The Forest

A close friend posted a picture online recently, accompanied by a passage from John Muir, the Scottish-American naturalist and author.  It read …and into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.

On this past weekend, our Canadian Thanksgiving holiday, two of my sisters went camping with their families, braving the October temperatures in the boreal forest of Algonquin Park.  They also posted online, pictures and messages, waxing eloquently on the beauty and serenity of the wilderness world around them.

I have long believed there is no more beautiful place to be in the world than Ontario in the splendor of October—when the green forest recasts itself in glorious hues of scarlet red, bright yellow, incandescent orange, and intense burgundy.  The sun, lower in the sky, shines through them, and they glow as if afire.

fall

We lived on a lake in the north for a long time—a long time ago.  One of our favourite October pastimes was walking the solitary cottage roads after all the seasonal vacationers had headed home.  Smelling the wood smoke from chimneys of the few year-round homes, kicking the wind-strewn piles of fallen leaves, breathing in the nippy harbingers of winter borne on the autumn breezes.

Occasionally, late in the month, we’d even get the first falls of snow, blown hither and yon before melting away in the late October sunshine.

The forest was a refuge, a release, a reminder that life, once upon a time, was simpler and elemental.

Sixty years ago, I spent a summer planting trees on the slopes of a valley, formerly the rocky, infertile fields of a pioneer farming family.  A lovely, clean river meandered its way along the valley floor.  We worked in pairs, one with the spade, the other with the bag of saplings, and we traded places every half-hour, or so.  I remember it as hard work, dirty work, thirsty work, to be sure.  But I know now it was glorious work, where we were (to steal from the 1965 novel by Peter Matthiessen), at play in the fields of the Lord.

tree

One of us would cut a T-shaped slice in the ground with the spade, then pry it up, splitting apart the base of the T.  The other would gently place a sapling, each about six inches high, in the crevice, and press the ground back together around the fragile stem.  When we finished a row, we’d retrace our path, pouring water from a bucket on each new plant.

I’ve lost track of how many trees we planted in a morning, or a day, or over the entire summer.  But it had to be a lot.  Hundreds.  We’d never heard the phrase paying it forward…it hadn’t even been coined back then, I imagine.  But that’s what we—such callow, carefree boys—were doing.

I had occasion some time back to drive through that same valley, not too far north of Toronto, and I stopped to look at the fields where we had laboured—private property now, far across the river on the opposite slopes.  To my chagrin, I couldn’t see them at first.  And then the astounding reality struck home.  The fields were still there, but the green canopy of a forest covered them—a forest—shielding them from my view.

canopy1

Our forest!  Our trees!

I couldn’t walk through that forest, of course—touching the trees, remembering them in their infancy, as they passed from my hands to the soil that embraced them.  Nor, truth be told, did I really need to.  It was enough to recall those barren fields as they were, and compare them to what they became after we were there.

As I think back on that long-ago summer, I know I left things behind—sweat, friends, youth.  Lost now in the mists of time.

But, as Muir so eloquently wrote, I found my soul.

Bearing Arms

When I was about ten years old, a long time ago now, my father gave me some needed advice to deal with bullies at school.  The ones who could outrun me.

“Don’t run away,” he said.  “That’s what they want, and they’ll keep coming after you.  It’ll never stop.”

I asked what I should do, instead.  “Hit them,” he said without hesitation.

When I pointed out that such a response might result in a worse beating than usual, he said, “Maybe.  But if you land one good punch, right in the schnozz, for example, they’ll think twice the next time.  Bullies don’t like to get hurt.”

bully

I honestly don’t know if that was wise counsel or not.  But I remember ending up in a few fights for awhile afterwards, often enough that my mother spoke to my father about his advice.  For her, fighting was never the answer.  Talking through a problem was always the preferable option.

I’ve been an adult for quite a long time since then.  And there have been occasions through the years when I felt put upon unfairly by someone—not physically, perhaps, but in a bullying manner.  And I’ve wondered what would have happened at those times if I had continued to follow my father’s advice.

