There’s More to Exchanging Gifts Than Meets The Eye

The art of making someone happy and celebrating the relationship

This is our grandson, Ethan Miller. He was five-years-old. I choose this image because it represents the kind of joy we’d all like to see on someone’s face when they receive a gift from us. The subtitle indicates that there’s an art to gift-giving because done well it’s creative in several ways—conceiving of what to give; designing, constructing or purchasing the item; wrapping and presenting it.

Gift-giving is one of the earliest traits of hominids. Holes were drilled into bones, animal teeth and stones to make necklaces and other adornments. Having appeal, they and other items were exchanged to form alliances that improved the chances for survival. With the growth of civilizations, gift-giving became a tradition. Pharaohs, Greek and Maya kings were given gifts to celebrate their accession to the throne, birth dates and to show allegiance and foster political or religious favors. In the Middle Ages, New Year’s Day and other dates were specified as times for everyone to exchange gifts. Food was exchanged to express the giver’s bounty and generosity; manuscripts and books became popular as gifts because they were expensive. 

Many indigenous and tribal cultures engaged in elaborate rituals of gift-giving. Most well-studied by anthropologists and ethnologists are the Kwakiutl of the American Northwest coast. Between 1849 and 1925, their potlatch ceremonies reached a peak. Their purpose was mainly to validate the donor’s claim to high social rank; the more he gifted the community, the more he was revered as a “Big Man.” Sometimes, contenders spent decades amassing their wealth, only to give it all away on one occasion. A potlatch could also be held for someone to save face after suffering public embarrassment. I”ve read some of the ethnographic research on these ceremonies and the extent of gift-giving was massive. The sponsor would literally become broke overnight, and the next day he’d begin again to build his wealth so he could give it away. 

Today, gift-giving is a worldwide phenomenon, each culture prescribing the what, where, when and how it’s done. In China, New Year’s gifts are wrapped in red or money is given in a red envelope to signify wealth and prosperity. A gift and its wrapping cannot be black, white or blue, colors associated with death and funerals. The Japanese place nearly as much value on the wrapping of a gift as they do its content. In India, flowers, clothes and sweets are exchanged on Diwali, the festival of light that marks the celebration of good over evil. In Russia, a child’s birthday is special for all who attend the celebration, because a game is played where gifts are hung from a clothesline and everybody gets one. And finally, gifting is an important part of Arab tradition. It brings people together and reflects the giver’s graciousness, generosity and goodwill. Neighbors exchange gifts no matter how well they are known, and if a guest expresses an interest in an item they have in their home, it will likely be given to him.

The Medium Is The Message

Gifts communicate. The message may or may not be expressed overtly, as in “I know you like dark chocolate…” or “It’ll go with your blue…” Always, regardless of what the gift is or who’s giving it, there’s a subtextual message that reveals the giver’s intention relative to the receiver. 

Some gifts are exchanged out of obligation, usually at events such as Christmas and holiday office parties, weddings, birthdays, graduations and baby showers. Other gifts come as a surprise to the recipient. Whatever the context, the choice of the gift, its wrapping and presentation speak to the relationship. Of course, the message can vary widely, conveying feelings about the recipient, the present or future relationship, attitudes about reciprocation, protocol or social pressure or beliefs about the nature of gift-giving itself. For instance, some consider the gifting protocol an imposition at times, a commercially-driven nuisance. Father’s Day, Mother’s Day and Valentines Day are examples where there’s social pressure to give a gift.

The Intention    

The giver’s intention is the all-important first question, even before considering what to give because it’s the motivating force that drives everything else. Who is this person to me? What role does she play? What do I want to convey? What do I want him or her to feel about me—and the gift? Little to nothing? Friendship? Important or not important relationship? Colleague? Superior or junior status? Compassion? Love? Unconditional love? And the many “colors” in-between. More simply, the intention is to give a person a moment of joy. 

The Gift

For the giver, the experience is pleasing if the gift expresses the intention. For instance, the big smile on our grandson’s face is precisely what his parents had hoped for. Good gifting occurs when the gift and the subtext are aligned. The item is appreciated not only for what it is, but also because it “says” something about the relationship that pleases the receiver. Examples of subtextual messages include, “I see you.” “I know what you like.” “I hear you.” “I want to support your interest.” “I want to help you…” “I love what you do.” “I love who you are.” “I hope this gives you joy.” “You’re so good at…” “You’re such a good friend (or whatever).” “You mean a lot to me.” “I appreciate you.” 

Some gifts are disappointing for the receiver. Not wanting to offend the sender, we never say so. The prime example is “returns,” gifts we don’t like or want.  Perhaps the sender didn’t understand or consider the interests, preferences, or situation of the receiver. Another disappointing gift is the one that sends an unwelcome message: “Honey, I heard you complain about the vacuum cleaner; this one’s fantastic! Subtext: “I see you as the maid.” Gifts that can, with some exceptions, qualify the joy in receiving are those where the giver gets to share in the use of the gift. “I signed you up for archery lessons—both of us—so we can go together!” Or “I got you a kayak! Tomorrow we pick it up.” Such items are best discussed before being purchased. Another example is the gift of travel, tickets to an event and consumables. Gift cards can go both ways.   

When someone hasn’t taught them differently, boys and young men are tempted to give a woman a gift that’s impersonal—appliance, tool, equipment, machinery and gadgets. There are exceptions, but generally, women would rather select those kinds of things for themselves. A gift is “personal” when it says the sender regards the receiver as a unique and special—beautiful, intelligent, capable, good, loving—person. This could consist of items that contribute to a woman’s comfort, appearance, adornment, occupation, interests or social life. Novels carry positive associations, but self-help books imply a subtext that says, “There’s something wrong with you.”

Men and boys, on the other hand, generally prefer items that will enhance their work, hobbies, or special interests, including tools, nonfiction books, electronics, sporting goods, subscriptions,  videos, competitive games, cool gadgets and enjoyable foods and beverages. Clothing can go both ways, largely depending on the age of the receiver. I tease my grandson every year inquiring about what color of socks he’d like for Christmas. Enough said.

With respect to children living with their parents, it’s advisable to check with the parents before buying a gift, both to avoid duplication and honor the way the child is being raised. Some parents don’t want their children to have certain movies, smartphones, and other electronics, video games and toys that mimic guns of any kind.

From the receiver’s point-of-view, a good or great gift can be what was hoped for, what brings delight, contributes to current interests or touches the heart. Depending upon age and gender, it can be fun, exciting, surprising, beautiful, helpful, or inspiring. And great gifts don’t necessarily equate with the cost. One of the most satisfying gifts I gave to Jennifer, our daughter, was a poem. And one of the most memorable gifts from Linda was a ride in a glider. What have you received that gave you great joy? Who gave it to you? And what did it say about the relationship? 


