Below is the transcript from a call on October 22, 2016 at 9 a.m. PDT, the third in a series of the Global Read program (details here). The Global Read is an opportunity for individuals and organizations who support making compassion a luminous force in our world to join with thinkers and activists who are also authors in an open discussion about how to transform the world. If you'd like to listen to the audio of the call, click here.
Mimi: Good morning, and Welcome to the Charter for Compassion’s Global Read Book Club. About 90 people have registered for today's call and we welcome everyone here.
Today we have as our guest Kathleen Dean Moore and we are going to be discussing her book Great Tide Rising. We are honored to have the opportunity to talk about this important and moving book.
The Charter for Compassion is, as you may know, the outgrowth of a wish by Karen Armstrong to create and propagate a Charter that can encompass the need for people to transform our societies from structures based on selfishness and competition to generosity and compassion. There are over 350 communities worldwide who have already embarked on plans to take concrete steps to make compassion the center of common life. It’s very appropriate that Kathleen's book be featured in our new book club series.
Kathleen Dean Moore is the author of numerous award winning environmental books. She was awarded the Sigurd Olson Nature writing award for Holdfast: A Home in the Natural World. She holds a Ph.D. from the University of Colorado. As Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Oregon State University, she taught critical thinking and environmental ethics, and co-founded the Spring Creek Project for Ideas, Nature, and the Written Word. She lives in Corvallis, OR.
In the book that we are discussing today, Kathleen takes on the essential questions: Why is it wrong to wreck the world? What is our obligation to the future? And always this: What stories and ideas will lift people who deeply care, inspiring them to move forward with clarity and moral courage?
Here’s our plan today: we’ll first invite Kathleen to make some initial comments, then we’ll open the floor to questions. I’ve got a few questions from those of you who posted them before today’s call. But first, Reed Price, who is technically facilitating the call, has some information for us.
Reed Price remarks on technical aspects of the call.
Mimi: Now I am very happy to turn the microphone over to our guest. Kathleen, welcome!
Kathleen: Thank you Mimi, thank you Reed, and thank you all of the 90 of you who are out there. I can't tell you what an honor it is that you have chosen "Great Tide Rising" as your global read for your book club and it's great to be speaking now with members of the book who have read the book more recently and more carefully than I have.
I want to say a special hello to the students out at Northland College, up there in the birch forests near Lake Superior. It must be beautiful up there now, the autumn leaves floating on the beaver ponds. I'm actually right now at Carleton College, Minnesota, which is not so far from you. And it's glorious up here, too. The light of the red maples and the dry leaves that blow right on into the classroom when the students come in. But yesterday, I confess, that I walked away from the classroom discussions and I walked away from my TV and these dismal political debates, and I walked to the edge of a pond on campus to read poetry. My current obsession is Mary Oliver's poem "The Leaf and the Cloud." She writes:
It is our nature not only to see that the world is beautiful,
But to stand in the dark under the stars,
Or at noon under the rainfall of light
Frenzied, wringing our hands,
Half-mad, saying over and over,
What does it mean that the world is beautiful?
What does it mean?
That's sort of the question, isn't it? It's not just what does beautiful world tell us about the world, it's what does it mean for us? What does it mean for our work that the world is beautiful? And in the beautiful world, how shall I live? And, of course, Mary Oliver offers an answer to that question, too. In the poem "Messenger," which I'm sure most of you have in your hearts and memorized, she says, "My work is loving the world. ... Let me keep my mind on what matters, which is my work: which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished."
And so I say, as you do, yes, by Mary, what does that mean? What does it mean that my work is loving the world? What does it mean to love the world in terms of how I act and what my obligations are to that world? And it seems to me that that's the question for our time. I don't think it's a question that we love this beautiful booming, buzzing world, but how does that tell us how we ought to act, when we get right down into the weeds?
And that's the question that has been guiding this wandering journey that I have been taking towards writing "Great Tide Rising." This connection between loving the world and acting in a meaningful way in the world.
So, I thought that it might be OK or that maybe you would be interested a bit in learning about that journey that led me to write "Great Tide Rising"? On the assumption that you're out there that you're saying yes—I hope you are (laughs)—let me just say that the first thing I did for years and years—15 years—was to write these joyful celebrations of the natural world, mostly the wet world, the edges of lakes and islands. And these were love songs. My books like "Riverwalking," which was about rivers, and "Holdfast," about the intertidal zone, and "The Pine Island Paradox," and "Wild Comfort." These were love songs to the world, and I was taking it very seriously, this injunction that my work is to love the world.
