Well, I finally figured it out.… as I found myself flipping channels from the PBS NewsHour, which I have watched for decades, to Jeopardy.
It’s always been a joke, hasn’t it? Your grandparents sitting in front of the TV, in a rocker or perched on the edge of a sofa, peering intently at the screen, trying to figure out the answer before the young whippersnapper blurts it out. “Oh, well,” we younger folk would say, “they’re happy, just watching Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune,” implying that in those golden years, at such an irrelevant age, they might as well check out of the real world. But it was hard to accept, hard not to be critical. This person we knew to be vibrant and energetic, engaged in the world was satisfied just sitting in front of Jeopardy? Where was that outrage at the newest mass shooting, the latest tragedy in Ukraine, or the unstoppable melting glacier? What a shame, we would say to ourselves. They just don’t care anymore.
I recently read about a bison being born in the “wild” in England. I put it in quotes, probably unfairly, thinking that England is pretty much tamed after all this time, with shrub-lined lanes, flower-dotted meadows, tidy fences, carefully pruned trees and well-behaved weeds. But reading the article I learned that indeed three wild bison were reintroduced last July in the Kent area and a young female delivered a surprise in October, the first bison born in the wild in England in 6,000 years. Pretty incredible to bring back a species after driving it to extinction. The English conservationist confessed that just about all large mammals had been extinguished in England, the result of centuries of hunting and taking over habitat. We humans don’t share particularly well when it comes to wildlife.
The same thing happened in North America once the colonists arrived. Some took what they needed of the richness that lay before them, cultivating, harvesting, hunting to support themselves. Others, a significant number, saw a huge expanse of land and resources, including wildlife, just waiting to be exploited. Some believed it was a God-given right and duty, even, to help themselves; others had commercial motives; and others simply indulged in recreational killing for the joy of it. All this is spun out in a powerful new book by my friend Dan Flores, “Wild New World.” It is a great read for all kinds of reasons. And yes, there are painful parts where you will shake your head in disbelief that mankind could be so wantonly destructive of animal life. “This is not going to be a happy ending,” you think to yourself, and then, Dan, a self-described optimist, pulls it out and ends with hope.
Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Electronic Monday and Giving Tuesday….if you have anything left to give. This string of money-based “holidays” has become as traditional as the turkey on Thursday. And how ironic that Giving Tuesday is last in line. I scan the flood of emails reminding me that today is the day to give, and I will probably participate and click a couple links. But, in the past year since the last Giving Tuesday, I have realized that helping others is a complex undertaking. What, when, where, how, why to give are all questions that deserve some thought.
I am reading a wonderful book, insightful, witty and so educational for those of us embarrassingly ignorant about Africa. “Africa is Not a Country,” by Dido Faloyin, presents the continent in all its richness and variety, debunking myths that plague modern-day African countries ready for respect and acceptance as important players on the world stage. One of the most pernicious myths is that Black Africa is helpless, starving, ignorant, and generally incapable, waiting for White colonizers and their 21st century successors to save them.
Most impactful for me was Faloyin’s critique of charitable fundraising for African causes. With all good intentions, developed countries, European and US in particular, are able to create compelling campaigns to “help Africans” who are starving, being slaughtered or kidnapped, or other crises that the media features. What is almost always missing is the guidance or better yet partnership of actual Africans who know best the answers to those “what, when, where, how, and why” questions above. Our White eagerness to act quickly to feed a dying baby or rescue a kidnapped boy soldier, can easily go awry, contributing to political upheaval, corruption, and perpetuation of the stereotypical desperate African needing the White savior. Not denying there are very real crises that need assistance, the author emphasizes that foreign responses must be designed and directed by those on the ground.
Eight days before the election and my inbox is overflowing with hysteria. “We’re heartbroken,” “It’s Over” “Have you forgotten us?” “Horrible news” “It’s do or die” “We need you, Lucy, now more than ever,” (that’s the one that might get me, if I weren’t so sick of it all.) I’ve left off the exclamation points but there are way too many. It reminds me of the fairy tale of Chicken Little who is hit on the head by an acorn and thinks the sky is falling. He, or she, runs to tell the King collecting many other feathered friends along the way until there is a flapping, cackling chorus of “The sky is falling” (add exclamation points). Of course, a fox offers to show them the way and that’s the end of that.
