Reflection 274: Snares & Hooks

June 8, 2012

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin

I have a black camera bag slung on a shoulder strap. Everywhere I go, that strap catches on things—twigs, door knobs, stick shifts—anything that protrudes along my way.

I also have a large, shapeless winter coat whose waist and hem diameters are adjustable by pulling on three-inch loops on either side. Again, same story. Those loops are fiendish snares ready to capture anything within close range of my waist and hips as I walk through woods, say, doorways, or goods on supermarket shelves. It’s amazing how many objects in hardware store aisles are within their reach.

My camera bag and my coat are adventures waiting to happen because they are ever on guard for fun and games. I have found myself hung up countless times just trying to get out of my car while the strap on my camera bag is looped around the parking brake handle. Rowing my boat in the fall I have snagged an oar handle on one of those loops. The law of snares and hooks is: if it can happen, it will happen, sometime, somewhere. Just wait.

This reminds me of protein formation, of long, linear chains of amino acids being generated in every cell in our bodies, then folding in upon themselves by a similar law so that each chain assumes a definite shape not written in any book, but achieved nonetheless simply because if it can happen, it will happen. As it actually does happen, certain protein shapes are good for carrying out particular functions in their home cells, with the result that evolution happens simply because it can happen—sometime, somewhere. Our immune systems (unique in each case) operate on the same principle, antibodies descending on foreign bodies  (antigens) because they are built so their surfaces latch together in a specific joint configuration, enabling one to bump into the other, engage it, and then destroy it.

It is the law of happenstance that brings us to life and maintains us. The law of camera-bag straps and coat-size adjustment loops. Try to teach that in Texas schools (even dressed up as the theory of probabilistic affinities). We exist because of the possibility that, given world enough and time, we can come into being. If a genetic design can happen, it will happen, somewhere, sometime. Maybe this afternoon, maybe in ten thousand years.

On that note, I will introduce my real topic, which stems from a page of (paraphrased) notes I made about Leonard Joy’s talk at the Quaker Institute for the Future in Bar Harbor, Maine, this past Wednesday. Leonard is seeking answers to the problem of global Earth abuse. After introducing the topic of social transformation achieved through promotion of values maturation, he made a pause, looked up, and said of his own work, “So what"?” His snare was set, waiting for an answer to come by.

What he meant was that a great many groups were working to bring humanity into line with Earth’s ability to support it, along with other forms of life. But what he doesn’t find anywhere is the vision allowed by a developmental perspective. Quakers float their image of a blessed or beloved community—a kind of peaceable kingdom—but where’s the vision portraying what a sustainable Earth would look like so that we might work our way towards it today rather than fulfill an ideal proposed in simpler times? Then he adjusted his snare by asking two questions of and for himself:

1. Is there a role for the Quaker Institute for the Future in achieving a global perspective for all life on Earth?

2. Is there a group I can join to help plan this work?

By which he caught a variety of responses from his audience. Someone brought up the idea of replacing the GDP as a measure of social order with the GDH—a measure of gross domestic happiness, as has surfaced in Bhutan, and is now being considered by a UN committee. Measurement is not the issue, said someone else, we need to gauge the quality of the processes that drive people to improve their lot. This remark snared me because, as an advocate for self-understanding, I believe that if we are the cause of Earth’s deterioration as a life-support system, then the answer must lie within each of our acculturated selves as that which drives our inappropriate social behavior.

Then Leonard responded to his own questions by stating that he himself was stymied by the immensity of the issue and was primed and ready for a personal epiphany. And expanding that thought to include us all, he said that when things are not going right, we need a figurative light to illuminate our way towards an actual solution—which is where I took up writing yesterday’s reflection (No. 273).

That page of notes in my steno pad put me on a line of thought about how we make ourselves happen in the world, the topic of Consciousness: The Book (see Which is where hooks and snares come in. We need to join forces with others who share a similar mindset so that we can support one another as a kind of affinity group working to achieve a common goal that is beyond our powers if we work separately. But how can we find those others? They must be out there somewhere, perhaps even looking our way for help. We won’t be able to do the job without them, nor they without us. How can we draw them to our cause? How can they catch our attention so that we can hook up and get on with the great work we jointly want—no, need to accomplish?

