The Same Stuff

Christmas tree farm

Behind my brother’s suburban home just outside of Columbus, Ohio city limits is a stand of evergreens, mostly spruce and fir, some pines and even junipers. I looked out upon them this morning and thought of the diversity among them. Different conifers, different adaptations and appearances. Unlike deciduous trees, they have adapted to keep green throughout the winter months instead of dropping their leaves and going dormant.

“All different but the same” I thought to myself, musing about that one mother tree that all conifers evolved from. “I wonder how far back that might have been, 70 million years to the Late Jurassic? Who knows?” Well someone probably has it figured out, but certainly not me, not a paleobotanist, nor a botanist at all. I would guess that conifers were around far, far longer. Maybe longer than deciduous trees. Maybe even to the Carboniferous period, before even the dinosaurs.

I thought back to the three whitetail does that almost jumped in front of the car I was driving one night a few days before. Warm blooded mammals. Same as me but different. I remembered reading how counterintuitively, mushrooms and other fungi are closer to animals genetically than they are to plants.

All different, yet all the same stuff.

I contemplated the closest tree to me, just across the wooden fence separating my brother’s property line from the stand of conifers. It was a tall juniper. The stand belonged to a larger property, a Christmas tree farm that had been there for many years, before the suburbs grew around it. The property was already marked for development, and apparently had even been sold, though the sellers were still tenants until the developers were ready. In the meantime they were able to continue operating their business.

These trees, at the far end of their property were all far too mature to be household Christmas trees; most well over 15 feet tall. The originally German tradition, adopted by North Americans in the US and Canada, of harvesting an evergreen as a ritual Tannenbaum or Christmas Tree has largely died out, with the urbanization of populations. A few people still buy real Christmas trees from urban lots that set up in November and disappear the day after Christmas, but most, if they set up a tree at all, do so with an artificial, plastic totem, sometimes bearing only the vaguest resemblance to any plant found in nature.

I sat there looking at the tall juniper, wondering how long it had been there, when it was planted? It was almost certainly more than a decade old, meaning it had sprouted from a seed before I left my home city, a decade before. Columbus gets more rain in December than snow, but this year, my first back for winter in quite a few years, was very much a “white Christmas.”  Today was sunny, and the temperature was well above freezing. The snow was melting but there was still plenty on the ground.

“That tree and I, if we go back far enough, have a common ancestor,” I reminded myself. I looked down at the snow-covered lawn. The only footprints were that of my wife. Coming from the tropical Andes, this trip was her first time experiencing snow, and she had earlier trekked around the house recording the experience to share with her friends via her smartphone.

I thought about the earth under the snow. I have often said of Ohio, my home state, “This is the soil I am made from.” At this moment I remembered that it is also quite literally, the soil that the juniper, and the firs and the spruce are all made from, and the dormant oaks, maple and beech trees. The walnut and buckeye trees. The winter wheat we passed in a field a few days before. We are all the same stuff.

I couldn’t help but think about idiotic human squabbles and divisions over illusions like race, the passports we hold, and religion. I looked out over the serenity of the pines, the spruce, the fir, there in peace and stillness. Different but together, different but also the same.

I thought about careless, unnecessary pollution, and on an individual level, simple litter. We poison ourselves. We are everything around us. The idea that we live apart from nature is as fictional as a pantheon of Greek gods living atop Mount Olympus. We throw things out, into rivers that flow elsewhere or winds that blow away, but the Earth is round. There really is no elsewhere. It is a matter of perception, and a matter of time.

Under the seas, the continents are all connected. The same water flows in all ocean and the same sky rains upon all of us.

We are all the same stuff. Every lichen, every mushroom, every protozoan, cedar, crocodile, moose and salmon. Every Samoan, Swiss and Senegalese.

We are all the same stuff.

