Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Good news is no news

There's a question that troubles me, and I don't know whether you can offer an answer. Why is it, I ask myself, that we are all seduced by bad news?

I worked for a short while in the News Room at the BBC. Here it was all too evident that it was bad news that mattered, preferably bad news that had happened to someone notable. On one occasion, I remember, a correspondent informed us that a Bank Manager had been stabbed. This was definitely newsworthy, and the item was immediately selected for the next bulletin. Great was the disappointment when it transpired that it was the caretaker, not the Bank Manger, who had been attacked. The story was dropped.

Bad news, preferably celebrity-based and local, grabs an audience and sells newspapers . . . or so we are given to believe. But does this mean that good news, local and international, should be studiously avoided?
Sometimes, when bad news is in short supply, we're offered a smattering of good news from other English-speaking corners of the world. Occasionally we may even get a snippet of good news from Europe. But good news from Bolivia . . . ?

Let me illustrate this point. Tell me, have you heard about The Law of Mother Earth, the revolutionary new law that was passed by the Bolivian Government a few weeks ago?
Such was my ignorance and insularity, that - apart from knowing that Bolivia was in South America - I wasn't even certain just where in South America it was. This left me doubly ashamed when I heard of its Government's incredible achievement.

There was no mention of it in my paper, no reference to it on the radio or television. It was only by chance that I heard a friend speak about it.

However, it wasn't completely ignored. I've since found it featured by Sean Dagan Wood in 'Positive News' (a life-affirming periodical that bucks the trend), and by John Vidal, in 'The Guardian'.
Let me atone for my ignorance by quoting the opening of John Vidal's article:

Bolivia is set to pass the world's first laws granting all nature equal rights to humans. The Law of Mother Earth, now agreed by politicians and grassroots social groups, redefines the country's rich mineral deposits as "blessings" and is expected to lead to radical new conservation and social measures to reduce pollution and control industry.
The country . . . will establish eleven new rights for nature. They include: the right to life and to exist; the right to continue vital cycles and processes free from human alteration; the right to pure water and clean air; the right to balance; the right not to be polluted; and the right to not have cellular structure modified or genetically altered . . . "

As Bolivia's Vice-President, Alavro Garcia Linera, said proudly, his country was 'making world history'.

And so it was . . . it was aiming at something revolutionary . . . something wholly desirable . . . something that should have set the rest of the world celebrating . . . something that we should all be aiming to emulate.
But were we paying attention . . . ? Not on your life!

Do you see what I mean? Did you realise that world history was being made last month? I certainly didn't.
Whilst most of us were looking for bad news in other directions, Bolivia was openly expressing its reverence for the Earth. As a nation, it was recognising our total inter-dependence with all life on Earth . . . or, as they would say in Bolivia, the Pachamama.

The current environmental crisis had been their spur. Far from wringing their hands, turning the other way, or becoming distracted by worries as to whether their new policy was economically viable or politically expedient, the Bolivian Government had acted. They had acted not out of a wish to dominate other life-forms, not by man taking control, but by man relinquishing control. They had acknowledged our obligation to step out of the driver's seat (a vainglorious misconception in the first place!) and to grant equal rights to all life on the planet. In so doing they were recognising the Earth as a divine eco-system of which mankind was an integral part.

By what one might call divine coincidence, and as though to demonstrate this underlying unity of all life, an email arrived just as I was typing those words. It was from an environmental charity.
Would I contact my MEP, they asked. A vote would shortly take place on whether to toughen the EU's carbon emissions reduction target, this vote was vitally important in order to prevent catastrophic climate change.

So I've sent an email to my MEP along the lines they suggested.
Who knows, if enough of us write to our MEPs the EU might take a very small step towards emulating the great stride taken by Bolivia.

And, if we do, will the mass media take note . . . ?
Most likely not. But don't let's be discouraged. Instead, let's give the last word to Thomas Berry, an American Catholic monk:

"The Universe is not a collection of objects," he wrote, "it is a communion of subjects."

How's that for an item of good news?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Two Deluded Ducks

Oh dear, I wonder if I can seek your help in solving a slight problem?
We all know about identification in the animal world. How duped birds unwittingly rear a young cuckoo in the nest, and look upon this outsize nestling as their own. How good-natured dogs will suckle orphaned fox cubs along with their own puppies - cubs who then go on to believe that they, too, are dogs.
But this story is a little more problematic.,
Have you ever heard of ducks believing that duck food comes from cats?

It's all my fault. When a pair of mallard ducks started to visit our garden I was overjoyed. It was a delight to see ducks swimming happily on the pond, and it provided a wonderful diversion for my cat, Chloe.
To ensure that the ducks felt welcome and appreciated, I decided to buy them some food.
But what did ducks like? I had no idea. A chocolate-based breakfast cereal seemed a good indication of our pleasure at their arrival . . . I bought a large packet.

Each day Chloe and I would visit the garden and take food for the ducks. As the days passed, so the ducks' appreciation of 'choco-pops' increased.
Immediately on sighting our arrival, the ducks (the female always to the fore, the drake taking up the rear) would scramble out of the pond and waddle enthusiastically to meet us. They would then wait happily beside the seat as I prepared to scatter their breakfast.

There was not the slightest doubt that 'choco-pops' were popular. I even began to grow a little worried about the possibility of chocolate addiction.

What I hadn't appreciated was that not only did the ducks associate me with food . . . they also identified Chloe. My cat, in their eyes, was a kindly and benevolent 'duck food transporter'!