Don’t like somebody’s behaviour?  Hit him!

I suspect I might have been charged with assault, my only defense being that I was following a strategy that was, perhaps, legitimate once upon a time—but no longer.

It reminds me of the tragic situations I read about too often, it seems, in the great republic to the south of us, the Land of the Free, the Home of the Brave.

In 1791, more than 225 years ago, the American government adopted an amendment to their constitution, which had been ratified two years earlier.  That amendment bestowed upon every citizen the right to keep and bear arms.  The arms in question in the eighteenth century, of course, bore little resemblance to the guns available today—some of which constitute weapons of mass destruction, by any reasonable definition.

Weapons-Silhouettes-Set

As recently as last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled:  …the Second Amendment extends, prima facie, to all instruments that constitute bearable arms, even those that were not in existence at the time of the founding; and further, that its protection is not limited to …only those weapons useful in warfare.

According to the New York Times, more Americans “…have died from guns in the United States since 1968 than on battlefields of all the wars in American history.”

Data from the National Vital Statistics System of the U. S. Centers for Disease Control, through 2015, show that—

  • on average, there are 12,000 gun homicides every year in the U.S.;
  • seven children are killed with guns in the U.S. on an average day;
  • America’s gun homicide rate is more than 25 times the average of other nations.

A list of firearm fatalities in the U.S. since 1999 yields more than 440,000 killed, including the awful massacres of school children in Columbine, Colorado in 1999, and in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012.

And this past week, of course, the lives of fifty-eight innocent souls were snuffed out in Las Vegas, Nevada by a deranged killer with an arsenal of military-grade, automatic weapons at his disposal.  All legally purchased.

As has been noted many times elsewhere, shocked politicians offer their thoughts and prayers every time to the grieving families.  Far fewer of them, however, think to call for an end to the madness.  Apparently, the slaughter of American children has become something that can be tolerated in the name of preserving the sanctity of the Second Amendment.

2ndAmen

That provision may have been acceptable, even advisable, when it was ratified those many years ago.  Today, however, a nation’s fawning adherence to it strikes me as being even less wise than a decision on my part to follow my father’s long-ago advice into adulthood.

When—if ever, I wonder—will that gloriously-blessed, yet grievously-afflicted nation grow up?

Just a Cliché?

Many people think of clichés as timeworn, too-oft-repeated banalities, devoid of meaning because of their ubiquitous presence.  Too self-evident to be of any use; to wit—

It is what it is.  Well, yeah…almost assuredly…duh!

What will be, will be.  You think?

As I approach the three-quarter century mark, however (in fluctuating moods of disbelief and resignation), I find I have begun to pay closer attention to many of them, discerning nuggets of truth that, heretofore, I paid scant attention to.  Whether this is on account of acquired wisdom or wishful thinking, I cannot tell.

cropped-cropped-monkeys.us_

Either way, I am becoming increasingly aware of the boundaries of life—that there is, not just a beginning that was, but an ending to come—a fact I tried to ignore in those halcyon days of my youth.  And many of the so-called clichés are resonating clearly now for me, rather than ringing hollow.

The times, they are a-changin’, right in front of my eyes, falling by the wayside as we continue to poison our planet, wage war on our fellow humans, and trample on the rights of others in a mad scramble to make our selfish way.  I’m beginning to understand more fully now that time and tide wait for no one, and it will soon be too late to reverse the flow.

Actions speak louder than words, undoubtedly; yet increasingly, we scoff at the science of climate change, and the inevitable—and irreversible—consequences of global warming.  The planet is home to all of us, the only home we have, and I fear we will not defend it, so focused are we on wealth-acquisition and a penchant to wield power.  We need to remember that a house divided against itself cannot stand.

the_earth_seen_from_apollo_17-1

We shall reap what we sow.  Or, if not us, those who come after us—those for whom we have tainted the future they will inherit.

It has been said it is better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt.  Nevertheless, if we do not speak out while yet we have the chance, our children and grandchildren may experience a fate worse than death—living on a planet that will be hell.