And, back then, it didn't seem very complicated. Mary Oliver was right: it was, mostly, standing still and learning to be astonished. That's a great job description. Standing still, doing the work of gladness.
About then, this work became a lot more complicated. Oh, so complicated. Because that's when it was starting to be clear to me, as I'm sure it was starting to be clear to you that, even as I was celebrating this glorious world, it was slipping away. And, if I was going to write love songs, I had to hurry and get that done while this world was still there to receive them.
And, even as I was rejoicing in the frog songs, Walmart was bulldozing that very marsh for another parking lot. And, even as I was explaining how whales teach each other to sing—this glorious process, a new song every year—it became clear to me that the seismic oil exploration rigs in the ocean were making the whales deaf. That thud every ten seconds, that thud? And, even as I was asking what is the meaning of the beauty of the world, even as I was trying to probe this meaning, it was clear to me that Big Oil executives, in tangled webs of collaboration with politicians and the global economy, they were working in order to increase their unimaginable profits, to devise these business plans that would knowingly take down the great systems that sustain human life and all the other beautiful life on earth.
And it hit me that, of course, this is wrong. And, even though climate change is a political issue, and it's a technological issue, and a national security issue, it's primarily, fundamentally, at its core a moral issue. And so it calls for a moral response. It's wrong to wreck the world.
And so, dear God, loving the world became so complex! It became fiercer. Much fiercer. I would say the way a mother's love is fierce when she stands between her child and a bully.
And maybe my feelings about that were quite personal, at that point in my writing life, because at that point I had just read the statement by 500 scientists led by a team from Stanford, who said, I think it's in the book, that if we don't take immediate action, by the time today's children are middle-aged, the life-supporting systems of the Earth will be irretrievably damaged.
Well, I know one of those children. You've read in my book, again and again, about Zoey, my little granddaughter who lives up in Canada. And perhaps there I wrote about that moment when I was sitting beside her bed and listening to her hum herself to sleep—"Laugh, kookaburra, laugh kookaburra"—and I just said by the time she's middle-aged the life-supporting systems of the world will be irretrievably damaged, unless we take immediate action? Inconceivable.
And at that point it was clear to me that I had to start doing my work in a very, very different way. I couldn't write those lyrical, celebratory essays anymore. That was not good enough. I needed another job description.
So, at that point, my colleague Michael Nelson—a good, Wisconsin guy—he and I wrote a different kind of book, called "Moral Ground." I wrote about this in "Great Tide Rising," too. It was a turning point for me. We asked 100 of the world's moral leaders, people like Wangari Maathai, Thich Nhat Hanh, Desmond Tutu, Barack Obama, E.O. Wilson, this question: Do we have a moral obligation to the future to leave a world as rich in possibilities as our own? We got back the most extraordinary essays. Yes, the said. For all kinds of really wonderful reasons. So, Michael and I took that book on the road. For three years, I did hardly anything but talk to people about that message, about the moral catastrophe of the climate catastrophe.
Oh, gosh, I don't know. I spoke behind the shark tank at the Georgia Aquarium, and I read at Powell's Book Store in Portland—the famous Powell's, upstairs someplace I this exhibition of Elvis paintings on black velvet. I spoke in a bar in another city over the sound of these people chewing on these chicken wings. And I spoke under an oak tree at Aldo Leopold's old shack, where the people in the audience were draped in mosquito netting and I was the blood sacrifice, standing up underneath this tree and slapping at things. I tried to speak at a rally in Portland when it was pouring down rain and people had been standing in the rain for way too long listening to way too many speakers. And, as soon as I took the microphone, people started to shout "let's march, let's march." And somebody pulled the plug on the microphone. So, as I say, I have been speaking in every possible way I can trying to call people to moral action. And everywhere I went, for all those years, everybody had these hard questions and really extraordinary ideas. What is our work? What should we do first? What should we do second? Where are we going to find hope? How do we triumph over despair? Who is our enemy? And, if we have a suspicion that it's maybe us, then how do we act to stop the catastrophe? Where are we going to find clarity among all this shouting? Where are we going to find moral courage? How are we going to reach across divides, always these divides? And then they would always say, tell me a story that will help me go forward. It's always the same question: what does it mean to love this beautiful world? What does it mean for me? Everyone asks me, so deeply in love with the children, the natural world and with justice, what is this great work that I feel so strongly called to do?