Which brings us to the other day when, to my surprise, I caught sight of the ducks not by the pond but on the lawn. Not only were they far from the safety of the water, but, with happy, if ill-placed, confidence, they were waddling in a determined fashion towards an excited Chloe. Written clearly in their beady eyes was the shining conviction that this cat was the bearer of their favourite 'choco-pops'!

Hastily scooping Chloe off the lawn, I held her firmly on my lap as I proceeded to feed the hungry ducks.
But how to disabuse them of their conviction? What if they were to meet another cat on their travels, and were to approach it in the same confident expectation of food?

I'm sure you understand my slight problem . . . please, have you any idea as to how one can alter the mind-set of two chocolate-addicted, cat-attracted ducks?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

"I love you . . . "

You had a long letter last week, this week's offering will be brief. Not that I want to denigrate this story. It may be brief . . . but it's good.
I can say that because, strictly speaking, it isn't my story at all. It was told to me by my friend, Mary, who lives in Ohio and I'm certain you'll be as moved by it as I was.

It appears that, during the closing chapter of her life, Mary's mother lived at a nursing home. Illness had deprived her not only of mobility, but also of most of her speech. During those final months all she could manage were three words.

All that Mary's mother could say was, "I love you . . . "
However, far from limiting her contact with those caring for her, those three words opened up a floodgate of shared affection.

"I love you . . . " Mary's mother would say to the cleaners who daily tended her room . . . and, for the busy cleaners, all at once their task seemed strangely lighter.

"I love you . . . " she would tell the handy-man when he came to change the
light bulb or adjust her chair . . . and the handy-man would go away more erect, more confident, with a smile on his face.

"I love you . . . " she said repeatedly to the nurses who washed her, dressed her, and helped to feed her . . . and they all loved her in return.

"I love you . . . " it was all that Mary's mother could say, but it was the most powerful thing she could have said.

Because they are so powerful, wouldn't you agree that those three small words scare us? We have developed the idea that to speak them, or to write them, is to declare our vulnerability, our dependency . . . in effect, to weaken us.

But what if it were quite the opposite? What if they were to give us energy and abundance, power and joy?

I'm willing to take the risk if you are.
Let's try it . . . it wouldn't be the end of the world . . . it could be the start of world peace . . .
Are you ready . . . ?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Lost for words . . .

I wonder . . . have you noticed the bad habit that I've developed?
Time and again I start these letters with a polite enquiry, "If you've time . . . " I say, or "Have you a spare moment . . . ?"
The unwritten inference being that if you haven't the time, or the spare moment, that's not going to deter me . . . I'll keep going!
I'm writing . . . you're expected to do the reading.

About to start this letter with a similar expression, the thought occurred to me that, as a habit, it could be far more pernicious than I'd realised.
I really do hope you have a spare moment as I'd love to share the outcome of my pondering.

I'm sure you'd agree that we live in a social climate which fosters self-expression. A climate in which we are encouraged to air our views, share our ideas and discard our inhibitions. The stiff upper lip has become tremulous and we have all become confessional. Have you noticed how television and radio programmes constantly urge us to participate? What's more, when it comes to passing judgement, we are the ones, not the experts, who are expected to cast the final vote.

So, where has this all led? To what would seem an intoxicating sense of individual empowerment. We put our videos on YouTube, develop personal websites and blogs, express our views forcibly on Facebook and Twitter, and keep our opinions endlessly circulating by means of emails and mobile phones.

But, I wonder, do you share my nagging doubts about the one-sided nature of this rush to self-expression?
Are we, perhaps, too busy talking to listen? In our efforts to express ourselves, have we become too busy writing to read?

To make matters worse, we find ourselves in competition with a rampant and often hysterical media. Each day more television channels come on air, more radio stations fight for listeners, more advertisers compete for our market, more and more books are published and newspapers compete with each other in terms of sheer bulk. In this battle for attention, we're all in there . . . fighting to hold our positions on the front line!

Words pile up on each other, confuse each other, drown each other.
"Have you seen . . . ? Have you read . . . ? Have you heard . . . ?" how can we
possibly cope with the plethora?

Let's pause for a moment. Surely the need is not for more 'filling' but for more space?

Sitting here a moment ago, looking out of the window, I experienced a welcome sense of space and, out of that space, a thought rose up that left me ashamed.
I realised all too clearly that I was being ungrateful . . . I was being shockingly ungrateful.

We are part of the whole . . . not participants in a competition. What of all those people who have helped me immeasurably? What of the many speakers and writers who with perceptive words . . . insightful words . . . words of wisdom . . . have inspired and guided me? And what of online seminars, such as Beyond Awakening, whose speakers gently but firmly put life in perspective? Not to mention organisations, such as Cygnus, who make available the books that feed this inner hunger.
Please forgive me, all of you . . . I owe you not my criticism, but my deepest, humblest gratitude.

Nonetheless, one thing remains true. It is true that words can only take us so far, after that we are on our own. In the meantime we will doubtless go on using words . . . struggling with words . . . inventing words . . . all in an effort to reach that unifying point which is beyond the limitations of language.
"I can't tell you how happy I felt!" said a friend today.
I knew exactly what she meant!

Before I go, let me tell you of someone else who has no difficulty in expressing her feelings! My life is shared with the living proof that words can be totally unnecessary.
By means of a loving heart, perceptive listening, captivating blue eyes, and not the slightest need for modern technology, Chloe forges an instant friendship with everyone she meets . . . and achieves everything she desires!

Could there be a moral there somewhere . . . ?
Thank you, Chloe!