Too many of those to whom we look for leadership and vision, alas, fail us with their short-term thinking.  And as I enter this last quarter of my life, it occurs to me that neither they nor I will be around to reap the whirlwind that is being seeded by our collective short-sightedness.  Too many of them are yesterday’s men, when what we need are tomorrow’s dreamers—men and women who think beyond the constraints of the present.

Hindsight is better than foresight, by a damn sight, it is true.  But foresight is what will save us from ourselves.  If we don’t stand for something, we’ll fall for anything, and we’ll fall very hard.

snakeoil

So, these clichés—are they just empty aphorisms, bereft of significance?  Or do they, perhaps, constitute a wake-up call, wisdom from those who have gone before us, that might help preserve our bounty for those who will follow?

And, if they are true, will we pay heed?  Will we listen to the ones that caution us, each a voice of one crying in the wilderness?

Or will we ignore their message as nothing more than a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing?

When I hear false promises from so many of our leaders, I am reminded that every man has stupid thoughts, but wise men keep them quiet.  I am reminded that when you talk sense to a fool…he calls you foolish.  I wonder whether the world is being run by smart people who are putting us on, or by imbeciles who really mean it.

twain

Worst of all, I am in fear of those who believe everything they think. 

If we are to change the current course of human folly, we must refute the notion that everyone is entitled to an opinion, and substitute instead: everyone is entitled to [an] informed opinion.  No one is entitled to be ignorant.

Napoleon famously said (in French, I imagine), In politics, stupidity is not a handicap.  Woe that he was right!  So many of our leaders persist in pissing on our legs, while telling us it’s raining, and have the gall to pretend not to notice that we notice!

And that is our fault.  Far too many of us demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which [we] seldom use.

My mortal coil is unwinding, more quickly now, it seems, than ever before; and too soon for my liking, I will shuffle off to who knows where.  In the meantime, I try to heed the old advice—Don’t look back; something may be gaining.

dark-night-wallpaper-80

But looking forward is difficult, too, given the problems we seem not to be facing up to.  I yearn for a generation of leaders who will step to the tiller, place firm hands on the wheel, and chart a steady course, one we all might confidently follow.  We need captains who are principled, intelligent, unwavering, and above reproach—like the north star, [so we can] set our compass by them.

Will we find them?  Will they find us?  Or is such conjecture nothing more than a fanciful wish on my part?  The world ends when you die, or so some believe.  But for those left behind, it goes on, whether for better or worse.  Will that world flourish—a renewal, a blossoming?  Or will entropy prevail—a gradual decline into chaos and disorder?

Will the future confirm what Robert Browning once wrote—the best is yet to be…?  Or will it be what Porky Pig proclaimed—Th-th-that’s all, folks!?

porky

Just a cliché?  Maybe.  But it matters to me.

And Still, The Seekers

In the early 1960’s, back when we first learned rock ‘n’ roll was here to stay, my favourite songs were not from the likes of Elvis (the King), Jerry Lee (the Killer), or any of the other superstar singers of the time—Dion, Ricky, Roy, or even Chubby and Fats.

Nor was my preferred music drawn from the best-selling albums of the mega-bands—The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys, CCR, or any of the others.

I did enjoy them all, mind you, and many more besides—The Mamas & the Papas, Dylan, The Moody Blues, Aretha, The Platters, Buddy Holly, The Supremes, and Ray Charles (the Genius).

10637127-rock-n-----roll--teddy-boys

If you liked early rock ‘n’ roll, and I did, these were all great artists among a plethora of others too numerous to mention.

I, however, favoured folk music.  Not that I was an habitué of coffee-houses, with their pungent substances and aromas, both drinkable and inhalable.  And I certainly was no one’s idea of a flower-child or long-haired hippie.  I had a buzz-cut, for goodness sake!

Truth be told, a square is what I was.  What today one might call a dork, a dweeb, a wally.