Well, in all these conversations, listening to people, I learned so much that I feel that I am an entirely different person from the one who wrote "Riverwalking" and "Holdfast." I was called to think so hard and I was informed so deeply about everything that they told me. And everywhere I went I felt this strong current of despair. But I also felt stronger undercurrent of determination. Everybody was determined that this beautiful world would not disappear on their watch.
It's possible to be determined and bewildered at the same time. Determined that this would not disappear and bewildered as to what steps could prevent that from happening.
So what I found out there, talking to people about the moral foundation of our work, was the quote that I put on the fly of the "Great Tide Rising": "That even as seas rise against the shores, another great tide is beginning to rise — a tide of outrage against the pillage of the planet, a tide of commitment to justice and human rights, a swelling affirmation of moral responsibility to the future of this lovely, reeling planet." That's what I found out there, and "Great Tide Rising" is the book about what I learned.
So that's the story of how "Great Tide Rising" came to be.
I should tell you that my next book is a novel. It's called "The Piano Tide." Piano tide because, clearly if you want to bring a piano from the bow of your boat onto shore so it goes up the trail to your cabin, you're going to want a good, high tide. You don't want to be dragging your piano across the intertidal rocks. You want your boats' lip to be right up underneath the edge of the rocks so you can just shimmy that piano right up onto the trail. Big things happen at big tides and that's what "Piano Tide" is about. I believe that storytelling has a power that exhortation does not have. And I must confess, even though I'll feel like a traitor, it has a power that philosophical analysis does not have. So that's an interjectory that I'm going more and more toward stories real people struggling with real problems and trying to find their conscience, trying to find their way. Even if it means finding their way into a future that's not at all like what they had imagined for themselves.
So let's see: a few more minutes perhaps, Mimi?
Kathleen: What can I tell you about "Great Tide Rising" that you don't already know? Well, I was determined from the beginning that book is going to weave personal stories with reflection. That it would be book about the heart and about the mind. Thinking that that's really the only honest way to write, because that's how we do think. We don't isolate our hearts from the activities of our brain and we don’t isolate our brain from the urgencies of our heart. And so I found that I would weave these two things very deliberately together.
There's this debate in Western philosophy, I'm sure you know, about whether moral decisions should be based on rational calculations, logical analysis and critique, or whether it should be based on the moral sentiment, emotions like pity, and generosity, and love, and anger. But that either/or debate, that just seems silly to me. Silly, honestly, in the way only philosophers can be silly. Making a great debate and missing the obvious point that we need both: the clear and the honest reasoning and we need the emotional intensity. So that's the reason that my subtitle, quite intentionally, is "Toward Clarity"—the rational calculation—"Toward Clarity and Moral Courage"—the moral sentiment—"in a Time of Planetary Change."
And then the title. The title absolutely bedeviled me. I could not figure out what to call this book. For a long time, I called it "My Next Book." I even have a whole set of files in my computer called "My Next Book." But then, when push came to shove with the publisher, I really wanted to call it "Why It's Wrong to Wreck the World." That did not pass the husband and the children test. My husband says that was hectoring. My children said it was just a big bummer, nobody's going to pick up a book about that. And my little grandson, like three years old, laughed and he set this big karate pose like he's going to stop people from wrecking the world. I thought, that's not what I want with this book. So then I read this, from Thich Nhat Hanh: "the real power of the Buddha was that he had so much love, he saw people trapped in their notions of small, separate self, feeling guilty or proud of that self and he offered revolutionary teaching that sounded like a lion's roar, a great rising tide." And then it was an artist who said no, it's not a great rising tide, it's a great tide rising, so there came the title for my book. That's what I thought, that's what the world has to do now. That's our work in this beautiful world. To summon from every voice, the lion's roar and to gather from all the seas this great rising tide. And to stand between this beautiful world and its ruin.
So, you know, I could go on, but I think I will stop there. I would much rather respond to questions then tell you things you already know, having read the book. So, Mimi, what do you think, shall we go to questions?
Mimi: Yes, thank you Kathleen, that was really wonderful. Let's open the floor for questions and comments. ... To start us off, I do know that the Northwoods Pathways class at Northland College is on the call today. I want to start with a question that they sent over: How does presilience differ from adaptation and what examples of a presilient vision exist that you know of? (I do want to remind callers that Kathleen introduces the word presilience in her book as “an optimal state of being”, literally “forward jumping”).
