Friday, May 7, 2010

New paradigm necessary to save the ailing Earth

(Written for Root Issues in the Barrie Examiner)

Although I began my undergraduate career at Waterloo studying computer science in the Math faculty, I ended up earning my BA in Anthropology. That twisty path is a story for another day, but the contrast was very striking. Western logic, especially that of science, engineering, and computers, tells us there is but one “right” way, one “truth”, and other explanations are false or inferior. But in anthropology I learned the opposite: there are many different ways of seeing things, especially human behaviour and society, and each of them can be equally valid, even when they are mutually exclusive.

Through my studies of other cultures, I learned about some very powerful and useful alternative beliefs about human relationships with each other and our planet. Some of the most fascinating and compelling visions are those of the indigenous peoples (“Indians”) of the Americas.

One fascinating ongoing project to realize those values is the Pachamama Alliance, which has put together a program to “awaken the dreamer”. This phrase comes from what is being said by many indigenous groups in the tropical rainforests of Central and South America. When asked by aid workers how those of the developed world could help them, a wise elder replied: “If you are coming to help us, you are wasting your time. But if you are coming because your liberation is bound up with ours… then let us work together.”

They recognize that their fate and ours are forever linked, and the harms to their culture and habitat are the consequence of our way of thinking. What they describe as our “dream”, our values system of consumption & acquisition, of “free market” corporate capitalism under perpetual economic growth, is behind much of their loss. So their response is to “change the dream of the North” – to help us adopt a new values system which respects the earth and our place in it.

We cannot halt the destruction of the rainforest, extinction of species, or runaway climate change merely by recycling, or donating to ecological charities. We must profoundly change our actions, but to do that we need a new guiding paradigm. Otherwise, we will just see our new lives as limits, rejection, or privation. And that’s no fun. Yet it need not be so depressing; there are wonderful things we can share and experience to improve our world and ourselves at the same time. We can have a life of less material waste but more spiritual satisfaction. That’s a dream worth dreaming.

How does one change a dream? Can we, the dreamers, choose a new dream to guide us? Certainly this is the Pachamama Alliance’s hope. To enable it, they run half-day symposia around North America where people are invited to think about their values and the effects of their actions and explore new dreams.

Intrigued? Then you should take advantage of this Saturday afternoon’s Awakening the Dreamer, Changing the Dream symposium at Barrie’s Grace United Church. Hosted by Transition Barrie, this stirring presentation will open you to a new perspective. You can see and hold the vision of an environmentally sustainable, spiritually fulfilling and socially just human presence on this planet, as an achievable dream for our future.

For more information or to register for the event (cost is $10 or pay-what-you-can), visit or call 737-5768.

Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a teacher, father, volunteer, and politician.

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