By now I am deleting these emails as fast as they come in, which only seems to encourage them. I resent the unsolicited barrage because I am being hounded to give money, but that’s not all. It’s the desperation, the urgency, the panic, the frantic cries and tearing out the hair — all these emotions that I already have plenty of, given the state of the world.
I don’t deny that the sky may actually be falling, but the hysteria is driving me crazy. I understand that we need to be alert and do what we can, but we need to leave time to relax, breath, and think about the next step. I’m reminded of a project I’m working on and an insight about myself that I think applies to a lot of us White mainstream Americans. As soon as a problem is identified, a dilemma revealed we want to fix it, asap, do whatever we can to put the sky back where it belongs. We send money, make phone calls, feed a family, anything as long as we’re fixing it. The sooner we fix it, the sooner we can forget about it and move on to the next thing. This is great if a house is on fire, a child is crying, a dog is lost, the rent is due, and a million other things. But there are things that require time and patience, things that shouldn’t get a band aid slapped on and forgotten.
We’ve had a dry spell and the pots of flowers in the patio were drooping. I had a few minutes between zoom calls and went out to water them. The garden hose was not neatly coiled (no one’s fault but my own), but in a heap on the flagstones. I turned on the faucet and grabbed the nozzle and pulled it to reach the thirsty plants. It tightened into a tangle. Water was spurting everywhere, and I just kept pulling and yanking at the mass, angry at the reality and unwilling to do anything constructive about it. Just before I screamed a profanity, a story my mother used to tell flashed into my mind.
I was 2 years old and had a little tricycle that I loved. It had three wheels, but no pedals. I sat on the seat and moved by walking my feet, rolling through the house, in and out of rooms, cruising on the wood floor. I can almost hear the sound of my feet shuffling along, the wheels turning. I can almost feel the pride and satisfaction of being independent and mobile. What a big girl I was! And then, as my mother told many times, I would go through a doorway, maybe from the hall into a bedroom, and the back wheel would catch on the door jamb. I cut the corner too close. But instead of backing up, which I knew how to do, and giving a wider berth to the door jamb, I kept pushing and pushing, banging into the obstruction, as if I could make it move by my sheer anger and stubbornness. Finally, I would scream in a rage and she would come and rescue me.
A colleague called the other day to ask about reconciliation. No, we had not had a fight or a feud. He lives in Hawaii and works with thorny issues involving Native Hawaiian communities. He wanted to talk about my experience working with Native Americans on the mainland. Was reconciliation part of the mediation process and if so how did it work? We exchanged stories but came to no conclusions. We weren’t even sure how to define reconciliation. Did it need an apology? By whom? Written or spoken? How about a process for hearing stories, like the Truth and Reconciliation efforts? Should there be some legislation or memorials? An annual day of observance? Plaques, monuments? Should money – or land—change hands? All good questions, and all possible parts of the whole.
Today there is a lot of talk about reconciliation, in the US and other countries dealing with historical abuse and displacement of Indigenous people. The shocking boarding school deaths and mistreatment, (physically, psychologically, emotionally and spiritually) are the latest revelations, among many others, in Canada and the US. Indigenous groups demand justice, compensation, reconciliation; government representatives seem often paralyzed, not knowing what is needed, who should provide it and how to go about it.
On February 22 of this year the email program on my desk top simply went on strike… or retired … or died. It refused to send or receive, or to let me into the dozens of folders where I store emails – both personal and professional. I receive about 75 emails a day and the frightening thing is that usually 30-40 of them are relevant and need to be read and/or responded to. I also daily dig into the folders to remind myself of recent correspondence with a client, to retrieve an attachment I need, or to enjoy a memorable message from a grandson. I was eager to get the problem fixed. My always cheerful computer guy came in a few days and installed himself in my desk chair. He emerged an hour later.
“Is it fixed?” I am eager to settle in and catch up.
He hesitates, “No, not yet.” He is packing up to go. “I need to think about it.”
“Oh? Think about it?” I have never considered computer repair to be in the “thoughtful” fields, like philosophy. But what do I know? Clearly nothing.
“Yeah, just need to think about it.” He flashes a big smile and leaves.
In a week or so he was back. “Did you think about it?” I asked hopefully.
“Uh-huh,” and he smiled another big one.
He took his place in front of the thought-provoking machine. I explained that actually the biggest problem was that I needed to be able to access those old folders. “That’s what I really care about. I can always install another email program to send and receive,” and I left him.