Kathleen: Congratulations Northland students for giving me a really good and maybe potentially stumper of a question. That is careful reading on your part. Ah, it makes me want to be back in the classroom again. So for those of you who haven't actually looked at page 212 in a long time, I am defining resilience as re-, back, and -silience which is to jump. So resilience that we talk about is the ability of a system or a person or a university to jump back after it's been distorted or stretched or in some way challenged to jump back into the state from which it was. And I am saying in this book that we don't want to do that. [For the notion of] resilience, jumping back, we have to substitute the notion of presilience, which is taking this wild, flying, courageous leap into the future, that is unlike anything we've ever seen before.
Now, let me give some examples of what I think presilience is and then I'll talk about adaptation. I think a good example of presilience is some the work that's happening where people are planting trees ahead of the rising heat, so they are assisting of the migration northward of a species. People say, oh yeah, don't worry about climate change, trees will just move north, as if they're going to pick up skirts and traipse off across a field. I mean, if that's going to happen, if we're going to have healthy forests, we might need to step in and take this jump, help them take the jump into the future.
I think that the island that I was referring to in the book, the island that Sitka is on, is doing a great leap forward in trying to become a closed system for agriculture and eating so that the food that they produce on their island lands can feed them without having to truck food in—or actually ship food in—on barges from all the way across the Pacific Ocean.
This notion that we're going to have to come up with a different way, a beautiful way. A way that recognizes the revolutionary and ecological imperative that we understand ourselves as part of an interconnected, recycling, interdependent, beautiful, finite whole.
I would contrast that with adaptation the way it has been used. I understand that people will refer to that forward migration as kind of an adaptive move, and that's fine. I think that to the extent that adaptive moves are presilient, then I would say that that's wonderful. But so many of the adaptation plans—take, for example, New York City—are ways of using concrete and bulldozers to freeze our current way of life in place. They are not saying, how can we take a great leap forward, they are saying how can we continue or destructive way of life even as the earth responds to it in ways that are destructive. So can we get enough concrete to shore up the edges of the sea so that the sea doesn't come into Manhattan? All these efforts to harden our way of life, literally harden our ways of life, so that we don't have to change them. Can we find another way? Genetically modify our corn, so we can continue to have this huge agricultural monolith that is so hugely profitable. That's the kind of adaptation that hardens our attitude that we have to get beyond.
So when adaptation does this sort of hardening of current ways, it's a huge injustice to the future because there's an immense climate cost in these adaptive moves that I think we should be aware of. The cost of concrete, the cost of bulldozers, and those costs are going to be paid by the future, who has not been offered the results of what we might think of as new ways of thinking, new ways of acting on the land. These great, courageous, huge changes.
So, Northland students, yeah, I think that you're really smart to notice that there's this overlap between presilience and adaptation. And let me invite you to think that if we want to use those two words, perhaps interchangeably, let's think that adaptation is going to have some aspects of presilience and some attributes of the reactive, old-fashioned kinds of ways of acting. And what we are called to do, and I think students in particular, are called to be great exercisers of the imagination that will help us leap over all these intervening phases that are going to be so sad and so destructive, and go straight to the new and beautiful lasting ways of living.
If I were in the classroom, I'd say, "talk back to me." But, I can't, so.
Reed: If there is someone who would like to join in, just press '3' on your touch tone phone and we'll call you – you can make comment or a question at any point here. Mimi, did you have another question?
Mimi: Yes, my question for you Kathleen is that while reading your book, obviously there are ways as individuals that we can protest the violation of our planet, but it often feels like that for big, systemic change to really happen it has to happen by the hands of the government. And, you write about how in Ecuador the natural world is granted legal standing as a person and you cite the court case with the river as an example. And you also recognize how in the U.S. we have no issue granting corporations those same personhood rights that we don't grant rivers or forests, etc. I'm wondering what we can do as individuals that can influence lawmakers and government to make the big systemic shifts toward protecting our Earth.
Kathleen: When someone asks me what can I do as an individual, my first answer is to say well perhaps stop being an individual and to join together with other people in a democracy. It's numbers, honestly, that put pressure on people to make change. The great outpouring of support for Bernie Sanders, I think for example, did a great deal of good in helping people understand that there is support out there in the world for new ways of living, new ways of providing energy, and so forth. We think, gosh, how could we ever influence government, and we immediately start to think about the presidential elections and politics at that level. Where things are really happening, I think, are at the lower level where we really do have a huge influence. We have a huge influence over how our cities are run, over how our universities are organized, over how our counties and then our states are run. So, yes, I think that you are right, that we are going to need systematic change. And, yes, I think it's going to take people coming together to come up with an alternative vision and then stand behind it. And when I say stand behind it I really mean that. I don't mean letter writing, I mean getting in the streets in large numbers and presenting yourself to the lawmakers in a large group and say here we are, all of us out in the West—where you are Mimi—all of us in the red T-shirts, telling people that we will stand for what we believe in. And, if you support us, we will support you. And if you stand against us, we will throw you out.