So inevitably, I became an unofficial folkie, listening to wonderful artists from as far back as the 1940’s—Seeger, The Weavers, Woody (and later Arlo), The Blue Grass Boys, Baez, The New Christy Minstrels, Buffy, Simon & Garfunkel, Odetta, The Kingston Trio, Lightfoot, Peter, Paul & Mary, and Joni, to name but a few.

So well-known are these performers, even today, that I’m able to list many with only their first or last names.  And there are innumerable others not even on this brief roll.

All of which is but a prelude to my introduction of my all-time favourite folk singers, the incomparable group from Australia—The Seekers.

seekers

Unlike many of their contemporaries, their names are not as well-known individually, but their music certainly was.  The only surviving band from the ‘60s, anywhere in the world, with the original founding members (albeit with an interruption along the way), they compiled an amazing list of firsts in their heyday—

  • first group ever to reach No. 1 on the UK charts with their first three singles,
  • first Australian group to reach No. 1 in the USA,
  • first Australian group to reach No. 1 in the UK,
  • first Australian group to reach No. 1 with a debut song,
  • first concert artists ever to draw more than 200,000 people to a concert,
  • three worldwide No. 1 hits (The Carnival Is Over; I’ll Never Find Another You; Georgy Girl), and
  • quadruple Platinum for their 1994 live-in-concert video, 25 Year Reunion Celebration (which knocked Michael Jackson’s Thriller 10th Anniversary video off the No. 1 spot).

It wasn’t their awards that attracted me to The Seekers, however.  It was the music!  Three instrumentalists—Athol Guy on bass, Keith Potger and Bruce Woodley on banjo, guitar, and keyboard—backed up the lead singer, Judith Durham, augmenting the crystal clearness of her voice with subtle harmonies.

Whether you’re a musician or music-lover, if you want to do your ears a good turn, you have to listen to someone with perfect pitch.  Perfect pitch means hitting the real notes—their core sound—and singers who have it can do that.  Judith Durham had it in spades, and it was her voice that initially attracted fans to the music the group produced.

The Seekers were the final act in the closing ceremonies of the 2000 Paralympic Games in Melbourne, and their performance of one of their signature songs sparked both joy and tears in the athletes assembled in front of them, as attested to in this link—

They had so many hit songs, most in the folk genre, some crossing into the spiritual category, that it’s impossible to list them all here.  Some of my particular favourites are—

  • Allentown Jail,
  • A World Of Our Own,
  • If You Go Away,
  • Morningtown Ride,
  • Silver Threads and Golden Needles,
  • Sinner Man,
  • The Leaving Of Liverpool, and
  • When The Stars Begin To Fall.

The last one in the list, for which I’ve provided a link, is my all-time fave, as fresh in my mind today as when I first heard it more than fifty years ago—

If you want to listen to any of the songs for which I haven’t provided a link, they can be found on YouTube, and they’re well worth the time.

In 2010/2011, the group toured Australia and New Zealand with Andre Rieu and his famed Johann Strauss Orchestra, packing every venue.  This final link, however, is to their 50th anniversary concert at Albert Hall, London in 2014, described at the time as ‘one big hug of a tour’—

I enjoy The Seekers as much today as I did when I sported that long-ago buzz-cut.  I hope you will, too.

 

Lying? No, Storytelling!

“What’s the most interesting thing that happened to you today?” he’d ask.  My grandpa, puffing on his pipe.

Pleased to have his attention, and anxious to keep it, I’d rack my brain for a response.  Growing up in the suburbs in the 1950’s was pretty mundane.  Nothing of great interest ever seemed to happen to me.

So, I’d make things up.  Not lying, exactly.  Storytelling.

“I fell in the creek today,” I might tell him.  “Tried to walk across the log, but my foot slipped off .”

kids-crossing-a-river_1308-616

“How’d you get out?” he’d ask, wisps of smoke curling around his head.

“Wasn’t deep,” I’d say.  “But don’t tell my Mum.”

