Tuesday, September 27, 2011

King of the World

A stunningly beautiful stretch of road, genuine interactions with real people, major revelations and clarity beyond words summarize the last few days of my journey.  It has been wonderful.

Day 71: 9/24/11 Hermantown to Hibbing, MN: 66 miles
I recently commented to someone that I thought I would make a good king of the world. They looked at me and asked something like, “what would you change first?” I was totally stumped. It made me instantly realize that I'm only scratching the surface of so many problems that I care deeply about and feel like I can be a part of solving. Without a plan, big problems aren't even going to begin to change.
As an alternate train of thought, I try as often as possible to keep the “big picture” in sight, rather than focusing on the details of any problem in particular. So much of what I see as “wrong” with the world today stems from the same core set of misunderstandings, misguided priorities and plain ignorance of what is actually going on in the world. I would like to begin my plan with preventative medicine for humanity's woes, rather than treating the symptoms.

When it comes to treating symptoms, there are so many people doing so many good things on a small scale, and I applaud them. Part of my theory about how to fix the world is that every cause needs a champion. A person who is passionate and dedicated to that particular issue, and goes all-out to make the change that needs to happen from the ground up. If every person could find an issue to champion in order to improve life in the future, a hell of a lot of good would get done. And there are already tons of champions out there giving it their all. I recently read about a non-profit in New England called Project Laundry List, who's main goal is to get people to line-dry their clothes rather than using their dryer all the time. Without a doubt, this is a positive cause, in need of a champion (they were looking for a new executive director), but it is such a drop in the bucket of the mindset change that would result in everyone drying their clothes on a line. Because when you realize that everything is connected and you affect the entire planet negatively every time you run your dryer, then of course, why wouldn't you line dry?
And there I go, already getting caught up in the details. Some issues are so shockingly appalling that they are hard to ignore. Some will make a much larger difference than others, but I'm searching for the ultimate. I fear that most people are caught up in the details of their day-to-day lives to such an extent that they regularly loose sight of the big picture. It is true that several thousand years ago, after humans had already been evolving for 100,000+ years, that we had a very marginal, perhaps nearly undetectable effect on the other humans and life on earth. We are not evolved to think for the world. We are evolved to think for ourselves, our families, our survival and reproduction and the well-being of our communities and those closest to us. But this is no longer a world where competition for food determines who will survive. It is now a world where understanding our total influence as a species will be the most important step in creating a future in which we can thrive. We must expand our notion of taking care of our community to include the entire world. What makes this so easily approachable is that through education and understanding, we learn that what is best for ourselves and our families and what is best for the world are the same things.
This brings me to my tag-line for becoming king of the world. I was thinking to myself, “If I truly want to be a leader of some kind of large-scale change, then I had better work on my message.” A good leader is not usually the one with the strongest opinions or the most charm or the fastest wit. A good leader is someone who can be humble, honest, genuine and competent. A person of integrity, ingenuity, courage and wisdom who listens to the voices of his/her followers, and helps to decide what is best for all of them based upon their input. A person who is has the strength to choose what is right over what is easy. While I would love to receive more input (What changes do you want to see in this world?), I again fear getting caught up in the details. I think one of the reasons that real change is so mired in the bureaucratics of today's politics is that everyone has forgotten to look past the details and deal with the larger issues at hand. We're stuck arguing about gay marriage and border control when climate change threatens the entire planet.

At present, the issues that concern me most boil down to this: the well-being of the human species into the future. The physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being of the current and future humans on planet earth. While I could expand this to include a concern for the well-being of all living things on earth, that would not sound as important to a large group of people. And, once again, if we truly do what is best for the human species, then we will also be doing what is best for the rest of the living things on the planet, who are woven into the fabric of our existence in such intricate and integral ways that we do not yet recognize the value of most things as they pertain to our own well-being.