Reed: Here's another question: You end your book with a discussion of hope. Vaclav Havel said that hope is a state of mind, not a state of the world. Do you agree with that statement?
Kathleen: Interesting. Hope is a state of mind, yes, I do. But I also am also far more inclined to go along with Joanna Macy who talks about Active Hope, who says that hope comes from actin in support what you want to have happen. And I think that is really right. My own experience and the experience of others backs that up. I have a sister who's a kindergarten teacher. I ask: how do you talk to your students about climate change? She says, every time I bring up climate change we immediately do a project that helps turn a corner away from a climate catastrophe. I think that's right: that empowering people to make a change—even if it's a small one—is a huge amplifier of hope.
In my own classroom, I had this class where on the first day of class I had a "hope-ometer" where people can say where they are on a scale from one—which means there is no hope, the world as we know it is doomed—and 10—which mean no problem, we're superheroes, we can get this done. I did that on the first day of class, and students came in at about four to five, somewhere in there. I would guess, from all the poll-taking I've done informally as I speak to people that that's maybe where many of our callers are—just somewhere between four and five. Then we spent the whole term in that class learning about climate change and particularly its effect on social justice and the kinds of problems it was going to create and was in fact already creating around the world with creating refugees from these environmental catastrophes: the hunger, the starvation, the flooding, the storms. Then, on the last day of class, I asked them again where they were on the "hope-ometer," and they had inched up. They were almost solid sixes, variations around six—five, six, seven. And I said, what happened? How could it be that after spending all the time with this dismal news you have become more hopeful? And, to a person, they said: it's because we've spent this term with 24 other people who are smart, who are determined, who are active, who have plans. And that we've become part of a community of people who will not let that happen. I thought, yes, that's right. That that's where hope comes from. It comes from joining together with other people who are determined and, in fact, do take action to do what they can do.
And I think in the university setting it's particularly important because in the education of college students what we have to do is to create the people who are going to have to reimagine the world. We have to inspire students to turn what is, or could be, an impending catastrophe, what is turning out to be a human rights nightmare, to inspire them to turn that into an opportunity to do nothing less than to reimagine what it means to be a human being on this planet.
So there's a couple ways to teach this. And I think that not ignoring it all, the suffering that has already begun, the suffering that we will see soon that has had no other example in the history of humankind, to understand that that is our last chance, and a huge chance, and a necessity for us to figure out another way to live on Earth. And if we embark on that project, then I think we are living active hope, as Joanna Macy would describe it.
Mimi: Thank you, Kathleen. I am going to ask another question on behalf of Northland College. And I want to remind everyone that if you want to take part or join in just press '3' and we'll call on you so your voice can be heard.
Reed: I do actually have somebody here..
Mimi: Let's give someone a chance..
Reed: Let's go to Isabel.
Isabel: Thank you very much. I have a question: I would like to know if you think that a spiritual component plays an important role and if you're seeing a tipping point. So actually it's two questions.
Kathleen: Thank you, Isabel. You know, I work primarily in the secular although I love when people invite me to come into their faith communities and see what they're doing, which is huge. It's very clear to me that no matter what—well, let me put it differently—that we're living in a time of a great convergence. And I'll just call it that, with a capital G and a capital C. We live in the time of the Great Convergence where we are leaving behind this kind of fragmentation, and I know it's hard to imagine that we are, but I think that evolutionary theory, ecological theory, the indigenous wisdom, and the wisdom of the faith communities, with maybe a couple of exceptions, are all converging on this central idea that we are not the lords of the universe, it is not created for our ends only, but that we have this great gift of being invited to be part of an interdependent, interconnected, deeply connected, whole. And, not only that, but that that whole that we are invited to be part of is good. It is good. And God saw that it was good. And that damage to that whole, damage to any part of it, is therefore a profanity. And so I think that the same truth can be expressed in the languages of all those different groups that I cited—the scientific community, the religious community, the secular communities—coming together around this truth that when we think about the world we understand that it is beautiful, it is resilient, it is astonishing, it is irreplaceable. And that's the language of the sacred.