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Applied Virtue

The Seven Worthy Values

Image by lbrownstone from Pixabay

The seven worthy values are the following:

1        Kindness

Without kindness, nothing else matters. If you are kind, you don’t need a single sacred text. If you are unkind, all the sacred texts in the world won’t help you. Be kind to all living things. If you eat meat, be merciful to your prey. Be respectful even unto the crops that feed you and all the inhabitants of nature. Remember, everything you take, you owe. Be kind to yourself as well.

Be kind but be strategic. Kindness doesn’t imply being a victim or made a fool of. Being kind does not mean being defenseless or tolerating abuse against yourself or against others; quite the opposite. Kindness requires vigilance and prudent opposition against injustice. Kindness does not mean sacrificing yourself to predators. After all, that is being unkind to yourself.

Kindness does require constant cultivation of compassion for all living things. True kindness requires seeing all humankind as belonging to your tribe—the only real group is the human group. Ethnic, religious, political, cultural divisions are all divisive and artificial. Kindness requires generosity, being unselfish, seeking the wellbeing of others; from your family to your neighbors to the people you have never met in far off lands. Everybody counts, no exceptions.

2        Reason

Our ability to reason is a gift from The Universe. Our ability to reason in a systemized way is one of the greatest differentiators between humans and every other living species on Earth. Reason is the foundation for our intelligence, and intelligence plus judgement equals wisdom.

Cultivating our reason to its ideal means that we have a healthy skepticism without falling into cynicism. We seek to see our surroundings with a realism that is neither unduly pessimistic nor excessively optimistic. We should seek to see the world as it is rather than as we are—a self-centered illusion.

Reason is a rejection of superstition and myth, but in order to do this, we must learn to recognize superstition and myth. Often they are so central to our culture,society and world view that we accept them without question. We see them as self evident.

Think for yourself! Don’t passively accept what you are told to think by others!

True reason is not as common as it seems, and calls upon logic.

We are human, it is natural that we feel, that we experience emotion, but our ability to make decisions based on what is rather than what we wish or pretend is the virtue of reason, evidence over wishful thinking. Challenging our beliefs rather than holding them sacred.

Of every value, reason is probably the hardest to embrace for most people, because it requires thought, and thought—unlike emotion—takes effort.

3        Decency

Be decent. Take others into account. If you drink, don’t be a drunk. If you love food, don’t be a glutton. There is a reason the finest restaurants tend to serve small portions. If you like sex, don’t be a pervert. Never sacrifice others to your own desires. The Buddha spoke of a middle path, neither ascetic nor gluttonous. Neither scarcity nor excess. Be a good steward of both natural and human resources. Take care of your environment. Keep yourself clean and keep the world clean. Consume we must, but we don’t have to fall into consumerism. It is good to enjoy life but avoid becoming materialistic. Evade the temptation of materialism. Material possessions are never virtues. Net Worth has no correlation to self worth. Decency means clean living. One doesn’t have to become an ascetic, one can enjoy life, but without becoming selfish, always taking into account our belonging and our responsibility to humanity and the world we live in.

4        Tolerance

You don’t have all the answers. Epictetus says “It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows.” Business sage Ray Dalio says to “Be radically open-minded and radically transparent.” A study of history will show that “truth” is something that we have approximations of and then that gets refined as we advance in knowledge. Men once thought the Earth was the center of the universe. Then they thought the Sun was the center of the universe. Today, cosmologists explain that the concept of a “center” doesn’t really even apply to the universe. Surely in the future our understanding of the universe will continue to evolve, making our current understanding seem primitive and obsolete.

Anyone who tells you that he or she; or his or her group, creed, religion, superstition or belief has the monopoly on truth, they are certainly wrong, but you also must be careful not to commit the same sin. Lao Tzu, the founder of Taoism said “He who knows does not speak. He who speaks does not know.” And the one who is most sure, is likely most wrong.

It is sad and silly how much blood has been shed in the name of “faith.” Crusades, pogroms, genocide, ethnic cleansing. “God likes us best!” they say. Today, in 2020 a brief look across the world sees Hindu against Muslim violence in India, Buddhist against Muslim violence in Myanmar, Muslim against Christian violence in Syria, Jewish against Muslim violence in Gaza, Christian against Jewish violence that even led to the creation of Israel.