Here too, the subtext communicates. How much time or creativity went into the wrapping? One Christmas I witnessed a child, six or seven years of age, handing his mother a gift wrapped in a garbage bag. Whatever happened there, the lesson for me was that the process of gift-wrapping has to be learned. It doesn’t come naturally. My dad always took me to buy gifts for my mom, and he taught me how to wrap them. Later on, observing how Linda made each package special using a variety of materials—some of which I’d never think to put on a package—I realized that there’s an art to it. Simply put, the more time and creativity invested in the wrapping and presentation, the more effectively the intention is communicated. 

While cocooning during the pandemic is a challenge this holiday season, the spirit of celebration is alive and well, indicated by record-breaking early shopping, lighting displays in neighborhoods, tree lightings, ramped-up charitable initiatives and Christmas movies. The limitations we’re experiencing this year are certainly unwanted, but for those of us privileged to be healthy they can bring out the best in us—like doing what we can to safeguard each others’ health and invest the gifts we give with meaning beyond obligation. An expression of our intention to bring joy to someone can be as simple as a phone or zoom call or a card. Beyond the physical gift, what matters more is being mindful of subtext and remembering why we’re exchanging gifts—to bring joy to others, renew our relationships and  demonstrate peace and love. 

Receiving A Gift

When we receive a gift that makes us happy, it provides an opportunity to make the giver happy as well. How we receive a gift communicates. At the very least, if we’re not in the presence of the one who offered the gift we need to acknowledge that it was received. Whether or not we’re in the giver’s presence a simple “thank you” is flat, barely moves the enjoyment needle. Talking about the gift later on moves it a little more, but the needle really gets “pinged” when, after time goes by, the receiver provides words or evidence that the gift is being used and is very much appreciated. “That sweater you gave me for my birthday has become my favorite!” “Every morning I use your coffee mug.” “That wireless headset is giving me a fresh appreciation for music I’ve been listening to for years.” Just as there’s an art to giving, there’s an art to receiving, expressing appreciation and enjoyment for what we received.


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The Climate Is Precipitating Change

While governments and industries move at a glacial pace, citizens and NGO’s are getting ahead of the storm

Climate change has a long history. In the last 650,000 years, there have been seven cycles of glacial advance and retreat, with the abrupt end of the last ice age about 7,000 years ago marking the beginning of the modern climate era—and of human civilization. Most of these climate changes are attributed to very small variations in Earth’s orbit that change the amount of solar energy our planet receives. The current warming trend is of particular significance because most of it is extremely likely (greater than 95 percent probability) to be the result of human activity since the mid-20th century and proceeding at a rate that is unprecedented.”


The Situation

The climate is increasingly in the news due to global warming. Fritjof Capra and Pier Luigi Luise write in The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision, “Since the Industrial Revolution, human activities have generated excessive greenhouse gas emissions, causing massive amounts of heat to be trapped in the atmosphere. The principal sources of these human-induced gasses are the production of CO2 from the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation, and the emissions of methane from the management of livestock. Warmer air means there are more energy and moisture in the atmosphere, and this can lead to a variety of consequences—floods, tornados, and hurricanes, but also droughts, heat waves, and wildfires… The most alarming discovery has been that human emissions of greenhouse gasses have caused the Arctic to warm about twice as fast as the rest of the Northern Hemisphere.”

As ice melts it exposes the darker ocean waters, which absorb heat rather than reflecting it back into space, the reflectivity of ice is diminished before it even melts and air pollution combined with soot from wildfires leads to greater absorption of heat which accelerates melting. Further, the warming of the atmosphere deepens the meandering of the polar jet stream pushing ice and snow from the Arctic to the south and warm air from the south to the Arctic, resulting in the more frequent and severe weather conditions we’ve been experiencing in recent years. 

For millennia, atmospheric carbon dioxide had never been higher than 300 parts per million.  According to NASA, beginning in 1950 the level spiked dramatically to the current level of 420 ppm. The global temperature is rising; the oceans are warming and becoming acidified; ice sheets are shrinking; glaciers are retreating; there’s decreased snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere; sea levels are rising; the extent and thickness of Arctic sea ice is declining rapidly; record high temperatures are being exceeded regularly and the warming of the atmosphere and oceans are causing major shifts in species extinction and avian, animal and sea life migratory patterns worldwide. 

Notice the alligator, bottom right

The Good News

Writing in A New Climate For Theology: God, the World and Global Warming, Sallie McFague says there are some encouraging perspectives. “If all economic and governmental institutions worldwide were to take the necessary measures through taxes and incentives to ensure lifestyle changes throughout all levels of the human population, the task could be accomplished. We could stabilize greenhouse gas emissions so as to keep the global temperature at approximately 2°C by the end of the century. In other words, climate change is not necessarily an apocalyptic event that will destroy human life and other life on our planet. We know what needs to be done, and we have the technology to do it.”


We must enact a civilization-wide unifying purpose: to restore beauty, health and life to all that have suffered during the Ascent of Humanity.

Charles Eisenstein, Author of Climate: A New Story

Even Better News

Especially encouraging is the proliferation of nongovernmental organizations (NGO’s), non-profit, voluntary citizens’ groups, recognized by the United Nations, organized locally, nationally or internationally oriented and driven by people with a common interest to perform a variety of service and humanitarian functions. They bring their concerns to Governments, advocate and monitor policies and encourage political participation by providing information. In the ’60s there were 20,000 of these. With the advent of computers that number has skyrocketed to an estimated 10 million. 

Because they’re funded by donations and run mostly by volunteers, they’re not hindered by short-term financial objectives or political partisanship. That means they can focus on long-term and complex issues such as climate change. Because they enjoy a high degree of public trust, they have already been effective in rallying people to their causes and making change happen when governments couldn’t.

In The Systems View Of Life, Fritjof Capra says the global coalition of NGO’s, combined with global communication technologies has produced a global “civil society” that forms an interface between the state and its citizens. “While the nation-states have been losing power, a new kind of civil society, organized around reshaping globalization—humanizing it on behalf of the health and well-being of people, ecosystems and the planet—has gradually emerged. (Remember my posting on “emergence”?) Indeed, dysfunctional systems, by their divisiveness, ineptitude and inability to act are precipitating the emergence of systems that can act decisively. 

Dr. Capra provides an example in the area of agriculture. “If we changed from our chemical, large-scale industrial agriculture to organic, community-oriented, sustainable farming, this would contribute significantly to solving three of our biggest problems. It would greatly reduce our energy dependence because we are now using (In the USA) one-fifth of our fossil fuels to grow and process food. The healthy, organically grown food would have a hugely positive effect on public health, because many chronic diseases—heart attack, stroke, diabetes, and about 40% of cancers—are linked to our diet. And finally, organic farming would contribute significantly to fighting climate change, because an organic soil is a carbon-rich soil, meaning that it draws CO2 from the atmosphere and locks it up in the organic matter. Today, hundreds of systemic solutions are being developed all over the world to solve problems of the economy, environmental degradation, energy, climate change, food insecurity, and so on.”