“Nope,” he’d say.  “Be best not to go near the creek anymore, though.”  And he’d give me a broad wink.

On another occasion, I might tell him that my bike got stolen, but I managed to get it back.  Heroically.

“Wasn’t it locked” he’d ask.

“Yeah, the lock was across the forks of the back wheel.  But the guys who took it just picked it up and carried it.  That’s how I caught up to ‘em.”

“What did you say to them?”

“Nothin’ Grandpa.  When they heard me comin’, they dropped the bike and ran away.  I guess I scared ‘em off.”

“Sounds like,” he’d say.  “Maybe you should fasten your wheel to the bike rack from now on.  Be hard to take that.”  His blue eyes would sparkle, and I’d love that I made that happen.

He never tired of asking the same question, and I never got tired of answering.  I might have told him how I won the game for our team when I made the game-ending catch of a long fly-ball in centrefield.

“Jus’ like Willie Mays!” I’d say, omitting the fact that I had actually stumbled and fallen, slid to an ignominious stop, only to have the ball land on my stomach, where I frantically clutched it.

ballplayer

“Mays is one of the greats,” he’d say.  “You caught it over your shoulder, like he did?  Wish I could have seen it.  Next time, though, try to keep the ball in front of you.  Those over-the-shoulder catches are pretty rare.”  And he’d flash me a knowing smile.

As a grandfather myself now, I know he knew I was padding the truth.  But I didn’t know back then.  I thought it was okay, because it brought us closer together.

He lived to a ripe old age, and in the last few years before he died, he was slowed considerably.  When I’d visit with him, it seemed our roles were reversed.  Now it was I asking the questions, and he searching for answers that would keep me there longer.  I always asked the old chestnut.

“So, what’s the most interesting thing that happened to you today, Grandpa?”

He no longer smoked his pipe, but he’d stroke his mouth as if still holding it, and I could almost hear the gears meshing inside his head.

“Nothing much today,” he’d say.  “But did I ever tell you about the time I saved your father from drowning?  Fell off the dock while we were fishing at the lodge up near Bala, no life-preserver.  I reached down, grabbed his collar, and hauled him straight out of the water.  Poor little guy cried like a baby.  That was pretty interesting, I’ll tell you.”

dock3

I’d heard the story many times, of course, and my father had debunked it every time.  “The water was shallow,” he told me.  “I jumped in, and waded ashore.  And I did have a life-preserver on.  Dad loves to tell the story, though.”

Of course, I never let on that I didn’t believe what my grandpa was telling me.  I remember hearing how he met the King, back in 1939, when he and the Queen, on their tour of Canada, visited the hospital where my grandpa was recuperating from surgery.

“I had a picture of the two of us,” he’d say.  “Don’t know what ever happened to it.  Your grandma must’ve thrown it out.  But that was really interesting!”

Grandma would only smile when I asked about that picture.  “Grandpa was in the hospital in 1937,” was all she’d say.

I heard about the lawn-bowling championship he won, the skip of a Dominion championship team in 1909.  According to him, the mantel clock that still sits in my home was the prize awarded for the victory.

clock2

“There’s no plaque on it, Grandpa,” I once told him.  “How come they didn’t put your name on it?”  The wistful look he gave me made me wish I hadn’t asked.

“Ah, they gave us all a letter,” he said.  “Signed by the prime minister, Mr. Borden.  That’s why your father’s middle name is Borden.  No idea where that letter is now.  But that’s pretty interesting, don’t you think?”

I nodded in agreement, and was circumspect enough not to mention that the prime minister in 1909 was Wilfrid Laurier.  My father was born in 1911, right after Robert Borden’s election.

By then, my grandpa’s eyes no longer sparkled as in days of yore.  But he’d still wink at me while telling his stories, and smile whimsically.  Kind of like my smile now, when I listen to my own grandchildren telling me about the momentous events in their lives.

And when they ask me about the interesting things in my day, I try not to lie to them.  Elaborating is not the same as lying.

