If we are really grateful, why do we do so much damage to all that gives us life? A Thanksgiving Reflection

Posted November 25th, 2013 in Blog, Featured 1 Comment »

Fostering Ecological Hope
Reflections on Culture and Meaning

by Margaret Swedish

I could share more of the latest bad news about the state of the planet (sadly, there’s lots of it), but I don’t want to. We had a light dusting of snow this morning, blowing in on a brisk west wind, part of the frigid arctic blast that covers much of the nation.  I’m on the wrong side of the lake or I would be buried in snow. But the little we had turned the world magic and I just don’t feel like reporting the latest horror stories about what humans are doing to their home.TRAVEL

It’s too beautiful outside…

Okay, I get that people are inconvenienced and all. I get that we seem every year to forget how to drive in this stuff. Or perhaps that is not really the problem. The problem is that pathology that has inflicted the human ever since we were able to create completely artificial environments that protect us from the elements – we think life should go on normally, on schedule, as we command it, no matter what is going on “outside.”

“Outside” begins to look like a ridiculous term in this context. Where is “outside?” We live inside this planet. That is gift. That is our good luck. That’s the only way we exist at all. How can a quick snow that makes the pavement slick and the world beautiful be an inconvenience rather than part of that within, within which we live? How did we come to believe so much more in our artificial environments that we think the real world an inconvenience because our artificial world has been disrupted?

I mean, why aren’t we the kind of species that stops on a morning like this (because it is safer anyway) to enjoy the view, to be invigorated by the cold, to see the world transformed?

I am aware that if we lived like that, we would be living now on a healthier planet. I am also aware that productivity would decrease and the markets would crash, but we would have a shot at a better, more human, more decent, more meaningful existence.

I must be insane to think like that – until I look at the state of our world and our human communities all around the planet and ask how we could come up with a better example of a collective, species-wide insanity.

alberta tar sandsHow is it possible that we are consuming our own habitats, consuming, tearing up, and toxifying our very own web of life – and doing it, for millions and millions of us, with barely a thought, hardly a moment of reflection, not a drop of grief, fear, or even dismay at the future toward which that insanity is leading us? How is that possible?

I won’t even go into the annual turkey slaughter – the caging of these birds fattened until they can barely stand, loaded up with hormones and antibiotics, then killed and packaged, brought to your local stores and then put on dinner tables all across the country.

And this is supposed to harken to a moment in our “American” history that probably never happened, or at least not the way the storybooks tell it.

Meanwhile, millions of our people are already beginning to camp out in shopping mall parking lots ready for the stores to open on this annual extremely Black Friday (now also Thursday), an appropriate color as it is the color of death and mourning. And then, what, at some point sitting at a table with family and/or friends and daring to give thanks for the blessing of the harvest, the bounty the Earth gives us each year to sustain us?

It ain’t just me who looks at all this and knows that something has gone horribly wrong.

If we were thankful at all for what this Earth has given us, we would stop doing our level best to bring about so much destruction. And those who look at the Earth as a big package of resources to be exploited for human “development,” for profit and power, for human pleasure and selfish satisfaction, would find their way of life rejected by humanity – for the sake of our humanity.

It is stunning, isn’t it, the way we humans can turn everything, including our moments of national or cultural meaning, into commodities to be bought and sold for profit.

"The Children Area Asking" - art by Mary Southard, CSJ

“The Children Area Asking” – art by Mary Southard, CSJ

Gratitude, like love or peace, is not a sentiment, not a feeling – it is action, it is something we do, a quality of who we are, an orientation toward the world. We cannot be grateful to someone we love while we beat them to a pulp. We cannot claim gratitude for the life of another while we kill them, harm them, undermine them, crush their life and spirit. Domestic abusers can get all weepy and apologetic after the beating and hope like crazy that the partner they just abused does not leave them, because they are emotionally dependent on that pathological relationship.

And so the industrial world and the global economy in relationship with the intimate other that is the living planet within which we live and move and have our being. A little conservation here and there, a species we decide to protect, a park we decide to set apart (please, Earth, don’t leave us, we really do love you!) – while all around us we wreak havoc with our industrial/consumer way of life.

In the world of personal relationships, we urge the abused one to leave the abuser. What the Earth is doing in response to the abuse is preparing to throw the abuser out altogether, to get an injunction ordering the abuser to stay away from the victim/survivor. In the context of a domestic abuse situation, we would applaud this.

TRAVELAm I stretching the metaphor? I don’t think so. Just trying to make something clear. Our most intimate relationships are not with other humans, no matter what kind of relationship we are in with them. We go through joy, loss, and plenty of grief when these loved ones come and go. But the relationships that sustain us no matter what else goes on are those with the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, the energy that keeps us warm, the forests and oceans and jet streams that sustain the planet’s magnificent balance and protect us from the extremes of weather we are now beginning to experience. It is within this context of life that we are able to fall in love, have families and friendships, do meaningful work, take a long walk on a beautiful snowy day.

And I think about those people camping out in the asphalt parking lots waiting for a doorbuster deal on a new Apple product (made with huge amounts of rare earth minerals gleaned from enormous strip mines and exploitation of cheap labor and contamination of soil and air and water), and the meager wages at Walmart, and the workers forced to deal with all those shoppers on Thanksgiving Day because they no longer have the day off to be with their families, and I wonder how in the world we can claim gratitude for life.

It’s not a feeling – it’s a way of being.

These holidays are hard for me because I don’t want to participate in the cultural pathology anymore. I put on my own blinders, try not to pay attention to the messages of consumer selfishness that tug away at what we know inside is the deeper meaning of life. The grand corporate masters want to keep us as busy as possible shopping and consuming and paying credit card bills and playing with little hi-tech entertainment screens so that we remain distracted from or even unable any longer to sense inside that deeper meaning. If we go there, if we re-find that place or space within us, this global economy of extraction-production-consumption-and waste is over.FAMILY

I would give thanks for that. I would sit long hours around a table of the harvest’s bounty with family and friends and community and give long glorious thanks for that.

If we are really grateful, we will stop doing so much damage to all that gives us life. We will instead bow down each day in humble gratitude for all that made us possible, and for all our interrelationships that envelop us in every moment of our lives. And we would take much better care of them.

This Earth is a marvel. I give thanks for it.


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One Response

  1. D.Bheemeswar

    This wonderful question asked a number of times, but there was no answer for this from ages, only the answer is that every thing is due to the brains that humans have which wander for materialistic benefits like money, status, position, or expanding there influence across the borders by force or by employing dubious methods, acquiring more and materials and for merriment at the cost of others. There are so many great books written in Indian languages and also others languages but still humans are humans with their brains. They all listen and read what is all about ethics and morale but hen it comes to practice all are selfish and forget that others are also humans like them.