Within These Woods: Large-Leafed Trillium

This week’s essay is a short one, at just 5 minutes, but an important one. This is the first one I wrote for the book (not knowing it at the time). It began with the drawing. Then the poem, which revelaed to me that there was a lesson to be learned from this little flower. And then the essay, which taught to me how important this lesson was to my maturity as a young man, and how I carried that lesson into my professional life as a teacher. It also showed me that there might be a book here to write. Hope you give it a listen.

You can find the series here

As always, consider sharing via social media of your choice. Or if you don’t like social media, I suppose you could memorize it and recite it to someone, but that seems like a lot of work.

Happy Holidays from the Goodwins

My family has been fortunate throughout 2020. All are healthy and largely unaffected financially. The rest is unpleasent and stressful but temporary. I’m especially grateful to have both of my daughters home for Christmas for a couple of weeks. While they are here we’ve recorded this version of a Woody Guthrie song, Peace Call. Linnea and I have recorded many songs together, but this time we even got Sarah to join us and sing a verse. Their gift to me! We’re wishing you a joyful holiday season and a peaceful and healthy 2021.

The Courage to Compromise

We often seek strong leaders. It seems that during much of my memory, and maybe our country’s history we have admired and sought leaders that were “strong.” Though sometimes I think we have the wrong perception of what strength is. At some point we shifted from looking to strong leaders to strongmen as leaders.

This might be a natural progression as we have become more ideological and partisan in our politics. I don’t know if this reflected a societal trend or preceded it. I think we have unwittingly been pushed in this direction by a relatively few politicians, media, and business leaders fomenting this narrative to their own ends—their grip on power.

Doing a simple google search leads me to these adjectives describing strong or good leadership:

  • Integrity/Keeping your word
  • Ability to delegate
  • Communication/Easy to connect with people
  • Self-awareness/Thinking ahead
  • Gratitude
  • Learning agility/Endless curiosity
  • Influence
  • Empathy/Listening
  • Courage/Moving quickly on opportunities
  • Respect
  • Prioritization

I think there is a key concept missing from this list: courage to compromise. We have been seduced by the simple narrative of good versus evil, leading to zero-sum-game politics and, more and more, even social interactions. We have become so convinced that not only is the “other side” wrong or misguided, but that they are evil and must be defeated. Crushed. Obliterated.

The result is see-sawing back and forth of power like an evenly matched tug-of-war contest. Unfortunately, the result of tug-of-war is that someone is humiliated, face-down in the mud. If it’s a game at a picnic, then everyone gets up laughing and slapping each other with mud and then eats hot dogs. But in politics and now in daily life often we just wait until we get a bigger team and can humiliate the other side.

But most of us want the same thing. For everyone to live a better life. The pursuit of happiness and all. I’m not sure we can get there without leaders who have the courage to compromise. To find the commonality with the other side, recognizing they probably aren’t evil (though clearly there are always some who are—and some sociopaths in power just intent on holding power), and continue to progress society to better the lives of citizens. This may look weak to the ideologues, but strong leaders work toward progress. That might require pulling your opponent out of the mud instead of standing on their neck and pushing them down harder in the mud.

I’m not suggesting one compromises immoral and unethical acts and policies. That’s caving, which is different than compromising. The courage comes in seeing the difference and continuing to find opportunities for common victories which improve individuals lives, and then not letting go of those moments in history to make positive change.

My God It’s Full of Stars

Our lives are in the soil. Mycorrhizal networks in the soil exist throughout the earth—from arctic to tropical biomes and running through the soil of the grasslands and tundra. This forms a nearly contiguous network very similar to the neural network of connections within the human brain.

Stanley Kubrick’s character from 2001: A Space Odyssey, Dave Bowman’s last words as he entered the monolith were, “My God, it’s full of stars.” I’ve got no idea what this meant, nor do I recall if Kubrick revealed this to us, but I wonder if it is the same thing—everything is connected.

The soil fungi bind all life together making earth into, if not one, then a few vast superorganisms made up of a variety of interconnected species. This single, or maybe a few, superorganisms evolve collectively to survive, while being made up of individual species also evolving to best fit into their ecosystem and therefore that superorganism. They cannot be separated or truly understood in isolation.

While we often worship the notion of individuals and self-sufficiency, now often to a point of hyper-individualism of extreme competition, maybe this is not accurate. Paul Wellstone said, “We all do better when we all do better.” This is, it appears, also the case for ecosystems and the individual species living in that ecosystem. And why wouldn’t this be the case for use humans too? Our survival is linked to the health of the other species as we are just another component of that superorganism.

Consider a seedling planted in an open, clear-cut field formerly an old growth forest. One would think the seedling would thrive since not competing with other plants for nutrients and water from the soil or shaded from sunlight. But this is not the case. Seedlings in such a setting do not thrive as well or have the survival rate as seedlings sprouting in a dense, old-growth forest. The seedling in the clear-cut space does not have the vast support network connecting it to the mother trees funneling nutrients crucial to growth to the vulnerable new life via the mycorrhizal network.

Can’t you see that this is us? We have turned away from this network. We have shifted our paradigm of society away from one that was modeled on this interconnection of support to one of winner-take-all, zero-sum-game hyper individualism. The result is we are floundering, withering, consuming ourselves like that ill-fated seedling. Some survive, but many don’t, and none do as well as they could.

We have turned away from a reciprocal relationship with the natural world, the superorganism, and even each other despite the fact that we are a part of that superorganism. We because of the soil. We depend on that network. A recent study in the journal Nature, reports the earth now consists of more man-made abiotic mass (concrete, plastic, etc.) than living, biotic mass. Our betrayal is complete.

We truly do live in the Anthropocene. Traditional cultures are filled with stories and mythology highlighting this interconnection and cautionary tales of living with such hubris as to think that we do not need one another, do not need the other species, are not alive because of the network of connections down deep. But we have failed to listen.

We must start listening to the wisdom of the trees, the wisdom of the traditional ecological knowledge of the indigenous peoples throughout the world who understood this interconnection long before Western science began to finally listen and name and categorize this interconnection as a superorganism.

My God, it’s full of fungi.

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