“Nothing much today,” I tell them.  “But did I ever tell you about the time I saved my brother from the big kid across the road who was beating him up?  I ended up with a bloody nose and a black eye, but that kid never picked on my brother again.  That was pretty interesting.”

400-08651135

“Really, Gramps?” they marvel.  Or pretend to.

Of course, I don’t tell them the real reason my brother was safe afterwards; the kid’s family moved away.

To this day, I have a warm feeling inside when I remember my grandpa, and those conversations we used to have.  And I love the exchanges now with my grandchildren, swapping tales about our lives.

Not lying, exactly.  Storytelling.

Which is what I do.

Gone Fishin’!

When we lived on the lake, I was often asked by old friends about my retirement activities, and what I did to amuse myself all the livelong day.  Most of them assumed I did a lot of fishing.  And they were right, to a point.

In my opinion, there are few pleasures in life to compare to the joys of fishing.  But only, of course, if it’s done properly—that is, my way.

stock_fishing-1024x6561

It’s probably true that there are as many ways to fish as there are people who go fishing.  So, the proper procedures will be defined differently by each of us.  My routine would undoubtedly be totally inappropriate for anyone else.

I developed it as a younger man camping in the wilds of northern Ontario, and it was perfection, itself—or almost, since there was one flaw, which I shall come to shortly.

As I remember it, the proper fishing excursion began quite early in the morning, when all save the birds were still asleep.  I would rise quietly, so gently as to pass unnoticed by comrades on my way from the tent to the water’s edge.  The canoe, already laden with the necessary gear, would be launched smoothly, silently, into the mist-enshrouded lake.

My body would stretch exultantly as the paddle cut deeply through the water’s ebony surface.  For a time, nothing would be heard but the soothing hiss of the canoe across the lake.  My happiness was absolute.

canoe2

I’d watch as the mist lifted, a curtain rising before an audience of one.  Wet, wraith-like wisps would seek to flee the warming sun—frantic, elusive phantoms ruthlessly pursued until thrust from its gaze.

I’d be well offshore when the sun brought the forest alight in greens, bouncing and careening its way through the translucent leaves.  Dark shade-spots would climb the stretching tree-trunks, dance across leaves turned to face the morning light, and then suddenly vanish.

The lake—its diamond-dancing surface reflecting morning back to bluing sky—would part before my craft, bowing away in widening ripples to lap gently against the shore of a small inlet I might find.  I was in awe of the panorama of sunlit trees reflected in the mirrored mere—quicksilver, green, and cold.

The lilting lament of a loon might be all that would break the silence.  Great granite slabs, topped by bush and trees, slanted from on high down into the lake, which tossed back their image from its glassy depths.

lake

Peace would reign, rampant upon nature’s canvas.

Alas, it would not last.  For to begin fishing was to interrupt that sylvan sequence of morning life, to disturb its natural ebb and flow.  Yet, not to cast a line was to deny the purpose of the visit.

And therein lay the flaw in my perfect way to fish.  The act of fishing became almost a sacrilege in nature’s cathedral of calm, and thus devoid of any joy.  All the pleasure had come from just being there.

So, I had to adapt in order to come to grips with the incongruity of being a fisherman who didn’t like to fish.  I made sure my tackle-box always contained a book or two, a novel, perhaps, or a chosen book of verse.  It held my harmonica, a ‘one-man band’ with which I could while away countless hours.  And there was always a camera, loaded and ready.

tackle box

In short, I still went fishing, but I did not fish.  When I’d reach the perfect spot, I’d cease my paddling, sink back in the bottom of the canoe, and just drift ‘til it was time to go back.

Water-bugs would skitter their erratic dash across the water, an occasional fish would jump with a splash.  When a kingfisher darted down to stand on the prow of the canoe, I knew I’d become a piece of the very scene I was observing.

I was one with my surroundings—at once apart and a part.

fish cove

There were inevitable questions, of course, when I’d return from an excursion.  Where did I fish?  What bait was I using?  Did I catch anything?

