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    Man, we white dudes sure could use a walk in the woods

    Ira Melton Park, where I go to get right-sized, last month: beech, red oak, hickory, tupelo, hornbeam

    Check out this recent headline from the Atlantic:

    Power Causes Brain Damage

    Apparently people in positions of power become, over time, less empathetic and tuned-in to those around them. “Once we have power, we lose some of the capacities we needed to gain it in the first place,” says the article. “We become more impulsive, less risk-aware, and, crucially, less adept at seeing things from other people’s point of view.”

    That is, people in power tend to become asses.

    The article goes on:

    2006 study asked participants to draw the letter E on their forehead for others to view—a task that requires seeing yourself from an observer’s vantage point. Those feeling powerful were three times more likely to draw the the right way to themselves—and backwards to everyone else. Other experiments have shown that powerful people do worse at identifying what someone in a picture is feeling, or guessing how a colleague might interpret a remark.

    Well that explains a lot about the current occupant of the White House and all who are falling in the wake of #MeToo. How many years have these white dudes been surrounded by yes-people? How long has it been since they’ve heard No from someone who was not a direct competitor? How many years have they spent in positions of powerlessness?

    And how much time have they spent bug-watching, or walking in the woods, or pondering fossils, or looking at the night sky, or admiring the sea, or climbing mountains?

    One of the many benefits of connecting with the cosmos—and by that I mean all creation, not just the outer space part of it—is that it can work away at your ego, at your inborn sense of self-importance. It doesn’t have to, of course. You could, as I read on Twitter this week, take a trek through the Himalayas and come back with nothing more than chapped lips. But if you let it, creation can leave you right-sized: not too big, not too small.

    And you don’t need to go to the Himalayas either.

    Right here in my home state of Georgia, for example, there’s more than enough to humble even His Orangeness, if only he had eyes to see. Down in the coastal plain certain mayflies, one tenth of an inch long, emerge from riverbeds before dawn, mate, deposit their eggs, and die, all within about five minutes. This is the shortest known animal lifespan. The males drown a few minutes later, and no fly lives to see a single sunrise. Dragonflies, those flying shards of amethyst and blue topaz, live for about 4 months. All around Atlanta in the spring you can find assassin bugs that live no longer than a year, hummingbirds that persist three to five years, and rabbits that go maybe eight.

    Moving on, a 150-foot tulip tree stands not far from my house. It was certainly a seedling during or just after the Civil War. The Blue Ridge Mountains, a short drive from here, were formed between 320 and 400 million years ago when North America and Europe collided. They were once similar in appearance to the Alps, and as tall. A glance through a telescope reveals galaxies as they appeared a billion years ago. The earth under our feet was assembled 4.5 billion years ago, and life has persisted on it for 3.5 billion.

    Then there’s us in the middle, middle-sized mysteries, wonders among wonders.

    The cosmos is strong medicine against diseases of power, an infinite and ever-ready source of true perspective. It kindles humility, which is nothing more and nothing less than seeing ourselves and others clearly, which is of course a prerequisite for empathy. It is also a prerequisite for using political and cultural and religious power for service, for making our world truer and even more beautiful, and not as a pass on using others to prop up our fantasies of ourselves as important or good people, our hero projects, our illusions of immortality.

    So, white dudes, let’s commit to taking a nice long walk in the woods, to looking closely and carefully at bugs, the sky, the trees. It will help us to not be asses, and could even keep us from being the perpetrators of the next #MeToo.

    Comment Pages

    There are 1 Comments to "Man, we white dudes sure could use a walk in the woods"

    • Tom Stricker says:

      There is an old joke about the Lone Ranger and Tonto. The two are surrounded by a band of Indians with no way out. The Ranger turns to Tonto and says, “Well Tonto, looks like we have come to the end.” And Tonto responds, “What you mean we, white man?” So my response to your “So, white dudes, let’s (let us) commit to taking . . .” is what you mean “Us, white “dudes?” I have been in the job market for close on to 10 months. I certainly do not possess some mythical “white privilege”. I spend my days dependent on the choices of hiring managers, both white, black or any other color. I do not need less power, I need more power. I believe there is a large body of evidence or research, demonstrating the benefits of feelings of personal power. https://psychcentral.com/news/2011/04/27/having-power-or-choice-helps-us-feel-in-control/25693.html I certainly do not need one more condescending intellectual criticizing my need for personal power. Please do not make any unwarranted assumptions that you have any empathy or understanding of what us other “white dudes” are experiencing or struggling with.


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