“That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons of history.” – Aldous Huxley.
I’m not (overly) ashamed to read the occasional self-help book, as long as it’s not poorly written and isn’t too ‘self-helpy’. Today I was reading A Hidden Wholeness, by Parker J Palmer. So far, this book seems to be pretty good. It’s more about Parker’s view on the need for social change and his suggestions for how we can create it, rather than some bullshitty nonsense.
Parker starts with a story about farmers on the Great Plains, who at the first sign of a blizzard, would run a rope from the back door out to the barn. They did this because everyone knew stories of people who had wandered off and been frozen to death, having lost sight of their own home while still in their backyards.
Using the barn story as an analogy, he suggests that today we live in a blizzard of another sort: “one that swirls around us as economic injustice, ecological ruin, physical and spiritual violence and war.”
The book was published back in 2008 – I think we can all think of a few recent occurrences which have shown us the weather is in fact even worse than we anticipated. But without meaning to sound complacent, I have to wonder: hasn’t it always been this way? I mean, aren’t humans always thinking we’re at the worst point of history, when in fact we’ve just spinning around in circles repeating the same mistakes?
Donald Trump obtaining the most powerful positon in the world suggests to me that we learnt nothing from Hitler, for example. I know Trump didn’t obtain the popular vote and this is all old news now, but really, the fact that anyone could vote for him still appalls me. The Holocaust wasn’t all that long ago when you think about it – less than 80 years. Millions of deaths all in the name of ‘ethnic cleansing’. It may sound like I’m being dramatic making such a comparison, but any idea of ‘them vs. us’, wherever it happens, is a dangerous one.
But it’s a choice we keep making.
We’re still bombing each other – as though killing faceless humans somewhere far, far away is the best way to attain the peaceful outcomes. We’re still treating our planet as a resource which we can plunder, rather than a living organism akin to our own bodies. If we can’t live without our planet – the earth we walk on, the air we breathe, the plants we eat – then isn’t it logical to think of the planet as our second body?
Where it all starts, perhaps, is when we challenge our personal ideas of ‘them and us’ or ‘us and the planet’ on a smaller scale. Rather than male or female, black or white, rich and poor, educated or uneducated, church-going or non-church-going… we recognise we’re all just people, spending a very short time on the planet which contains us. It’s so strange that we perpetuate the norms we’re born into, often without even questioning them.
I’m not up to the part of the book where Palmer J Parker wows me with his answer to all this – which I suspect will be a largely personal journey (because what isn’t?). I guess all I can do is make sure I tie my own rope from my backdoor to the barn.