We hear people say they want to do something about climate change and global warming, but besides the seeming little daily practices cited in last weeks blog “Earth House Rules,” they don’t know what. One huge contribution we can make is to appreciate and support the emergents, people who know what to do and are doing it. Online, I found a long list of A-list entertainers, sports heroes and other celebrities who are dedicated to making a difference. Another option is to call up the list of NGO’s, pick a favorite cause and sign on as a supporter.

The NGO’s by category


In our view, climate change will determine the destiny of mankind, so it is imperative that our generation makes the right choices.

Wang Yi, Chinese Foreign Minister at 2019 G20 Summit




Photography Monographs. The pages can be turned in each book.



An expression of gratitude for an action or achievement

Dr. Albert Sabin

As part of a prime-time medical series for television called A Matter Of Life, producer David George and I filmed Dr. Sabin in his Washington, D.C. lab. An entire program was devoted to his development of the oral polio vaccine, which played a key role in nearly eradicating the disease worldwide. I offer this photograph to represent, acknowledge and appreciate the medical professionals, including researchers, suppliers and those who play a role in maintenance, support and ancillary services.  

Acknowledgement is an outward recognition that something favorable has been received. Whether spoken, written or offered as a gift, it’s an expression of gratitude and good feelings. In The Psychological Effects of Workplace Appreciation & Gratitude, O. C. Tanner says it triggers a brain boost. “The hypothalamus, which controls basic bodily functions such as eating and sleeping, and dopamine, the ‘reward neurotransmitter’ are heavily affected by feelings of gratitude. It can increase a person’s wellness, increase better sleep habits, increase metabolism and lessen stress. The greatest psychological effect of appreciation and gratitude is the happiness and other emotions immediately felt whether we’re giving or benefiting from it.”

An article in Changing Minds describes our need for acknowledgement. “When people acknowledge us, even briefly, we feel a connection with them. This is a step towards bonding and the joining of identities.” According to a study in Congruence: Aligning your people with your business objectives, “The benefit of acknowledgement is letting the receiver know that you’ve heard them or received their communication.” 

In a study reported in Psychology Today, Why You Need To Be Seen: The critical role of acknowledgement in maintaining our motivation, Dr. Craig Dowden found that those in the “acknowledged” group persevered significantly longer and completed a third more of the tasks than those in the control group. “Taking the time to acknowledge the work of the people around us can positively impact their level of motivation. Creating a culture of ‘paying it forward’ may spur a mutually reinforcing cycle of motivation, which can drive us to reach new heights and persevere, especially in challenging times. Paying attention to the work and efforts of our colleagues not only provides us with much-needed human connection, it can also heighten their motivation and perseverance.”

In her book, The Power of Acknowledgement, author Judith W. Umlas provides even more reasons to acknowledge those we know and don’t know. It “builds intimacy and creates powerful interactions, neutralizes, defuses, deactivates and reduces the effect of jealousy and envy, leads to high energy and high-quality performance, sometimes makes a profound difference in a person’s life and work and can improve the emotional and physical health of both the giver and receiver.” 

I’m reminded of a luncheon I attended at the headquarters of a large corporation. Waiting in the lobby for Heather, my host, I read their impressive statement of mission and values. I was introduced to the CEO and other officers. Professional dress at every level. Personable and professional interactions. Luxurious facilities. The details of the meeting are lost in memory now, except for an incident I will never forget.

After lunch, Heather led me to a place where we dropped off our food trays. Behind a little window, an older woman wearing a hairnet and apron busily took the trays as we slid them to her so she could clean and move them onto a conveyor belt headed for the dishwashing area. Heather and I were talking but she stopped. “Excuse me David,” she said. She turned and set her tray down, but held onto it so the woman couldn’t take it. Hello!” Heather said, holding the woman’s gaze. “I just want you to know how much I appreciate what you do here.” Heather said something else, but I didn’t hear it. A line was forming in back of me. Moving on, I asked if she knew that woman. She didn’t. “I think it’s important to acknowledge people for what they do,” she said. I asked if other employees did that. “Probably not,” she said. “But I have to.”

Indeed. Acknowledgement. Heather probably made that woman’s day. Certainly, she made mine. And the best part, her kind words left such an impression that I have ever since wanted to emulate that simple gesture. And so the photograph of Dr. Sabin calls me to acknowledge and appreciate the hard working, out-of-the-spotlight people at every level who keep the medical field humming—frantically buzzing these days considering the pandemic. THANK YOU!


We’re in a country that acknowledges only those who stand on the victory podium, but some of my heroes come in last. — Bud Greenspan, producer of sports documentaries, notably the Olympic Games


Each time I practice the power of acknowledgement I’ve given the other person a priceless gift — the gift of dignity and self-worth. — Elizabeth Kearney, author, People Power: Reading people for results.




Photography Monographs. The pages can be turned in each book.

Earth House Rules

What we can do to affect positive change for Earth and humanity

In Ken Burns’ documentary, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, a paradox was cited where Congress debated over whether or not the Grand Canyon should become a “national park” or remain a “national monument.” The former restricts a park against any human use other than tourism. I cite it here because it very well represents the distinction we made between “surface ecology” and “deep ecology” in a prior posting. At base, it points to aspects of human nature that often come in conflict—the urge to “use” the material world in order to build, create wealth and expand, and the urge to “appreciate” it toward lifting the spirit and enriching the soul. In essence, when it comes to the environment, we have and continue to oppose the physical and the spiritual (in the reverence sense, not the religious).

Historically, there are at least two primary reasons for this divide: the perception of God, other people and the world as other and separate, and the biblical injunction to subdue the Earth. In New Climate For Theology: God, the World and Global Warming, theologian Sallie McFague refers to the former as the deistic model. “It sees the world as totally secular, divorced from God—and from human beings, except as a ‘machine’ for our use. The relationship between God and the world as well as between human beings and the world is utilitarian: we and God are ‘subjects,’ whereas the world and all its other creatures are “objects. This utilitarianism (italics mine) is in large measure why we are presently in our global warming crisis.”

And it’s roots, says Charles Eisenstein in Climate: A New Story, “are in fundamentalism of all kinds, a disengagement from the complexity of the real world… that offers certainty, a lockdown of thought into a few prescribed pathways.” His reference is Genesis 1:28 of the Christian Bible that says: “God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. Rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that crawls on the earth.’” We’ve done that, and as a result, we’re racing toward global catastrophe.  

If the cause of our crisis is the illusion of separation from God, the earth and each other, which allows for the use of the planet to fulfill human needs, wants and aspirations, then the cure requires a shift in perception—from the idea that we are separate, independent operators, to seeing ourselves as members of one species and one interdependent and interconnected living system. Systemically speaking, the health and well-being of each member depends on the health and well-being of the whole. And vice versa.

Perceptions are choices we make. We can shift out of necessity (the hard way), or the gentle way by acting with wisdom and foresight. With climate change and the sixth extinction already underway, leaders globally are choosing the hard way, preferring short-term gains, passing off consequences to the environment to future generations. In such a climate, what can we, everyday people, do to affect positive change?


