Thursday, December 8, 2016

Restoring Humility And Proportion

One of my main nightly rituals is to watch one hour of television news. The first half-hour is devoted to both a local and a regional station, while during the second half-hour I generally watch NBC Nightly News, sometimes switching back and forth between it and Global National. Such a practice usually provides me with an overview of local, national, and international events, while recognizing the limitations that such coverage provides both in depth and selection of stories.

Sometimes during this ritual, I find myself growing philosophical as I bear witness to events that often have a common subtext: the fragility and brevity of life. From the extermination of men, women and children in Syria to the loss of innocent lives in natural disasters and human-caused mayhem, the fact that our lives could end at any time through no fault of our own is never lost on me.

That got me wondering about our species' loss of humility and sense of proportion. We spend so much time getting and spending, to borrow from the poetry of William Wordsworth, that we have lost touch with both ourselves and the world around us. Should you doubt this, just look at the state of the world from an environmental, economic or sociological perspective. If you lack the time, check out one of The Mound's latest posts.

What haunts me is our collective refusal to live with a little dignity, a little restraint and a little gratitude for the very fact of our lives, precious and precarious as they ultimately are. This led me, on a bit of a whim, to post the following on my Facebook account:
A question: How do we, as a species, recover a measure of humility and a realistic sense of proportion?
The most thoughtful response came from my sister-in-law, Ruth, whose meditation follows:
The only place I can begin is with myself. And I think that's where everyone needs to begin. We can be fully present by putting down the "devices" and, for me, getting out into nature where we reconnect with that sense of grandeur and awe. It might be something different for someone else...but whatever gets them into that place where they can slow down and be humbled and grateful. We can meditate to turn off the inner chatter that can make us so unhappy which in turn can help us turn off the messages that buying more stuff will make us happy.

I'm studying to be a spiritual director to help others get to that place where they are in touch with the inner voice of God and their soul. I know it doesn't seem like much...but if even 10% of the population did those few addition to reducing, reusing and recycling, buying organic, supporting local...I think we could begin to regain that sense of our place in the world.

Keep the faith..never give up. But that's in my humble opinion anyway...
Should anyone else like to address this question, I welcome your comments, as always.


  1. Like yourself Lorne, I watch an hour of TV “news” each night although perhaps I am too focused upon Global News which I find one of the better broadcasts. That said probably 50% of that hour is not “news” but a mix of “entertainment” crap, commercials and opinion pieces, my morning cruse of google news fills the gaps! If one does that its hard to stay unaware of the mayhem happening across the world just because this guy was born a little different from that, or my religion is different from yours, or more recently ' I will say anything, and put down anyone in order to achieve 'power'!
    All in all the news, world wide, including much from Canada, and certainly from our neighbour to the south is very depressing and can drag any caring individual down.
    Your sister-in-law's solution to “put down the "devices" and getting out into nature where we reconnect with that sense of grandeur and awe. “ is a good one for those that can, I have said before that a “walk in the wood” often puts things in perspective. That I have the option of doing that by walking out my back door has helped in keeping my on line 'rants' to a minimum, as winter sets in and that option is no longer an option (unless you are up to snowshoes!) I expect to become more vocal on both my blog and commentary.
    May each and everyone find their place to “walk in the woods”....

    1. Thanks for your comments, Rural. I too find that walking is a good means by which to gain perspective. Although we live in a largely urban area, we are fortunate to also live very close to a rail trail that connects to Brantford, Cambridge and beyond, so a kind of 'walk in the woods' is always within our grasp. I like to think that I do much of my best thinking during such perambulations.

      I do feel for those who have little opportunity to venture into nature. To be enveloped in a 'concrete jungle' all the time robs us of the opportunity to be alone with our thoughts and see our true place in the scheme of things.

  2. "How do we, as a species, recover a measure of humility and a realistic sense of proportion?" The flaw I see in that quest, noble as it is, lies in whether any good might come of it if we actually did achieve that sort of enlightenment on a significant scale today. What is a 'realistic sense of proportion'? Can that even be achieved without accepting the finite limits of Earth and tailoring our share, mankind's entitlement, accordingly? In terms of wanton consumption we're so far off the charts now that implementing proportion would require a reduction in consumption, i.e. what today passes for 'standard of living', of 40% or more. I think that an impossible notion to sell to many, perhaps any. Humility, beyond the realm of Buddhism, seems to be something punitive, imposed from without rather than nurtured from within. Positive humility demands quiet, peace, and the opportunity for thoughtful reflection. I'm not sure where you can buy those things today.

    1. As a daily reader of your blog, Mound, I am acutely aware of the impossible demands and stresses we put on the earth and its resources. The only response to your observation I can think of is that we can never give up trying, through education and advocacy, to achieve something different. Too little, too late? Quite likely, yet I always feel there is some nobility and worth in fighting the battle, no matter how great the odds against success are.

      I am at all not suggesting that you are a defeatist in this matter, as the very fact that you post regularly on these vital interests clearly demonstrates otherwise.

  3. .. as always .. provocative questions & perspectives .. thank you..

    I think at times of the solution presented by.. mm .. think it was Paul Watson - SeaWolves.. something along the lines of 'if everone looked after their own backyard.. we could eliminate so many problems' But of course thats so simplistic & effective, we must seek out greater windmills to charge..

    Why would I write an environmental fiction book about west coast Canada.. when I live in Ontario ? Why not about an aged pipeline burrowing under Lake Ontario? Or about the homeless I see every day sleeping over grills and ducts?

    We struggle with 'appropriate focus' - entranced by the insane foibles of the Donald, Hannity's daily venom or a seemingly ludicrous 19 year old 'politician' elected in Niagara.. or a political thug like Kellie Leitch or Brad Wall..

    I believe one of the best things Canada can do.. is banish political parties. Finito, over, toast.. gonzo good riddance.. Do they actually serve us? And if not, who are they serving? Themselves? I believe we need folks to 'serve' for 2 years or so.. like military service.. then return to their lives. Teachers, moms, doctors, biologists, artists, plumbers.. and yes, students. We need the perspective and unique focus of all of us.. Perhaps some day I'll expound further on this.. but for now I truly tire of the strategies of Kouvalis, the unicorns of Christy Clark, the strident whine of Rona Ambrose who we provide with chefs and limo etc.. I don't see a single exemplar among them .. or an ordinary Canadian

    1. It was the Greeks (the Athenians, I believe) who saw it as their civic duty to participate directly in government. Putting aside the restrictions on who could participate, Salamander, considering your observations here, perhaps we would do well to look at their model of governance. If we did, the remoteness of the Ottawa bubble would quickly end.