While I would like to convince myself that I view all living things as equally important as humans in general, and myself in particular, I must admit that this is not so. There was a time when I was convinced that the world should just be rid of humans, because we're just trashing the place for everything else, but that was short lived. I have come to know that I value my own existence, as well as that of my fellow humans, especially my close friends and family, above most other things. While I do feel that this is only partly my choice (and partly how I am evolved to operate), I believe strongly that it is easy to expand the notion of oneself to include things that are not obviously, directly a physical part of me. The rice that I am eating is about to become part of me, and soon portions of it will depart from me to become part of the earth. In a similar manner, the water I drink and the air that I breath are extensions of my physical being, and they circulate throughout the world on a daily basis, entering and leaving countless other humans and living things. Thinking in this way, I find it much easier to care about everything, because it becomes much more obvious that everything is part of everything else. We are one. And I've gone off on a tangent that describes exactly what is important to communicate to everyone so that we'll all be on the same page about saving everything, thereby saving ourselves.

Some other, less selfish reasons that I can come up with for wanting the human species to do well in the future include the idea that humans are the only things we know of that can appreciate and reflect upon the beauty and wonder of the universe. Someone told me once, “we are the universe's way of reflecting upon itself.” We create beautiful works of art, magnificent buildings and bridges, and so much love. The wedding that I attended recently was a wonderful reminder of the power, beauty and all-engulfing fire that love is. I think its OK to think of ourselves as special, because we don't have anything similar to compare ourselves to. As long as we realize that being special doesn't mean we get to destroy, dominate, marginalize or bully anyone or anything else. We are special, and we are part of everything, so everything is special.

Back to politics: What ever happened to a government of, by and for the people? Who I see in elected office are the wealthy, corporate-backed moderates. I am none of these things. Are these my people in office? And when was the last time you felt like you had any true input on how things run in Washington D.C.? I'm going to write a letter to the president, and include some of my concerns. I will probably be written off as an idealistic wacko, with no clue as to how things actually get done in D.C., but it seems to me that currently, almost nothing gets done anyhow, so what have I got to lose? As for being “for” the people, I feel like that part was forgotten long ago. Now, the ears and the pockets of politicians are filled by corporate lobbyists, and I have no delusions that this is the reason that tax laws and regulations of all kinds are in their favor. I saw a bumper sticker recently that said, “I'll start treating corporations like people when one of them is executed in Texas.” Its time we realized our mistake in creating institutions which are required by law to prioritize profits above all else. My first official action as king of the world would be to reject corporate person-hood, and require that they place the well-being of current and future humans as their top priority. Perhaps then we'd see some real change. Maybe profits can come second.

Today was the first day the sun came out since Minneapolis, 4 days ago. I rode in shorts and a t-shirt for a few hours, and captured some great photos of red leaves in bright sun. Last night, I spent the night with the parents of the bride from the wedding I just attended. Dennis and Debbie Lofald are Minnesota born and raised. They live on a big piece of land next door to several members of Dennis' family. We went to their favorite pizza place, where they treated me to an excellent pizza and some delicious root beer on tap, which came in a big, frosty stein. Dennis told me all about his work for a company which collects blood plasma to manufacture products for all kinds of medical treatments. I also learned quite a bit of local and family history. In the morning, Debbie sent me off with 3 sandwiches, a small representation of the unending hospitality they showed me during my stay. Their youngest daughter recently moved out of their house, and it is just the two of them in their home for the first time in 27 years. I don't think they minded my company one bit.
Day 72: 9/25/11: Hibbing to Togo, MN: 49 miles
I awoke in a thick fog. The field that I slept in last night was full of soft grass and slugs. This morning, as I pedaled off, a slug fell off of my helmet, dropping in front of my face and surprising me. There was frost on my tent for the first time, but I was not cold. As the day grew longer, the sun came out, and by late afternoon, I was in shorts. I stopped at Side Lake for lunch, took my shoes off and enjoyed the sunshine on my bare feet. The lake was surrounded by houses tucked into a thick forest of mixed evergreen and deciduous trees. A few boats enjoyed the last days of the season. I very much enjoyed the rays of sun filtering through the multicolored trees as I pedaled the last few miles into Thistledew Camp, where I will work in the wilderness for the next 3 weeks. I feel ready.

1 comment:

  1. wow, greg! thank you for sharing these thoughts. i like your first act as king of the world.