What could change the direction of today’s civilization? It is my deep conviction that the only option is a change in the sphere of the spirit, in the sphere of human conscience. It is not enough to invent new machines, new regulations, new institutions. We must develop a new understanding of the true purpose of our existence on this Earth. Only by making such a fundamental shift will we be able to create new models of behavior and a new set of values for the planet.

Vaclav Havel, President of the Czech Republic 1993-2003


When it comes time to vote, we can vote our conscience. Personally, I appreciate candidates who evidence the perception of the world as one, integrated and interdependent whole; individuals committed to sustaining, ideally enhancing, the health and well-being of all people, environments and animals; people with light in their eyes, not just dollar signs, people who put the needs of others above their own preferences and gratifications. Especially, we need leaders who demonstrate empathy, the capacity to vicariously experience the feelings, thoughts, and experience of others—all others.

This is a tall order, so it’s no wonder that the modern era is experiencing a crisis in leadership. Nonetheless, the whole—family, community, nation, species, planet—can flourish when all its parts are secure and cared for. That’s the challenge of leadership.  It’s why the business world trains executives in “servant leadership,” and why students of ecology are encouraged to think of themselves as “stewards” of the planet.

Closer to home, there are everyday things we can do to reduce our impact on the environment:

  • Take shorter showers.
  • Ask for paper rather than plastic cups in restaurants—and always tell the server why.
  • Use paper straws—or none at all.
  • Take reuseable bags to the grocery store.
  • Reduce meat intake.
  • Buy organic where possible.
  • Wear a sweater rather than turn the heat up.
  • Fly less. Use the phone or video conferencing for work meetings.
  • Turn the lights off, except when necessary.
  • Shop closer to home.
  • Walk or ride a bike rather than drive short distances.
  • Choose a low mileage vehicle.
  • Ride the bus or carpool.
  • Improve the energy efficiency of our houses.
  • Recycle as much as possible.
  • Turn electronic devices off overnight.
  • As much as possible, wash only full loads of clothing.
  • Avoid aerosols, pesticides and lawn chemicals (that kill worms and insects,  etc.)
  • Have tools repaired or sharpened rather than replacing them.


Making small changes to my personal consumption habits means my dollar will start putting pressure on companies that are wasteful, environmentally damaging or polluting. With more people shopping local, clean and ethical you can bet the lure of profits in greener consumer products, will inspire change on a large scale.

Amie Engerbretson, Professional Skier


Earth House Rules

If we care about the planet and all its creatures, we’ll think about the consequences of our actions and do the right thing—even if others are not and when no one is watching. In the source cited above, Sallie McFague, writes that “Earth is a home, not a hotel.”  As such, she provides three simple guidelines that she calls “Earth’s House Rules.” Whenever I see people observing these practices, I am uplifted.

Take only your share. Since all creatures must have food in order to survive, distributive justice becomes a necessary and central human behavior. The whole, the planet, cannot flourish unless the parts are healthy. Hence, “Take only your share” is not a plea for charity to the disadvantaged; rather, it is a law of planetary well-being. 

Clean up after yourself. This home is the only one we will ever have. We must reuse, not use up, everything on the planet. In a healthy ecosystem, everything is recycled: we need to structure our societies on that model. This will not be easy, for our consumer culture thrives on its exact opposite—throwing away. 

Keep the house in good repair for others. The house is not ours; we do not own it. Rather, it is on loan to us for our lifetime, and we must sustain it for others. 

Indigenous people around the world lived these rules naturally because they believed the world and everything it contains is alive. They understood interconnection and interdependence at every level. There was no division between the physical and the spiritual—in human beings or the world. Balance had to be maintained, otherwise, the life force would die and the world would end. Fortunately for all humankind, Congress saw fit to establish the Grand Canyon as a national park. Had they not, it might have been strip-mined with hotels and electronic billboards dotting the rim.


There is no “safe place” on earth where pollution, global warming, acid rain, and so on can’t find us—and the places we think are safe can turn out to be the most dangerous… One of the most important forces behind behavior change is the belief that things can be different, that what we do makes a difference. A common motto of many NGOs—“A different world is possible”—rests on this belief in the human ability to imagine alternative worlds and to work for their realization. We must begin to see ourselves as interrelated and interdependent with the animate and inanimate elements of our planet and begin to follow earth’s house rules of limited use, recycling, and long-term sustainability.

Sallie McFague, Author, Blessed Are The Consumers




Photography Monographs. The pages can be turned in each book.

Irritable? Got A Case Of The Blahs?

Gratitude can turn it around in short order

Gratitude: From the Latin gratia, which means grace, graciousness, or gratefulness depending on the context. 

What It Does

Gratitude works in at least two ways. It shifts negative thoughts to positive thoughts by recognizing that something in life is good. And because the specific good we think about is external to us, it takes us out of ourselves. The trick to transforming the thought or feeling that “Things are really screwed up” into “All is well; it’ll get better” is to let your song gratitude for a specific good expand into a chorus of things you’re grateful for. And sustain it.

The Science

In Neurodharma: New Science, Ancient Wisdom, and Seven Practices of the Highest Happiness, psychologist Rick Hanson advises to “Grow the good that lasts in your brain and your life.” In one study, he found that focusing on an experience for 20 seconds is long enough to create “positive structural changes in the brain.” And that gratitude in particular, “gives space for positive thoughts and experiences to expand as if we’re re-experiencing them.” The structural changes he sites include the stimulation of the hypothalamus, which regulates stress, and the ventral tegmental area, which plays a significant role in the brain’s reward system that produces feelings of pleasure.

A white paper entitled  The Science of Gratitude, prepared for the John Templeton Foundation by the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, reported in 2018 that gratitude has deep roots in our evolutionary history. One study reported that the desire to repay generosity suggests that gratitude “may have evolved as a mechanism to drive reciprocal altruism, thereby turning strangers into friends and allies who are more likely to help one another.” Other studies report that gratitude arose as a mechanism for social adaptation, that specific genes could underlie the experience of gratitude, and that parenting, prayer and a host of other social and cultural factors are linked to gratitude.

Individual Benefits

The paper cited above associated gratitude with better physical and psychological health, increased happiness, life satisfaction, decreased materialism and less suffering from burnout. “More grateful cardiac patients reported better sleep, less fatigue, and lower levels of cellular inflammation.” “Heart failure patients who kept a gratitude journal for eight weeks were more grateful and had reduced signs of inflammation afterward.” Other studies found that “more grateful people experience less depression and are more resilient following traumatic events.”

Children can benefit as well. “Gratitude journaling in the classroom improved students’ mood and a curriculum designed to help students appreciate the benefits they have gained from others successfully taught children to think more gratefully and to exhibit more grateful behavior.” And  adolescents who demonstrated gratitude “are more interested and satisfied with their school lives, are more kind and helpful, and are more socially integrated.”