So if people want to talk about our work as sacred work, I think that is exactly right.
And the other thing that occurs to me is that when you look at history, when you look at the history of change, so many times in the United States, it has come literally from the churches. It has come from people coming together in a faith community, a community of belief, reaffirming their deepest values, recognizing the ways in which those values are being shattered by the activities of others and then marching—literally marching—together, singing out the doors. You talk about Emancipation, you talk about the vote for women, you talk about the Civil Rights Act, you talk about the end of the Vietnam War. In fact, the only exception I can think of is the great principles of the Declaration of Independence which could well have been people marching together out of a tavern, if I understand the history correctly. But the point I am trying to make is that there's a huge place for people of faith, and particularly people who live in the communities where there is a discourse about values. It's a huge role for them to affirm those values and to come together, to literally walk out the door holding hands and singing to call attention to what they really, really affirm.
More and more I am seeing faith communities doing that. The work that I see, you know far better than I do, is on a relatively small scale in some ways. It ranges from a small scale. I see a new sanctuary movement—churches were, and still are, I think, remarkable in providing sanctuary to people who are fleeing from injustice. And now I see a new sanctuary movement where the communities of faith are taking the responsibilities for creating places of safety for plants and animals. So that the beautiful green lawns surrounding the church are rapidly turning into gardens for homeless people, gardens of native plants for the bird and the butterflies, changing what had been a poisonous landscape into a landscape where you can't get into God's church without getting seeds in your socks and hearing birdsong. So, I think that if that movement of sanctuary spreads from the lands the churches control to the lands that all their members control we can do a great deal toward creating islands where natural life can flourish.
All the way from that, very local effort, which is a beautiful and important effort, to these ringing calls to be heard in, for example, in election politics and in gatherings around the world. The Paris Accords, I think, were deeply fed by the values that were expressed by faith communities coming together with indigenous people. It was really quite remarkable.
Long answer. I'm sorry, Isabel. You got me going.
Isabel: Thank you.
Reed: I think that that idea of reforming, or presilience toward the sacred is something that you and Karen Armstrong, the founder of the Charter, have in common. This idea that we need to reach across faith traditions and fine commonality in the Great Turning that you talk about in the book.
Mimi, why don't we go back to that question that you had from the students.
Mimi: OK. The students from Northland College ask Kathleen: On page 185 you ask us to consider what we might owe the future. Have previous generations considered this question? And, do you have examples?
Kathleen: Oh, yes, yes. I think that they do. And when we reap the rewards of their forethought of our interests we are moved to do the same sort of thing. The big example that comes immediately to mind are the national parks, where people long ago said you know this is our last chance to keep the bulldozers away from this land. This is our last chance to keep these beautiful mountains from being changed into a commodity and bought and sold on the open market. Let us protect this for all time.
I think the Wilderness Act is an effort, too, to create these arks where animals and plants and human contentment—that's the wrong word—human involvement and peace that comes from natural places can be preserved for future generations. So yes, I think that that's a good example, and when we are presented with the opportunity to save wild places or even places that are struggling than I think we are thinking about the future. All the efforts at restoration. I think of the Channel Islands; I was just over there speaking. I think those people who've managed to create lasting ecosystems on the Channel Islands.
I think it's possible in almost everything we do to think about the future—or not. If you have a farm, are you farming in such a way that that can be farmed forever? Or are you farming in such a way that as soon as you pull your profits out that land will be destroyed forever as a possible place for nourishment?
Let's see what other examples are there. I think that those who have been working for civil rights are thinking about future generations. You know, Martin Luther King didn't say "I have a dream about myself. I have a dream that I will be able to live in justice." It was a dream that his children would live in a world that was ruled and marked by justice. That's what made his call so beautiful and, I think, so effective, was that his dream was for the future.
The Suffragettes might be an odd example. But my friend the songwriter Libby Roderick has written a song about the correspondence between Elizabeth Cady Stanton and some of her supporters. She said, you know what we're doing? We're planting winter wheat that other hands may harvest. That they may have enough to eat after we're gone. And I think that is right: we are planting trees, we are planting ideas, we are planting rights that we won't live to harvest. We're passing the torch, in the faith that this will make lives better for those people who come after us. So that's kind of the measure, I think, of our decision-making: how will my children look at this when they look back at me? Will they say, "Thank God she saved frog song?" Or will they say, "How could I forgive her (as I wrote) how could I forgive them for letting frog song slip away?"
