17 February 2013

Saw, Axe, Wedge

I have not written for a very long time. I've been very preoccupied, with a relationship. But now I'm back and that means more reading, more reflection and more questions.

Firstly, having relationships, although difficult, are a great way to learn more about yourself because you get to see yourself through the eyes of someone else...always humbling...and important. It's too easy to fall into the trap of blinding self-confidence when you are not confronted with different ideas and sometimes challenging criticisms. Adding a new perspective to your view of things only makes the picture bigger, but not necessarily easier. I think I have a few more questions and a few more quasi-answers than before. I was naive in many respects.

That said, I'm rethinking some things and cautiously researching more carefully what I love to learn about, namely sustainability. Ugh, I hate using that word but it's fairly easy to surmise that I mean society, culture, economy and the environment. Sustainability is a word so big and so all-encompassing that it is easily misinterpreted and often misused. But lets leave that discussion for another day.

I was reading A Sand County Almanac again, by Aldo Leopold, and found myself reflecting on something he wrote:

"The saw works only across the years, which it must deal with one by one, in sequence. From each year the raker teeth pull little chips of fact, which accumulate in little piles, called sawdust by woodsmen and archives by historians; both judge the character of what lies within by the character of the samples thus made visible without. It is not until the transect of is completed that the tree falls, and the stump yields a collective view of a century. By its fall the tree attests the unity of the hodge-podge called history.
"The wedge, on the other hand, works only in radial splits; such a split yields a collective view of all the years at once, or no view at all, depending on the skill with which the plane of the split is chosen. (If in doubt, let the section season for a year until a crack develops. Many a hastily driven wedge lies rusting in the woods, embedded in unsplittable cross-grain.)
"The axe functions only at an angle diagonal to the years, and this only for the peripheral rings of the recent past. Its special function is to lop limbs, for which both saw and wedge are useless."

Saw, axe and wedge. Wow. Leopold alludes to the study of history and I can't help but think that his allegory reveals to me my own flawed thinking of sustainability. The concept of sustainability certainly is not new but how we think about it is. When we think about it, what do we think of? Do we saw through the layers in time tracing back to the root cause? Do we instead look for a single point in history and wedge out a chunk of time from there? Or, do we just cut through the periphery and examine only the recent past. In each case, each analysis will reveal very different results and each case, irrespective of the other, will provide false answers to the age-old question about man and nature. Or should I say man in nature? even this perspective assumes there is a divide between man and nature so the question itself is flawed.

When I think about sustainability I think I have a habit of rejecting what the axe reveals because it doesn't tell the whole story and get to the root. Even the wedge doesn't get to the root and I am way too focused on the root, the beginning of it all. Conversely, when I think about my relationship I focus way too much on the axe and wedge revelations and not the whole multi-layered, historically revealing slice from a saw. And I am baffled. Why do I do this? Is it my personal bias? I think so. It's too hard to get to the root of a relationship because it painfully reveals so much about yourself that you don't want to see or accept. It's too personal. 

This tells me that my desire to find the root cause of sustainability might mean that I am not personally attached to it. I don't see myself in the layers of time that lead us to where we are now, and that is wrong. My cultural-bias is too strong despite my most sincerest belief that I am thinking with an open mind. Obviously I am not. Leopold could connect with the natural world in a way that I can only admire and not fully understand. 

Cautiously I can move forward with this new awareness. Goodness, I knew that I was thinking with a 'western' perspective, I understand that...and was aware of that. But I did not realize that I was not feeling personally connected to the situation. I don't blame myself because I've removed myself from the cross-examination. The fact is I don't practice what I preach. I just preach it like sustainability is some sort of religion. And, now, immediately as I write this I want to defend myself to say that at least I'm doing something. What hell is this?!

St. Paul wrote:

"I don't understand myself. I want to do what is right but I do not do it. Instead, I do the very thing I hate ... It seems to be a fact of life that when I want to do what's right, I inevitably do what's wrong." (Romans 7:15)

Mark Twain wrote:

"A habit cannot be tossed out the window. It must be coaxed down the stairs one step at a time." 

The challenge then is to figure out what the hell I am doing and why I am doing it. STEP. Why am I so curious and engaged with sustainability? STEP. Why do I not feel a personal connection? STEP. Why do I let myself be fooled by my own lack of understanding? STEP. These are questions that might help get to the root of my own personal biases that apparently affect everything in my life. Hopefully thinking about the saw, axe and wedge collectively I will do better...but it's a hard task to fell the tree to find an answer.

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