I’d reply that nothing was biting, or that there were only a few nibbles.

In that respect, I guess, I was like all true fishermen.  I would never tell anyone where I’d found my favourite fishing-hole.

That would have spoiled it.

Modern Sins

Most readers of this blog will know—or know how to find out—the names of the seven deadly sins, according to Judaeo-Christian orthodoxy.  They are, in alphabetical order, envy, gluttony, greed, lust, pride, sloth, and wrath.

Seven-deadly-sins

Less known, perhaps, are seven contrasting virtues:  kindness, temperance, charity, chastity, humility, diligence, and patience.  A focus on these in our daily lives is thought to provide a shield from the deadly sins.

By way of comparison, the four vices identified in Islamic tradition are concupiscence (gluttony and lust), cowardice, ignorance, and tyranny.  The contrasting virtues are chastity, courage, wisdom, and justice.

In Sikh philosophy, five vices, whose purpose is to steal one’s common sense, are identified:  attachment, conceit, greed, lust, and rage.  By contrast, the virtues identified are compassion, humility, love, and truth.

There is a remarkable similarity among these—attesting, perhaps, to a universal quest for righteousness and enlightenment across all humankind.

It is all too easy, of course, to succumb to the temptations of the vices, regardless of our religious and ethical upbringing.  Much of the history of the world may be laid at the feet of those who chose to embark upon a darker path than our enlightened selves would have followed.

7357308-terrorism-word-collage-on-white-background-illustration

Despite those missteps, however, we have arrived at this place, in this time, with the same choice facing us—a commitment to the virtues or an embracing of the vices.  I choose to believe—admittedly, less with evidence and more with hope—that our better natures will take us down the right path.

On a more pedestrian level, there are other, perhaps-lesser vices that bedevil us today in our quest for nirvana.  As with the major vices cited earlier, they are linked to corresponding virtues that are too often missing in our commonplace activities.

Intellectual laziness is one such vice.  So many people today are content to take whatever they might hear or read at face-value.  They make no attempt to question its source, its veracity, or even its consequences.  Critical thinking—the application of logic, surely an essential virtue—is non-existent for them.  Advertising agencies, corporate behemoths, and politicians love such folks.

Farther along the same spectrum are the people who actively deny the truths of science and history.  Absolute certainty—the refusal to accommodate opposing thoughts and opinions—leads them to see the world through only one lens.  And often a faulty one, more prism than glass.  They believe everything they think.  Left to themselves, they may not do much damage.  But when they ascend to positions of influence, the danger is palpable.  The virtue of open-mindedness—a tolerance and consideration of others’ viewpoints—is sorely lacking.

Another everyday vice is the desire for instant gratification.  Too many of us prefer not to think about the future, and how it will be affected by the choices we make today.  “I’m alright, Jack!” is a phrase that springs to mind.  This tendency may be forgiven in third-world countries, where vast populations are concerned only with their next meal, their next drink of water.  But for us in the developed world, the profligate, endless consumption of the resources of our finite planet with little thought to their replenishment verges on the criminal.  It’s been said that we have not inherited the planet from our forebears; rather, we have borrowed it from those yet to come.  Yet we do not behave as if we believe that.  The virtue of responsible stewardship is sadly lacking.

earth

Egocentrism—a belief that I alone occupy the centre of the universe—is yet another modern vice.  It manifests as a position of entitlement, the notion that you don’t matter as much as I do.  Regardless of my socio-economic standing, I deserve the same things you do, whether earned or not.  It’s a me-first attitude, aimed at placing me on a par with the most-privileged among us, demoting you and everyone else to subservient positions.  In short, it tears our civilized, communal society asunder.  It exists, I believe, in the absence of altruism, the virtue of selflessness, the presence of a social conscience.

Of all these vices, this last one—the absence of a social conscience—may be the direst for the future of humankind.  Either we are each others’ keeper, or we are not.

together

As a wise man once said, faced with a choice of cohesion or division, “If we do not hang together, we shall surely hang separately.”