Mimi: Thank you, Kathleen. I want to pose another question that was sent in. People sometimes say that compassion is a soft thing, that it's a state of being vulnerable and that by working for a more compassionate world we are opening ourselves to attack from malevolent actors who will take advantage. Do you have comments in response to this?
Kathleen: Thanks to the person who sent that in. That person has tapped into one of the great confusions and bewilderments of my life, because on the one hand I insist on my right to outrage, as I have written in "Great Tide Rising." When something is clearly wrong, I think it's important for people to stand up and say: that is a misfeasance; that is a cosmic crime. To let this world slip away, or to ruin it by design, that's wrong and I will not let it stand. So in some way, I think that outrage is a kind of a moral affirmation and so I think it's a duty to be clear about what you think is just and unjust, and right and wrong, true and false.
But now you hear me start to wonder because I also understand the power of compassion. If compassion is literally what it says it is, the ability to feel with others, then compassion is one of the strongest, most necessary conditions for peace and progress on the planet. How can I consider myself a climate-change activist if I'm not able to feel the pain of people who are rooted from their homes by starvation or floods? How can I go forward with climate action if I am not constantly keeping in mind questions like what will people do? Where will they go? What will they eat when 99 percent of Africa is unsuitable for agriculture, as it is expected to be by the turn of the next century. Where will they go when the great glaciers of the Himalayan plateau have melted and one out of every seven people have no water? Or, what will they eat if we allow the acidification of the oceans to take out the base of the food chain? So, in many ways, I think compassion is the foundation for our efforts. Or compassion, feeling with the future. If I can't imagine what my grandchild might feel or think, how can a gauge what I ought to do.
So, I don't think of compassion as a kind of weakness. I think of it as a source of strength.
I do find myself unable to figure out how to respond when people ask me to feel compassion for the leaders, for example the CEOs of companies that are—by design, for the sake of profit—lying to Congress, buying our congress-people, sowing the seeds of confusion all around the world about the realities of climate change, doing everything they can to get the right to destroy, to poison, to turn the beautiful world into wealth. As you can hear the way I am talking about this you can see how hard it is for me to know how compassion enters into that.
And when people say to me, well, you have to understand that these people are part of a system and it is the system that is responsible for putting the kind of pressure on them that would lead them to do this work. Then I would say, how do we change a system, how do we break apart a destructive system, if we don't stand up within that system and say "this is not the way I work; this is not what I love; this is not who I am; I won't have any part of it."
So, to the person who asked that question, help me here. I find this a very, very difficult thing. I want to be a person of love; I want to be a person of compassion. I read the Dalai Lama, I read Thich Nhat Hanh, and I think, "that's right; what I'm hearing is right." And then I wonder how would they confront or live with this destruction of the world.
One more thing and then I'll be quiet about this. But when we were putting together our book "Moral Ground" and we were pulling a piece from the Dalai Lama we were very surprised that he said—I'm going to quote this, I have it in front of me: "Just as we should cultivate more gentle and peaceful relations with our fellow human beings, we should also extend that same kind of attitude toward the natural environment." OK. Right. Although, I can see that there's going to be some conflicts there. "Then, morally speaking we should be concerned for our whole environment." And then he goes on to say, "this, however, is not just a question of morality or ethics, but also a question of our own survival."
So, I don't know what to make of that, except to point out that we've got the utmost urgency in this situation. This is an emergency that threatens a catastrophe beyond imagining. We need every tool we have. And, if compassion is one, then let's use it. Let's be compassionate people. If anger is another, then maybe there's a place for that. If fear for our survival is at work here, then let's fully feel that fear. And if grief and loss are part of this process, then let us fully feel that. I don't think we can choose one over other kinds of approaches.
Reed: Thank you. Thank you. Clayton has his hand up. I've given you the microphone, Clayton.
Clayton: Thank you. I'm actually a student and Northland College a member of the Northwoods Pathways class, and I just want to say—it's not exactly in line with the last question, but—thank you for taking the time to do this and to address some of the questions we had. I know I personally, and a few of my peers, struggle with some of the rhetoric in your book, trying to decipher it, and this has really helped myself and my friends put this in context, so thank you for your time today.
Kathleen: Thanks, Clayton, for saying that. And, you know, I'm a professor so it troubles me that there would be part of the rhetoric here that anyone would struggle with. I could understand struggling to agree with me. I hope that's the case all over the place. But, I wish I were there. I wish I were right there sitting in the room with you and reading this book together. I would love that very much.