How much blood has been shed over Color? Nationality? Culture? Politics? Reject all these false groupings. All humans are your brothers and sisters. This is not a call for “one world government or other such dystopian nonsense.” Government is best when it is local and most responsive to the people that it serves (not rules, serves).

What others do, how they choose to live, whatever myths they believe are none of your business as long as they are not impinging upon the liberties of others. Don’t like homosexuality? Don’t be homosexual. Don’t like meat? Don’t eat it. Leave others alone. Be tolerant. Live and let live. Don’t go around telling people not to do something you don’t like and blame it on God. “God said don’t eat that!” No he didn’t, you read it somewhere or someone told you, and you now want to beat someone about the head with your beliefs.

Just as Reason is built on a foundation of Logic, Tolerance is built upon Liberty. Liberty is the ability to live your life, to reach for your goals of your choosing and unrestricted by anyone else to the extent that you are not harming others or diminishing the rights of anyone else. Just as responsibilities follow rights, tolerance follows liberty. You should be able to live your life as you see fit, but with that is the tolerance that cedes the same right to others. For everyone to experience liberty, everyone must practice tolerance. Intolerance is the theft of the liberty of others. Never confuse liberty with entitlement. You have the right to seek happiness and fulfilment but no other person, group or government owes you happiness or fulfillment. Those states come from within, not from without.

5        Curiosity

Curiosity leads to intelligence and discovery. Practically every human discovery has come from curiosity. What is on the other side of that mountain? What is on the other side of that ocean? What is on the other side of the galaxy? What happens if I mix this with that? An intellectual is simply a person who loves learning for its own sake.

Without curiosity, there is no progress. Mohammed, the founder if Islam is said to have said “He who leaveth home in the search of knowledge walketh in the path of God.” Not everyone has the genetic build of an athlete, and sadly not everyone has a genius intellect, however even the most humble mind can be curious. No matter where we are, no matter what our IQ, we can seek to learn and to discover.

We have a duty to encourage this trait in our children. When a child asks “why” we have a duty to help find the answer, to explain and to teach, and to nurture this virtue. We all should strive never to lose this virtue and to encourage it in ourselves. Learning something new is an ingredient to a great day.

6        Humor

The ability to laugh is a gift from nature, and a powerful healing medicine. Take it in copious doses. Healthy laughter, not bitter laughter. Vicious laughter is injurious to both the subject and the object. Just as lifesaving medicine can be harmful when misused, when your laughter causes pain to others, you are also poisoning yourself.

Still a person with every other virtue but lacking humor is a failure. Learn to laugh at yourself. Don’t take yourself too seriously: you aren’t getting out of here alive so lighten up. Epictetus reminds us that “It is not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” Make sure you react often with laughter. A sense of humor is a prerequisite to a good life. Just as important as laughing yourself, spread joy to others by sharing smiles and laughs as often as possible. A life well laughed is a life well lived.

7        Wellness

Take care of yourself, take care of others. Wellness is mental and physical health, and nurturing your interconnectedness with humanity, your environment and the universe. Wellness goes beyond health, because not everyone can be healthy at all times; life throws curves at us sometimes. Important is to nurture whatever health we have, and our reaction to the circumstances in which we find ourselves.

It is not pure vanity to take care of your body or to feel good about yourself. Learn to be happy with who you are and be the best that you can be mentally and physically. Monitor your stress, meditate, and consider yoga, which is meditation for the body. If you have trauma inside yourself that persecutes you, seek professional help to overcome it.

Again, physical and mental health are core, but wellness goes beyond this to our attitude, our serenity, our outlook.

If you internalize these seven values, they will serve you well. Keep in mind, your beliefs should serve you, rather than you serving your beliefs; and anything worth believing is worth scrutiny.


Image by lbrownstone from Pixabay 

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