The old voice
of the ocean, the bird chatter of little rivers,
WE WRITE THIS, TWO WEEKS have passed since terrorists destroyed
the World Trade Towers, crashed a commercial jet into the Pentagon,
and murdered thousands of people. We've watched and listened as
shock and mourning gave way to anger targeting Muslims. This morning,
as we prepared for the wolf walk, we listened to an Arab journalist
on National Public Radio ask why the people who committed these
heinous acts were referred to as "Islamic terrorists." They are
terrorists, he said, pure and simple; they do not represent the
who murder doctors and bomb abortion clinics are not labeled Christian
terrorists, nor was Jim Jones called a Christian dictator. Aum Shinrikyo's
cult, that released nerve gas in the Tokyo subway, no more represented
Buddhism than Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda represent Islam. When
we allow a fringe group of fanatics to represent a group, we do
them and ourselves a disservice. When we close our minds, stop learning,
and shout slogans such as "You're either for us or against us!"
then we become the zealots. As zealots we are no longer able to
step back and view our own actions as anything but righteous; no
longer able to see ourselves through the eyes of others with different
values. As zealots we cease working towards constructive change
and stand as an obstacle to it by generating mistrust, polarization,
after the tragedy visited upon America, the Dalai Lama, an individual
who lived through the annihilation of the country of his birth by
the Republic of China, penned the following words: "This is the
challenge that is placed before every thinking person today. What
can I do to preserve the beauty and the wonder of our world and
to eliminate the anger and hatred-and the disparity that inevitably
cause it-in that part of the world which I touch."
words of the Dalai Lama have echoed in our minds since we first
read them after the horrific events of September 11. Thoughts that
we've discussed over and over concerning the "pro and anti" environmental
movements began to gel and resulted in this essay. Hopefully, it
is a coherent presentation of ideas that readers can take to heart
during this season of reflection, compassion, and wishes of peace
on earth, goodwill toward men.
AND ITS OPPOSITE are forms of religion. Here are two definitions
of religion from the Encarta Dictionary:
Personal Beliefs Or Values a set of strongly-held beliefs,
values, and attitudes that somebody lives by;
Obsession an object, practice, cause, or activity that somebody
is completely devoted to or obsessed by;
From Latin stem religion - "obligation, reverence," of uncertain
origin: probably formed from religare "to bind together"
the earth as a self-sustaining creation of which we are a part,
not separate from or exploiter of, but subject to the same biological
laws and benefits as any other earthly organism, that belief permeates
our spirituality. There are others whose religion deems it a right,
in fact a duty, to dominate, conquer, and subdue the earth; to utilize
its resources without regard for the rest of creation. In the world
of environmental issues, the zealots in the pro- and anti- factions
beat their chests and point accusing fingers at each other. Since
we're environmentalists, in keeping with the Dalai Lama's adage,
we're obligated to acknowledge the zealots under "our" own tent.
the years of working on environmental issues, we've heard an adage
repeated time and again that goes something along the lines of:
"Environmentalists never win, the best we achieve is a holding action."
Or "Environmentalists never win the war, only battles." We have
to admit to spending a fair amount of time agreeing with this sentiment.
But to constantly look at life in this manner casts every disagreement
in the guise of warlike conflict and turns us into victims-it doesn't
allow us to take satisfaction in "wins" nor does it take into account
environmental zealots we've encountered define themselves in terms
of what they're in opposition to. Without an enemy they are nothing-lacking
something to push against, they fall flat on their faces. It is
difficult to negotiate with such people because, from their point-of-view,
negotiation entails compromise and compromise denotes 'giving up'
something. Therefore, they never see themselves as winning. They
are always the losers. Through the eyes of a victim, the world is
viewed with bitterness and thus, violence becomes justifiable. When
zealots approach problem solving in a combative manner, it inspires
a similar approach in their opposition. Violence, be it dispatched
with words, fists, bullets or bombs, incites more violence.
the years ahead, those interested in the future of wolves in the
west have an opportunity to practice non-zealotry in their own lives.
Wolf populations have increased significantly since their reintroduction
to Yellowstone and central Idaho in 1994. From a beginning of 30
individuals in each area, their numbers have increased to more 300.
