Thursday, March 10, 2016

Don't Judge a Tree by its Trunk

As I meandered along on my daily walk this  morning, it occurred to me that tree trunks came in a huge variety of shapes and sizes. There were fat bulbous trunks, gnarly peeling trunks, spotted trunks, scaly trunks, smooth trunks and crooked trunks. This assortment of trunks makes for lots of visual interest and makes the natural world around us an ever-changing collage of colour and texture.

It got me to thinking how we embrace this individuality in nature and how boring it would be if every tree trunk looked exactly like the next. Why then, I wondered do so many of us struggle with embracing these exact qualities in humans? If everything is energy and everything is connected and we truly are all one, why would we judge our fellow man/woman based on their skin colour or age or size? How did racism and discrimination come to be? Where did the human race veer off track? When did we start judging the world around us based on visual attributes?

As these thoughts continued to swirl around in my head as I rhythmically placed one foot in front of the other dreaming of the day that all this walking might one day lead to smaller thighs and calves (so I could be like the fashion models we are supposed to look like and worthy of praise), I came upon a terrible sight. A few paces ahead of me I noticed a large bird laying on the side of the road. It was not moving, clearly dead. As I got closer, I felt my chest tighten and my heart skip a beat as I realized it was one of my favourite species...a Kookaburra. He had likely swooped too low and was not fast enough to avoid an oncoming car. I felt sick. I never like to see dead birds or animals on the road and this one was particularly upsetting as I love them so.

This led me to think about how the death of this Kookaburra had a far more powerful impact on me than had it been (in my mind) a lesser bird. If it had been an ordinary pigeon or a crow or a bird that I am not so fond of, would I have felt as sad?  This of course begged the question - Why had I created a hierarchy of birds in my mind? A similar feeling had washed over me a few weeks earlier when I watched as an oncoming truck hit and killed a Rainbow Lorikeet, another bird I find beautiful. When did this way of looking at the world around me become so ingrained? Why were beautiful birds more important than ugly birds? 

How does prejudice incubate? We are all aware that it is learned. I get that. But when did it begin? What moment in our ancient past did it happen for the first time? Did one cave man just decide one day that he was better than the Neanderthal standing next to him because he had some feature he decided was somehow better than his fellow cave dweller? Perhaps he was a more successful hunter. That would make sense I suppose. But what turned his superior skill into something that put him ahead of his mates versus just a skill he could simply share and therefore give back and contribute to his tribe? He could be the good hunter and another dude could be a good fisherman and another could be good at making weapons and so on and so on. When did they start placing higher values on certain skills? 

Are we just innately selfish, self-serving beings? Is the survival instinct so deeply ingrained that we will do anything to make our own individual lives easier at the expense of anyone or anything that gets in our way? That could be forgiven in our Paleolithic past perhaps, but surely we have evolved. Or have we? (My mind does pawnder (ponder while walking).)

But back to the trunks and the birds. Is the leap from what is seemingly inanimate (the trunks) to the visibly alive (the birds) as it moves and makes noise, where we start to discriminate? Before anyone ever told me that one bird was more beautiful than another, did I love all birds equally? I wish I could remember. I imagine that as soon as I began to understand language, I began to hear and learn what was considered more beautiful. My mother would have taught me that one girl was prettier than another and one bird was more prized than another and one religion was superior than another.  So children grow up believing what they are taught in those early years until they start to question everything...even their parent's teachings. Or at least we like to think this is what happens. But sometimes they don't. They don't question what they were taught. I actually knew a girl growing up who believed that Hitler was really a pretty good guy. Her German parents told her that and she never questioned it even as an adult. Scary shit.

I would like to believe that for the most part, my generation of baby boomers, have done a much better job of teaching our children about racial equality and embracing their own unique selves despite what they are bombarded with in the media, but I think we still have a long way to go and a generation or two to finally reach a place of complete acceptance and tolerance. That prediction is probably a bit naive, but I am hopeful. 

In the meantime, I am going to try to find the beauty in all living creatures...even the less colourful ones.

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