You know how some movies have out takes at the end? The hero misses the punch and jams his hand into a bowl of fruit. The kissing scene is interrupted by a giant moth who wants in on the action. Or, lines are flubbed again, and again, until everyone dissolves in laughter. I love those scenes. They show us a glimpse of reality, what it is really like to make a movie. And they show us that these are just human beings doing a job, however imperfectly. That got me thinking about my profession – mediation and facilitation – and out takes that I could show at the end of the movie titled, “Lucy Saves the Day,” or “Mediators: Warriors for Peace” or … well, you get the idea. So, I’ll spare you the movie, and just give you the out takes, moments from my decades of practice that make me smile.
“Hmmm…where is that place?” – I was facilitating a meeting for the Forest Service in northern New Mexico. About a dozen very rural, somewhat eccentric community members were standing in front of a wall- sized map of their local national forest. The Forest Service staff were there hoping to find out how and where local people used the forest. I was proud of this interactive tool, primitive by today’s standards but in the 1980s quite a novelty. I asked people to come forward, take a marker and indicate on the map the spots where they fished, cut wood, hiked, hunted, etc. There were different colored markers for different kinds of uses. The maps were covered with clear plastic, so they could erase and re-draw if they needed to. No one wanted to break the ice, or make the first mark. I was worried my great innovation was a flop. I saw an aging hippie woman, spilling out of her bib overalls and with a head of wild gray hair, staring at the map for a long time, the marker dangling in her hand. I encouraged her. “Do you want to put something up there, some forest use?” I asked innocently. “Well,” she said dreamily, “I’m just trying to remember…a long time ago… where it was that I laid that man at….” I suggested we could call that “recreational use” and she marked the spot.
I was doing laundry when I heard a raven squawking with an urgency I had never heard. We have many ravens in the neighborhood, and they are big talkers, but this message was a new one. I went to the window and saw it on a low branch about eye level. It was scolding, cursing, berating, reading the riot act to someone or something on the ground, head lunging forwarding, eye laser-focused. A snake, I thought. That is my fallback threat, so I cautiously headed for the back door to get a better look. As I approached, I saw the door was already ajar and stepped outside. The raven was raising a ruckus because our black indoor cat Bennie had escaped and was on the ground below the raven. He was hunched close to the ground, ears back, taking his scolding. I was struck by the two solid black creatures in relationship. Bennie had been headed for the fence, on the other side of which were coyotes, hawks, snakes, and more, and the raven had turned him back. He scurried back into the house and the crisis was over.
I know that ravens and crows, the whole corvid family of birds, are really smart. They can perform intricate tasks, they can recognize humans and keep track of their doings. There are fascinating stories in the research literature of ravens and crows that have returned lost items to the right person, have created tools to retrieve food, and have passed on information about dangerous people (like lab scientists on a university campus) to their offspring and their offspring. And apparently they know when a cat belongs in the house and not outside, and how to effectuate getting the cat back inside. There is no doubt in my mind that the bird was stopping Bennie in his tracks and alerting me to come and retrieve the escapee. I thanked it profusely, and I believe it understood.
A few months ago I facilitated a six-day Tribal Wetlands Workshop on zoom. Participants were tribal leaders, staff and members who were involved in protecting and maintaining tribal wetlands. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) organized the workshop and a colleague and I were under contract to plan and facilitate the event. We worked with a planning team of both EPA and Native American representatives to make sure that the workshop met a variety of goals: teach methods and strategies for managing wetlands, provide opportunities for tribes to collaborate and learn from each other, and highlight the cultural, spiritual, social and economic values of wetlands for tribal communities. The workshop was packed with great presentations on a wide range of topics and there was time for questions and discussion among the 40-50 participants as well. All in all it was a success, but as is often the case, what I remember most vividly is a moment of facilitation crisis. This is how it unfolded.
Almost all gatherings with tribal participants that I facilitate – in person or on zoom — begin with a prayer from a tribal elder. I learned long ago that this brings calm and a sense of community to whatever discussion follows. It also seems to balance the power in the room. The non-Indian professionals who might be perceived as the more powerful ones at the table are humbled by a prayer in a language they don’t understand, invoking powers that clearly overshadow those on earth. I enjoy those moments and appreciate the tribal elder’s message that points us in the direction of a productive, respectful day.