US Fish and Wildlife Service, the federal agency charged with recovering
wolves, has begun to talk about delisting those wolves and, in a
few years, turning management over to the states, if and when the
states develop management plans assuring that the current number
of wolves continue to exist.
lines in the sand are being drawn by various and sundry groups both
pro and con. Already shrill voices are trumpeting that delisting
under any circumstance will spell doom for wolves, that there can
be no compromise. And quite predictably, as postulated 314 years
ago in the Newtonian laws regarding motion, for every action
there is an opposite and equal reaction-shrill voices of opposition
call on state legislatures to eradicate wolves. Emails race back
and forth across the internet accusing those on "their" side who
dare to question their authority or "facts" of being traitors and
betrayers of the "truth". The zealots on each side inflame each
other and cause the majority of those interested in wolves (both
pro and con) to react fearfully, and to ignorantly and unthinkingly
fall in lockstep behind the flag-waving, slogan-shouting zealots
who appear to represent "their" side.
will always be certifiable zealots in this world, people filled
with hatred and an inability to see the "enemy" as human or issues
as anything but black and white. They have lost control of their
lives-perhaps due to genetic flaws and/or the intersection of fate
and life experiences-and it is impossible for them to be anything
other than what they are. They are to be pitied and carefully watched.
But most zealots are zealots out of laziness, out of sloppy thinking,
or non-thinking or out of fear that questioning "their" side will
result in being cast out of the flock.
It's easy to behave like puppy dogs, to follow our masters, even
if they are zealots, wherever they lead us. It's especially easy
when we are embittered and see ourselves as victims hurt by the
other side. But by barking slogans and joining with zealots on "our"
side, we do exactly what the opposing zealots expect of us. In doing
so we only serve to further strengthen the very forces we seek to
much more difficult (and complicated) to attempt to see the world
through the eyes of those whose values differ from our own, to recognize
they are as blind and unable to fully comprehend our ideology as
we are of understanding theirs. They, like us, are human and believe
they are doing the right thing. It's much more difficult to educate
ourselves, to question our leaders and peers, to add a calming voice
in the face of hyperbole and jingoism, to think for ourselves, and
to take responsibility for our behavior, the actions of our leaders,
and the resultant reactions of others. It's much more difficult
to display independence and courage, to be a wolf and not a puppy.
It's much more difficult to live free.
(Winter has given them gold for silver
To stain their water and bladed green for brown to line their banks)
From different throats intone one language.
So I believe if we were strong enough to listen without
Divisions of desire and terror
To the storm of the sick nations, the rage of hunger-smitten cities,
Those voices also would be found
Clean as a child's; or like some girl's breathing who dances alone
By the ocean-shore, dreaming of lovers.
Music" from Roan Stallion, Tamar and Other Poems by Robinson
OFTEN, IT SEEMs as if environmentalists are terrified of perceiving
themselves as succeeding. Environmentalists succeeded when wolves
were reintroduced to Yellowstone and central Idaho. (And to succeed
doesn't necessarily mean someone else has to lose. The experimental
designation of wolves constituted a success for ranchers.) There
are those who would grudgingly concede that we achieved a goal-but
they'd quickly point out that things could change. Well of course
they could. Politics could change the Endangered Species Act. The
volcanic pressures that give vent to Yellowstone's geothermal wonders
could send the entire Plateau skyward as happened some 600,000 years
ago (and at least twice prior to that). An asteroid could hit the
earth. Life is full of change, it's the only thing we can count
like to claim that mulling this subject over and taking the time
to write about it has initiated a change in the way we deal with
conflict and opposition. If that were the case, we'd be in the spiritual-teacher
business instead of being wolf wranglers who moonlight as environmental
educators. This is going to take some work and the holiday season
is a good time to start. Let's remind each other to enjoy and appreciate
the victories, large and small, that come our way. This doesn't
mean being less vigilant or adopting a naïve 'don't worry, be happy'
attitude. Let's strive to initiate change with a 'can-do' attitude
that combines strength with cooperation and empathy with resolve.
Instead of rallying behind symbols and slogans, we need to engage
our brains, educate ourselves, and do what we can to preserve the
beauty and wonder in that part of the world that we touch. May the
spirit of this holiday season open our hearts to the realization
that all people are part of the human family.
okay, there are some people for whom we'd book passage on the next
rocket to a distant black hole. But we'd do it with a smile. We'd
call it tough love. We are after all, only human.
the December 2001 Wild Sentry Newsletter #34
Bruce Weide and Pat Tucker
are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I
have not profited. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas
time as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time:
the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when
men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely,
and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers
to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys."
Dickens, A Christmas Carol