Social Benefits

The report also indicated that “Gratitude inspires people to be more generous, kind, and helpful or prosocial. “It strengthens relationships, including romantic relationships, and may improve the climate in workplaces. More grateful people are more helpful and generous. It’s important in forming and maintaining social relationships.”

Researchers referred to the “find, remind and bind” function of gratitude. “By attuning people to the thoughtfulness of others, gratitude helps them ‘find’ or identify people who are good candidates for quality future relationships; it also helps ‘remind’ people of the goodness of their existing relationships; and it ‘binds’ them to their partners and friends by making them feel appreciated, encouraging them to engage in behaviors that will help prolong their relationships.”

The Practice 

Several studies observed that keeping a gratitude journal or writing a letter of gratitude can increase one’s happiness and overall positive mood. Especially important in writing is the language we use. In The Science Of Gratitude: How It Affects Your Brain And How You Can Use It To Create A Better Life, Anna Powers reported a double-blind study where 300 participants wrote letters of gratitude for three weeks straight. “What really made a difference in mental health improvement was not the abundance of positive words, but rather a lack of negative ones! Thus, indicating that gratitude shifts our frame of mind to a positive state of being and allows us to have a better psychological experience despite what we may be going through externally.”

Psychology professor and gratitude researcher at UC Davis, Dr. Robert Emmons, recommends two key components in practicing gratitude—“Affirm the good things we’ve received, and acknowledge the role people played in providing goodness in our lives.” 

Mindful: Healthy Mind, Healthy Life is a website that describes ten ways to practice gratitude.  Among them, are making a vow to do so. “Research shows that making an oath to perform a behavior increases the likelihood that the action will be executed.” Use visual reminders. “Because the two primary obstacles to gratefulness are forgetfulness and a lack of mindful awareness, visual reminders can serve as cues to trigger thoughts of gratitude. And think outside the box. Look for little things, situations and circumstances, that elicit joy or appreciation.

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words but to live by them. — John F. Kennedy


Frequently, I find that thoughts of gratitude are triggered by encountering someone in real life or on television who can’t do some of the things I take for granted—like hearing and walking. Also, people who don’t have what I consider a necessary part of everyday living—like showering in water that’s as pure as what we drink, having a warm bed to sleep in, refrigeration, a washer and dryer, telephone and computer… Oh my!   

My favorite comment on gratitude comes from a dear friend who passed away a few years ago. A comment in his book, The Mystical Sense of the Gospels: A Handbook for Contemplatives, speaks to gratitude’s highest vibration.  


There is a gratitude that is generic, nonspecific, not tied down to any single benefit or  blessing. It is just a generalized welling up of love, a thanks-for-everything, unspecified gratitude. It gives wings to the soul, and it begins to partake of the boundlessness of God. It elevates the spirit above all that is finite and all but fuses with or dissolves into God. 

James M. Somerville





Photography Monographs (In each book the pages can be turned)

Planetary Stewardship

For us to survive the planet must thrive

To sustain is to maintain. With regard to ecosystems, sustainability isn’t enough. While protecting and invigorating certain ecosystems may be all that can be done to preserve what would otherwise be lost, the word “sustainability” allows us to continue to see the world as composed of “resources” to be used—ideally in ways that don’t contribute to greenhouse gasses. Further, the word relegates human beings to the role of manager, as if the planet is a machine that we can control. Nature cannot be controlled; we can only respond to it. We cannot sustain life as we know it, or as it has been. Attempts, though good and necessary, will always be partial and temporary.


Sustainability invites a linear response to a nonlinear problem. But Earth is not a machine; it is alive, and it will remain hospitable to life only if we treat it as such.

Charles Eisenstein, Author, Climate: A New Story


What is our proper response to change? How can we best relate to nature and life processes in ways that both sustain and enhance? Leave it alone? We can’t. As the population increases at an estimated 82 million people per year, racing toward 8 billion, the demand for resources will only grow. 

Paleontologists have identified five mass extinctions during the past 500 million years. “Estimates of current extinction rates due to deforestation and the destruction of other habitats, indicate that the Earth is now in the midst of a sixth mass extinction (Elizabeth Kolbert: The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, 2015). This one, according to the 2010 report of the Royal Society of London “is caused, for the first time, by the activities of a single species: Homo sapiens.”


Concern with the environment is no longer one of many ‘single issues.’ It is the context of everything else—our lives, our businesses, our politics. The great challenge of our time is to build and nurture sustainable communities and societies.

G. Tyler Miller, Author, Living in the Environment


The Old Paradigm

The fundamental dilemma underlying the major problems of our time seems to be the illusion that unlimited growth is possible on a finite planet… Our current economic system is fueled by materialism and greed that do not seem to recognize any limits… It’s maintained by economists who refuse to include the social and environmental costs of economic activities in their theories. Consequently, there are huge differences between market prices and the true costs, as, for example, for fossil fuels… These movements are facilitated by ‘free-trade’ rules, designed to support continuing corporate growth. Economic and corporate growth are pursued relentlessly by promoting excessive consumption and a throw-away economy that is energy and resource-intensive, generating waste and pollution, and depleting the Earth’s natural resources.

Fritjof Capra and Pier Luigi Luisi, The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision 


The Good News

We created a relationship to Earth that is no longer viable. Knowing this, we can create a more appropriate relationship, one of stewardship.

We do not need to invent sustainable human communities from scratch but can model them after nature’s ecosystems, which are sustainable communities of plants, animals, and microorganisms. Since the outstanding characteristic of the ‘Earth Household’ is its inherent ability to sustain life, a sustainable community is designed in such a manner that its ways of life, business, economy, physical structures, and technologies do not interfere with nature’s inherent ability to sustain life… This wisdom of nature is the essence of ecoliteracy.”

Does sustainability mean lowering our standard of living? Not at all. It does mean that we have to do more with less, but as Paul Hawken argues, “Once we start to organize ourselves and innovate within that mind-set (of sustainability), the breakthroughs are extraordinary. They will allow us to achieve greatly superior rates of resource productivity, which in turn allow us to be prosperous, fed, clad, secure.”

Fritjof Capra, Author, The Hidden Connections: A Science for Sustainable Living


Writing in Scientific American, Capra and others maintain that the innovation at the heart of sustainable living will be a powerful economic engine. “Addressing climate change,” he says, “is the biggest job creation program there is.”

In last weeks post, “Nature’s Wisdom…,” I identified the basic principles of ecology, perceptions of nature that can affect a shift toward sustaining and enriching the Earth. They include interdependence, life processes are cyclical, complex living systems require sunlight and nature thrives on cooperation. Embracing these and acting accordingly is the way of planetary stewardship. For me, In a nutshell, it’s love—right relationship enhances the lives of who and what we love.


In a strange paradox, we who have unprecedented power over the planet are at the same time at its mercy: if it does not thrive, neither can we.

Sallie McFague, Author, Blessed Are The Consumers




Photography Monographs. The pages can be turned in each book.

Autumn Reflection And Appreciation

As above, so below


One of the benefits of a photographic image is that it presents us with a moment, usually a fraction of a second, and holds us there afterward so we can reflect and appreciate the subject matter—and possibly some significance it might have.