The work that I've done very recently with college students and with their professors has made me profoundly aware of how deeply your professors believe in you and how fully they understand that if there is a solution to this set of problems, then you're the ones who will be coming up with it. And that you're the ones who have the opportunity to make this great leap into the future and reimagine everything. And how exciting that must be to be a professor in that sort of situation where there's no room for failure. There simply is not. Where everybody needs to be taking these great leaps of the imagination. I can only imagine what your professors are thinking.
I want to take any chance I have to say that the colleges also need to be teaching by example. I know up at Northland and down here at Carleton you are. The whole university, the whole college is trying to power itself with your beautiful windmills. And you're doing the replantings and all the ways in which an institution can be an actor, too. Just as the churches are finding new ways to be good citizens of the Earth, colleges are finding new ways to be good citizens of the Earth. And I think that calls, particularly, for them to divest from their investments in fossil fuels. It stuns me that colleges aren't stumbling over each other to dump their investments in any kind of profitmaking that would hurt their students. And if there ever was such a thing it would be the fossil fuel industries.
I want to see students and campuses come together.
I have written a little thing... I wonder if... Do we have two or three minutes that I might read this, Mimi? It's kind of my prayer for the colleges and I wrote this as I was thinking about the students and their professors up there in Northland.
Mimi: Yes, please. We would love that. I think that would be perfect.
Kathleen: OK. Then, here is what I wrote. I'm imagining students speaking to their professors and their college administrators, about their hopes and their fears. And I imagine their professors responding. So what I've written is kind of a call-and-response that I hope calls the professors and the administrators to action in terms of divestment, in terms of modeling the behaviors of a responsible citizen. So here it goes:
The student says: I want to do good work of real substance. Not in order to be rich, because that will not satisfy me nor my obligation, but to be creative and caring so that when I come to the end of my time I say my life was great gift to me and I have returned the gift fully.
And the university responds: Then we will help you.
And the student says: I want to make my life an expression of what I believe is true and good, resisting what is easy, resisting what others press on me, rejecting what is degraded and ashamed. And, when the challenge comes, as it will, I want to have the strength to say if I have to this is not what I believe in, I will not be part of it.
And the university says: Then we will show you the way.
And the student says: I am tired of being afraid and controlled by my fear. Afraid of the future, afraid of powerful corporations, afraid that everything will fall apart before I can do anything at all to fix it. I want to be brave, or even reckless, and stand up against the forces that would reduce me to despair.
And the college says: Then we will stand beside you.
I want to raise my children in a world that gives them real opportunities. I world with a stable climate, temperate weather, abundant food, safe drinking water, clean fuel, and a sturdy government, advantages that you have had.
The university says: Then we will help you.
There is so much in this world worth saving. I want to protect a planet that is alive and singing, a green and thriving planet.
And the college says: Then we will do this together with moral courage and clarity and ferocious love.
The idealism of a student is a wonderful thing. And anything that a university or college does to create cynicism in their students, or despair, that's a sin. So I congratulate and I urge on these colleges that are doing such a beautiful job of creating the kind of people that the world is going to need.
Mimi: Thank you, Kathleen. That was great and a really good, strong end to the call. We're coming up on the hour. So, I want to thank everyone for your participation and I want to give a special thank you to Kathleen.
And I want to take the time now to remind you all about our next Global Read, taking place on February 22. The Charter will be reading How Fast Can You Run by Harriet Levin Millan. How Fast Can You Run is the inspiring true story of a five-year-old boy's flight from war in Southern Sudan and his journey to find his mother. We won’t only have the author of the book but also the chief protagonist, so we are very excited about that.
I also want to remind you all that The Charter for Compassion has no cost of entry. To affirm the Charter, to become a member, to start on the path of making your community a compassionate community – all of this is offered freely. However, this does not mean that we don’t have financial needs. We have one full-time employee, a part-time administrator, and we need to pay for web hosting, conferences like this one, and limited travel. Because you are interested in helping us to extend the work that we are doing, we ask that you consider making a monthly contribution (or a one-time gift), if at all possible. We depend on these contributions from supporters like you to make this happen.
As is our tradition here at the Charter, we will now turn on everyone’s mics so that we can say goodbye and thank you to each other. Have a wonderful rest of your weekend, and we hope to have you back on all of our calls. Thank you!