so badly?? Well – they were only passing along what they had learned, Gentle Reader; they were doing the best they could under very-much-less-than-ideal circumstances of their own. And so on, and so on, back through the generations. Think war, Reader – generation after generation of patriarchy and wars that crippled men and fathers and women and families and children… on & on & on…

What can we see in our mind’s eye if we peer way, way back in human history?

A time when human beings lived in tribes – in very small communities. A time when it was neither expected nor even conceived of that the so-called “nuclear family” – one mother, one father & a bunch of young’uns – could ever be enough for each other.

Imagine a time when each baby was born into a tribe of people who looked after her every need from Day 1. She was fed, clothed, held & played with – & her village was a community of people who cared for her and for all her brothers, sisters and cousins. All of them people s/he could trust. Parenthetical thought: for some folks on the planet – unlike for me and my white fellow citizens & our ancestors – this kind of life has existed almost up to the present day, although of course those of us reared on the “Everything is all about ME” philosophy have been relentlessly eradicating such conditions as we speak… We want their land, we want their diamonds, we want their oil, we want their uranium. We have wanted and we have been helping ourselves to all these things for hundreds of years now (colonialism and capitalism, yes?), & on we go, wanting, & wanting & wanting...

So…most of us are not properly nourished as children, & we then go on to fail similarly with our own offspring. We tell them that clothes & houses & cars & machines & toys & gadgets will fill them up – & we rape & pillage our way all over the face of the Earth in our desperate attempts to prop up an entire civilization (I use the term loosely) predicated on the notion that “Everything is all about ME.” And we fail to properly nourish our children’s innocent, trusting, incomparable souls…

Well…so what? you ask. What else is new?

What’s…well, not new, exactly, but pressing, very pressing surely – is the state of our world today, on the eve of another year. I think there cannot be too many intelligent, thoughtful people among us who think things are just ducky here on Planet Earth today.

What are we all waiting for? Are we waiting for “Someone Else” to effect our own transformation & the other transformations that are required? No one & nothing can transform us but ourselves, people.

Change begins where we are. We can begin our own with as simple a practice as the frequent self-reminder, “Everything isn’t all about me.”

We are all on this lovely Earthship together, dear Reader, as surely as rivers & lakes & sky don’t recognize borders & air & water pollution know no boundaries.

We are all connected, the way the spokes of a wheel are connected & necessary to one another and to the functioning of the bicycle.

The world’s religions (some of them, anyway) have been trying for thousands of years to help us grasp the deep mutuality of everything and everyone on the planet, but our tendency (both individual and collective) to be petty and small-minded mires us in self-serving rules and regulations and nonsensical notions about exclusivity. (I recall once seeing a cemetery with a sign over the entrance that said “Christian Cemetery.” I thought “Omigoodness, how absurd is that??”)

I don’t say organized religion is useless (although I do believe it has done and continues to do much harm), just that we need to transform or transmute the divisiveness that much of it seems all too determined to perpetuate. (I like to joke that I don't like organized religion & much prefer the unorganized kind...)

What if we try living out the radical notion that God/Allah/the Creator/the Great Spirit/the Goddess/Christ is in-side us rather than out-side?  This challenges us to act well at all times & in all situations, not just on “holy days” or when someone else is watching – or, at the very least, it can help us strive to be the best person we can possibly be – all the time.(2)

“Everything isn’t all about me” as a mantra, often repeated, reminds me frequently that my thoughts & actions matter, that sometimes (often, even) my own selfish desires & schemes & agenda may have to be set aside for the sake of a greater challenge or good. It’s also true that when I think and behave well & unselfishly, the benefits come back to me just as much as they benefit those toward whom I’ve behaved well or unselfishly. “What goes around, comes around,” as they say, hmmm?

I can think of a hundred things and situations – a thousand! – that can and will benefit if more of us begin to recite this simple mantra regularly.

Dysfunctionality is all around us – no question. It’s in every family, every institution humankind has created (think health care, government, politics, bureaucracy, educational system, “justice” system…and any other system you care to name) – but it is not an incurable disease.

Much, much help, and much, much healing are available.

Actually, they aren’t just available; they’re all around us! And in-side all of us. They are no further than our very own thoughts.

Miracles and transformation are really only a breath – a thought – away.

Change begins where you are.

Make that two new mantras that can help us all!


(1)  Watch the 20-minute video ‘The Story of Stuff’ for some powerful insights on this score… 

(2) I think we ought never to discount the power of our personal conscience. I think we need to make it a personal discipline to live according to our conscience (assuming we have one) – not by some seat-of-the-pants ethic of “Well, everyone else is doing it, so I guess I might as well do it too…” I find it a very useful personal guideline to act according to my own conscience, then detach from the outcome. What comes out of what I do is not the point; doing what I believe is right, is.