The live scene or situation in front of the camera is part of our continuous experience, so mentally and physically we’re always on the move with respect to it. We give it fleeting attention. Ah, nice forest, we think. Beautiful trees! And then we’re on to the next thing. Thoughts change. We loose interest. We become distracted. And the scene changes.

But when we sit with an image a while longer, a photograph or painting, the act of focused attention promotes an inner assimilation of the subject matter. Spending time with a beautiful image can have the same, albeit more subtle, effect of recharging our batteries and resetting our priorities, as when we spend time in nature or goes on a retreat. We especially recognize these benefits are occurring when the experience or observation produces an inhale, a deep “breath of fresh air.” It’s an indication that we’ve made a connection, tasted a deeper reality where all is well. A bit of the life force has been assimilated.

Beyond that, there’s more to be gained by contemplating an image. For instance in the above image the colors are beautiful and they mark a seasonal change. But what else is going on? Are there meanings to be gleaned beyond the surface appearance? For me, one consideration is the nature and source of color itself, how it’s a mental construct based on a complex of solar wavelengths, surface characteristics, sensory inputs and the brain/nervous system. I also thought about the diversity of different species of trees, how their leaves turn different colors at different time and how the trees blend together to create a “symphony” of harmonizing colors, forms and textures. And of course, autumn serves as a metaphor for change, death, transformation and renewal.

Considering the reflection of the forest on the water, an ancient adage by Hermes Trismegistus, author of sacred Greek texts, came to mind. He’s accredited with the notion, “As above, so below,” referencing man as a microcosm that mirrors the macrocosm of pure being. While I favor the idea, especially considering that it was central to the wisdom of indigenous peoples, the reflection on the water doesn’t accurately reflect the details of the forest. Nonetheless, it is complimentary. Cropped, to frame only the water, the image stands on it own as an aesthetic experience, and unlike the actual forest it evokes the sensibility of blending, merging, motion and unity.

Reflecting further, the forest as a whole represents consciousness, and the individual trees thoughts that come and go. In the “above” reality, there’s a sharp and clear distinction between thoughts. In the “below” reality, the reflection, thoughts are blending, shimmering and dissolving into one another. My appreciation here, is how an image can generate meanings beyond its surface identification—when we take the time to look and ponder. Seeing more, we become more.


About The Image

I took an extended trip to photograph in western Michigan. To prepare, I did a great deal of research to find a destination that was within a day’s drive to where the color of the trees would be peaking. The weather forecast was for four days of sunshine, so I packed my cameras, eager to shoot both black and white film and digital color.

As the saying goes, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.” I drove a full day in the rain, expecting to have the four days of sunlight ahead of me. You guessed it—it drizzled and rained all day, every day. About two hours on the last day the clouds slightly and I happened upon this privately-owned pond in Shelby, Michigan.

The trees were awesome—as the above image demonstrates. One of the benefits of cloud-cover is the reduction of contrast, meaning the highlights don’t “blossom” or blow out as they could in bright sunlight. And the lack of contrast can easily be compensated for in Lightroom or Photoshop.

Another benefit of “bad” weather—for both color and black and white—is atmosphere. While Fall colors “pop” in bright sunlight, overcast and dark clouds can contribute to mood. When it rained so hard I couldn’t get out of the car without getting the camera wet, I drove at a crawl and just appreciated what was I was seeing. Sometimes it’s more rewarding to just be rather than do.

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Nature’s Wisdom

We can learn it the easy way or the hard way

Ecoliteracy involves an understanding of the basic principles of ecology. Understanding is the relatively easy part. The challenging part is living accordingly. Due to the specificity and complexity of this topic, I draw heavily upon The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision by Fritjof Capra and Pier Luigi Luisi.


During more than 3 billion years of evolution, the planet’s ecosystems have organized themselves in subtle and complex ways to maximize their sustainability. This wisdom of nature is the essence of ecoliteracy. We can formulate a set of principles of organization that may be identified as basic principles of ecology, and use them as guidelines to build sustainable human communities.

Fritjof Capra, Author, The Systems View of Life


The first principle is interdependence. All members of an ecological community are interconnected in a vast and intricate network of relationships—what Capra refers to as the web of life. Members derive their essential characteristics and existence from their relationships to life processes. The behavior of every member of an ecosystem depends on the behavior of many of the others. The success of the whole depends on the success of the individual members, and the success of each member depends on the success of the whole.

For the reality of interdependence to translate into everyday behavior, there has to be a shift in perception and emphasis—from part to whole (From “me, myself and I” to “all of us together”), from objects to relationships (From “I want stuff,” to “I want to improve and deepen my relationships”) and from quantities to qualities (From “I want more…,” to “I want better…”)  “A sustainable human community is aware of the multiple relationships among its members, as well as of the relationships between the community as a whole and its natural and social environment. Nourishing the community means nourishing all these relationships.” (Fritjof Capra) 


Life Processes Are Cyclical 

Life processes are cyclical, involving feedback loops, pathways where information and nutrients are continually recycled. For instance, the water cycle and the food “chain.” Being open systems, all organisms within an ecosystem produce wastes, but what is waste for one species is food for another. Communities of organisms have evolved in this way over billions of years, continually using and recycling the same molecules of minerals, water and air. Industrial systems are linear—extract, transform, market, consume and waste. Sustainable patterns of production and consumption would be cyclical, imitating the cyclical processes in nature. In many ways and places, we are moving in that direction.


Complex Living Systems Require Sunlight

Sunlight, transformed into chemical energy by the photosynthesis of green plants, is the primary source of energy driving ecosystems. “Solar energy in its many forms—sunlight for solar heating and photovoltaic electricity, wind and hydropower, biomass, etc.—is the only kind of energy that is renewable, economically efficient, and environmentally benign. By disregarding this ecological fact, our political and corporate leaders, again and again, endanger the health and well-being of millions around the world.” Fritjof Capra

“Corporate economists treat not only the air, water, and soil as free commodities but also the delicate web of social relations, which is severely affected by continuing economic expansion. Private profits are being made at public costs in the deterioration of the environment and the general quality of life, and at the expense of future generations. The marketplace simply gives us the wrong information. There is a lack of feedback, and basic ecological literacy tells us that such a system is not sustainable.” Fritjof Capra


Nature Thrives On Cooperation

“The cyclical exchanges of energy and resources in an ecosystem are sustained by pervasive cooperation. Indeed, ever since the creation of the first nucleated cells over 2 billion years ago, life on Earth has proceeded through ever more intricate arrangements of cooperation and coevolution. Partnership—the tendency to associate, establish links, live inside one another, and cooperate—is one of the hallmarks of life.” Fritjof Capra

Life did not take over the globe by combat, but by networking.