My coat and camera bag could pull off such a trick without even trying, much less being conscious. They’d do it by simply being themselves. No special skills required. So why is it so hard for earnest Earth-savers to find one another and get on with the work they’ve independently set for themselves?

We know that a lot of economists and environmentalists will show up in Rio de Janeiro on June 20th at the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. Gray Cox, who teaches at College of the Atlantic (COA), and is a founding member of the Quaker Institute for the Future, is going with a group of students. At the seminar yesterday he asked for suggestions for how his group might proceed.

We know that most delegates to Rio+20 will emphasize the development side of the program, pushing for development that is sustainable rather than a planet that is sustainable. So the trick would be for the COA group to snare those who are for the poor and the planet rather than for the rich and the proceeds from development.

Following up on Leonard’s quest for revelatory insight and a team to work with, and then applying those goals to Gray’s situation in order to build a global organization that will be up to the challenge, I’d say the first thing to do in Rio is set snares for kindred souls out in the open where everybody can see them. The COA students could draw attention to themselves by being highly visible and attractive: painting their faces green; waving clear, simple signs; dancing; singing; making a glad stir wherever they go so that people will take notice (short of evicting them).

Second, have a good time. People are attracted to those who are enjoying themselves, particularly when they themselves feel lost or left out.

Third, keep your pitch short and simple. No harangues, no lectures. Simple sharing will do the trick. I can read two or three bumper-stickers while waiting for the light to change; keep it that clear and direct. The more details you go into, the less sure others will be that you are for them. It’s the rhythm and poetry that counts, not the full job description.

Fourth, get the name and contact information of everyone you engage with so you can build the team you want by inter-connecting the lot of them into a network that doesn’t yet exist but that you can create. Build your own resource-rich organization, not of famous economists and environmentalists, but of savvy and energetic folks who will lay the groundwork around the world. The main thing is to make those contacts. You will have years to elaborate.

Fifth, deputize those you talk with to join your effort immediately to help find others to work with right there in Rio while it’s happening. Give them a cap, arm- or wrist-band, or badge to show they are with you. See, there’s your network already behind all those green faces.

Sixth, engage with everybody you meet. Don’t dismiss anyone because of how they look, talk, or dress. Everyone of us has a secret inner life. Show them your dream right off, and they will show you theirs. If you connect on that level, you’re halfway to building the organization you want to change the world.

Throughout this extended engagement, be yourselves, not as partisan members of a particular racial, political, or economic system, but as representatives of our common planet—as Earthlings, Earthists, Earthites, or whatever you choose to call yourselves. That is your primary identity, now and forever. Be who you are.

Etc., etc. You’re as good as my camera-bag strap and coat loops already. Even better, because you’ve kept track of whom you’ve met and know how to reach every one of them by three different means. Don’t forget your mission: you are looking for kindred souls to establish fruitful affinities with. Your hooks and snares are reassuring, not threatening. You are building life, not destroying it. So go forth, be yourself, and get to it.

How’s that as a recipe for changing the world? If Quakers can do it, so can you, whatever your persuasion. It’s just that Quakers have been at it for over 250 years, and have accomplished a lot in that time, so have a head start.

This is my fourth blog from the Quaker Institute for the Future summer seminar at College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine. I gave my presentation on Thinking About Thinking yesterday; now I’m all for action which, after all, is why we take time to think in the first place: to produce effective action in the world. I use thinking to find out who I am at a particular moment. That way, I don’t mix myself up with you, or blame you for not meeting my desires. I am in charge of myself; you are in charge of yourself. If we can get together, we’ll make a great team, no matter how far apart.

Thanks to Leonard Joy and Gray Cox of the Quaker Institute for the Future, and their fellow question askers, for their insightful presentations, to which this post is a grateful response. Thanks to everyone for tuning in. I’m still here as y’r friend, –Steve

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