Lynn Margulis (Evolutionary Biologist) & Dorian Sagan (Author)

“Economics emphasizes competition, expansion, and domination; ecology emphasizes cooperation, conservation, and partnership… Nature sustains life by creating and nurturing communities. Sustainability is not an individual property but a property of an entire web of relationships. It always involves a whole community… The way to sustain life is to build and nurture community. A sustainable human community interacts with other communities—human and nonhuman—in ways that enable them to live and develop according to their nature.” Fritjof Capra



Within ecosystems, flexibility is a consequence of multiple feedback loops, that can bring the system back into balance whenever there’s a deviation from the norm due to changing conditions. “For example, if an unusually warm summer results in increased growth of algae in a lake, some species of fish feeding on these algae may flourish and breed more, so that their numbers increase and they begin to deplete the algae. Once their major source of food is reduced, the fish will begin to die out. As the fish population drops, the algae will recover and expand again. In this way, the original disturbance generates a fluctuation around a feedback loop, which eventually brings the fish/algae system back into balance.” Fritjof Capra  

Each change and response is a “variable.” And the nore variables there are—and kept fluctuating—the more dynamic the system, the greater is its flexibility and the greater its ability to adapt to change. “Loss of flexibility always means loss of health. There’s always the danger that the whole system will collapse when a variable goes beyond certain limits and the system can no longer compensate for it. “The same is true of human communities. Lack of flexibility manifests itself as stress. In particular, stress will occur when one or more variables of the system are pushed to their extreme values, which indicates increased rigidity throughout the system. Temporary stress is an essential aspect of life, but prolonged stress is harmful and destructive to the system. The important realization that managing a social system—a company, a city, or an economy—means finding the optimal values for the system’s variables. If one tries to maximize any single variable instead of optimizing it, this will invariably damage the system as a whole.” Fritjof Capra



Diversity contributes to resiliency. For one thing, diverse species within an ecosystem can, if necessary, overlap functions, even replace one another. If a particular species is destroyed for some reason, breaking the link in a network, “a diverse community will be able to survive and reorganize itself, because other links in the network can at least partially fulfill the function of the destroyed species. In other words, the more complex the network is, the richer is its pattern of interconnections, and the more resilient it will be; and since the complexity of the network is a consequence of its biodiversity, a diverse ecological community is resilient.” Fritjof Capra 

In human communities, ethnic and cultural diversity plays the same role. “Diversity means many different relationships, many different approaches to the same problem. A diverse community is a resilient community, capable of adapting to changing situations. However, diversity is a strategic advantage only if there is a truly interconnected community, sustained by a web of relationships. If the community is fragmented into isolated groups and individuals, diversity can easily become a source of prejudice and friction. But if the community is aware of the interdependence of all its members, diversity will enrich all the relationships and thus enrich the community as a whole, as well as each individual member.” Fritjof Capra 


The next few decades will be a decisive time for humanity and the planet. We face an unprecedented crisis where, faster than we expected, the ecological system upon which human civilization depends is unraveling with devastating consequences. An exciting and rewarding era of opportunity awaits us if we rise to the challenge of living more sustainably. 

Duane Elgin, Author, Voluntary Simplicity


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Autumn Leaves

They don’t fall of their own accord, they’re evicted


Leaves serve as solar collectors for a tree, gathering carbon dioxide and water from the atmosphere to create energy—sugar—through photosynthesis. In the process, they release oxygen into the air. 

For a tree to stand tall and survive the ravages of wind, rain, snow and ice in winter, it has to jettison its leaves. It knows to do this when daylight gets shorter due to the direction of the Earth’s tilt relative to the sun. At that time, a chemical change takes place in the cells between the leaf and the stem. Acting like scissors, a hormone makes a cut that allows the wind and gravity to have their way with the leaf.

From the tree’s perspective, letting go of leaves is a survival mechanism. Through the summer months, it collected an enormous amount of water for the trunk and branches. Were it to freeze and expand, that would severely damage the tree. Also, the weight of snow and ice on a leaf-covered tree could bring it down or break branches that are necessary to produce leaves in the spring. Without leaves, a deciduous tree would die. So like bears, trees go dormant through the winter months. 

From the perspective of the leaves, their purpose has been served. And their contribution continues as they decompose and renew the soil—from which a new plant or tree will grow. It’s the cycle of life. 


Leaves are green because their primary pigment, chlorophyll, absorbs red and blue light from the sun, letting the green light to be reflected. Chlorophyll is what converts sunlight into energy for the tree, so through the summer months, it’s constantly renewed in the leaves. 

As the temperature drops, trees pull nitrogen from the chlorophyll and the green in leaves begins to fade. But it’s the change in the amount of sunlight that affects the change in color. With these changes, carbohydrates are transferred from the leaf to the branch and no more nutrients are brought in. With the leaves cut off from contact with the tree, the remaining sugar in the leaves’ veins promotes the formation of anthocyanin, a pigment that creates reddish colors.

According to ZME Science, different trees have different proportions of pigments. The amount of chlorophyll left in a leaf and the proportion of other pigments in it determine its color. A combination of anthocyanin and chlorophyll makes a brown color, while anthocyanins plus carotenoids create orange leaves.

Low temperatures above the freezing point help to produce anthocyanin, which produces a bright red color.

An early frost weakens the color by destroying the creation of anthocyanins, however… Where just a few tree species dominate, like in New England and Northeast Asia, color displays are intense but short. Diverse forests mean a longer display. Cloudy and warm Falls like those in Europe cause dull colors. When the leaves die and the chloroplasts are completely broken down, leaves turn a boring brown.

A Human Parallel

Change in the natural world is constant and cyclical. Everything, living and nonliving alike experiences cycles of change.  As with trees, in each season there’s a time to grow and express, and a time to rest and reflect. 

To everything, there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven; a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to uproot…

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8  

In The Adult Years: Mastering the Art of Self-Renewal, philosopher and educator, Fredrick M. Hudson advised that a world in apparent chaos “requires a perspective that can find meaning in disturbing times as well as blissful times.” Indeed. The perspective he advises is a cyclical view of adult life, which he portrays as “A complex, pluralistic, multivariate flow, with ongoing cycles in nature, societies, and people.” Basically, it assumes that life ‘develops’ through cycles of change and continuity rather than in progressive, linear, straight lines, concentrates on what lasts and what changes, honors both ups and downs and acknowledges human systems as flexible and resilient requiring continuous learning and adaptation. Relating this to our topic, a cyclic view of life requires us to, like leaves on a tree, shed “unworkable habits and learn new ways to live effectively.”

For us to stand tall and survive the ravages of personal, social, political and environmental change, there comes a time when we need to jettison old paradigm thinking and behaviors, those that no longer serve us or society. This includes such things as humans being born into sin; being put here to subdue the Earth; exacting an eye for an eye; competing to separate winners and losers and believing that boundaries, borders and divisions produce security.

I appreciate the seasons—Dr. Hudson speaks of them as “chapters” in each life’s story—where nature warns us ahead of time about changes on the horizon. For one thing, they provide us the opportunity to reflect and recreate our lives in the coming new context, in part by casting off beliefs and perspectives that no longer work. And I appreciate that the process of crisis and transformation happens for the whole of humanity, as well as for individuals and nations. It’s how life evolves. 

The temptation may be to hold onto our “leaves” longer, as many of our neighbors do. But ultimately, in the big picture—the cosmic forest—there’s at least one rule that never changes: “To thine own self be true. “


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Life Matters

All forms of life have value in themselves; equal right to grow and flourish

Cultural historian and ecotheologian Thomas Berry distinguished between “shallow” and “deep” ecology. He said the former is based on the belief that big ecological problems can be resolved within an industrial, capitalist society by fighting pollution and resource depletion in order to preserve human health and affluence—basically the aim of the “environmental movement.” Deep ecology, however, “operates out of respect for all forms of life and accords them equal right to live and blossom.” (My italics).

In The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision, Fritjof Capra elaborates this distinction: “Shallow ecology is anthropocentric, or human-centered. It views humans as above or outside of nature, and as the source of all value, and ascribes only instrumental, or “use,” value to nature. Deep ecology does not separate humans—or anything else—from the natural environment. It sees the world not as a collection of isolated objects but as a network of phenomena that are fundamentally interconnected and interdependent. Deep ecology recognizes the intrinsic value of all living beings and views humans as just one particular strand in the web of life.” He goes on to say that ecological awareness is spiritual in its deepest essence, a “mode of consciousness” where the individual feels a sense of belonging and connectedness to the cosmos as a whole.

Charles Eisenstein summarizes our situation succinctly in Climate: A New Story. “Earth is not a machine; it is alive, and it will remain hospitable to life only if we treat it as such… “so far we have been destroying its tissues and organs.” Why? Because worldwide, economies were designed to promote the acquisition of wealth with little to no regard for ethics or environmental degradation. The perception of the earth as a perpetual growth machine encourages a posture of maintenance and repair when something bad happens. “Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke.”

And really serious problems? With enough money, human ingenuity and technology will fix them. Build a dam, raise the height of flood walls, purchase more equipment, enlist more volunteers and provide better training for first responders, declare states of emergency, enact legislation to bolster emergency response budgets, call out the National Guard, invest in more sophisticated technology in order to detect future crises. These are good and necessary fixes after a crisis, but these are band-aids. They don’t address the whole system. Attributing causes to “nature” just renders us helpless. But we’re not. Economies were structured by people, and they can be restructured. We’ll look at some of the possibilities in future postings. For now, I’ll stick to the topic at hand.

The band-aid fixes cited above amount to enforced caring. We act because we have to. Lives are at stake. In business, we refer to this as “crisis management.” Once the breakdown is healed, the system returns to normal functioning—except for those who lived through a tragedy, as we’re seeing in Puerto Rico.

The goal of virtually all national economies is to achieve unlimited growth, even though the absurdity of such an enterprise on a finite planet should be obvious to all… Undifferentiated economic growth is the root cause of our mountains of solid waste, our polluted cities, the depletion of natural resources, and the energy crisis; and because the continuing expansion of production is driven mainly by fossil fuels, it is also the root cause of the multiple disasters arising from peak oil and climate change. 

Fritzof Capra and Pier Luigi Luisi, Authors of The Systems View of Life   

“Why should I care? Nobody else does.” Our national discourse seems to indicate that is true. What is being talked about in the nightly news? Murder, active shooters, polarization, race relations, domestic abuse, corruption, drugs, celebrity gossip, natural and man-made disasters. A while back, a friend of mine politely asked his neighbor why he threw a half-eaten sandwich and french fries on the front lawn of their apartment. To paraphrase, the man replied, “Nobody cares about me, why should I care about anybody else?” If we all felt that way, the earth would already be a gigantic garbage dump with toxic air and water.

Why should I care about my home, property, the streets in my community, the food we eat, the parks we visit, security, health, education, the earth and life itself? There’s only one answer capable of sustaining us, and that’s love—caring enough about the quality of life for all living beings, love of the whole system, sufficient to redesign what isn’t working for humanity and the planet. With that, we can amend our lifestyles, economies and politics in ways that sustain and enhance the earth and her life-giving processes. 

Hollywood, the mass media, mass marketing, and the advertising industry, in the interest of generating ever-higher profits, have inadvertently convinced us that “the good life” and the “American Dream” are had through the acquisition and consumption of material goods. In the race to win an ever-increasing share of prosperity, greed, competition and corruption have become business as usual. And if you’re rich enough, you won’t get caught doing something illegal—or you can buy yourself out of it if you do. With some exceptions, corporations and governments are continuing to treat the earth like a money-making machine, a resource to be exploited. Trouble is, the earth is a finite living being and we’re sucking the life out of it.

Climate change and global warming deniers, backed by corporations and governments—especially ours—act as if this machine can continue to churn out wealth for the few at the expense of the many. I believe a day will come when the corporate powers and fossil fuel lobbyists will wake up and find that, worldwide, a groundswell of people who care deeply about their health and well-being and the flourishing of the planet, will be enacting a new, sustainable, whole systems design. From what I read, those people are connecting and the design is on the drawing board. Stay tuned.

Here’s just a sample: Underlined names are active links.

  • CERES: CERES promotes sustainable business practices and solutions by working with more than 80 companies. Their Investor Network on Climate Risk (INCR), includes 100 leading investors collectively managing more than $11 trillion in assets.


  • Conservation International (CI): CI works with scientists, local communities and practitioners in the field to protect nature, global biodiversity and human communities. It has supported the creation, expansion and improved management of nearly 50 million acres of marine and terrestrial protected areas, and its data collection has led to the discovery of more than 1,400 species new to science.


  • Doctors Without Borders: Provides emergency medical aid to people affected by conflict, epidemics, disasters or exclusion from health care. Since 1971, the organization has treated tens of millions of people in over 80 countries. In 1999, it received the Nobel Peace Prize.


  • Food and Water Watch: Works to make food, fish and water safe, accessible and sustainable. They’ve raised consumer awareness of the environmental and economic costs of bottled water, and have helped dozens of communities — from Stockton, California to Trenton, New Jersey — fight the privatization of public water supplies.


  • Greenpeace: The largest nonviolent, direct-action environmental organization in the world with 2.8 million members. Greenpeace’s work focuses on climate change, oceans, forests, toxins, nuclear energy and sustainable agriculture.


  • Heifer International: Has provided over 20.7 million families—that’s 105.1 million men, women and children—with animals and training in sustainable agriculture so that they can feed and care for themselves. Founded over 70 years ago by a U.S. farmer, the organization focuses on ending hunger and poverty.

Source: The 14 Most Influential Sustainability NGO’s (Non-Governmental Organizations). When you’re thinking about charitable contributions, this is a great place to see who’s doing good in and for the world.


The well-being and flourishing of human and nonhuman life on Earth have value in themselves… These values are independent of the usefulness of the nonhuman world for human purposes.

Arne Naess, Author of The Ecology of Wisdom; Writings by Arne Naess


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