Anger, Hate and Fear

Frankly, a person too dull to look up at the sky and see a parade of tortoises or a huge pair of mittens or a ghost holding a samurai sword is not a person worth lying in a meadow with.

~ Jon Mooalem

With all the rancor in the national news these days, I appreciate even more the gift of being able to spend more time outdoors, away from the media and the internet blare of anger, hate and fear. I can hike a trail or sit and watch a squirrel or bird and be enthralled by the peace, serenity and naturalness. The clouds drifting in the sky (whether or not there are samurai), the wind in the trees and the feel of the sun on my skin reminds me that this is a wonderful place and time to be alive.

I have pretty strong opinions about politics, if not most things. However, I also try to recognize that the opinions of others are earned as much by them as mine are earned by me. As people, we are different in many ways, some discernible and others not. Being opinionated, some of these differences irritate me — or drive me completely bonkers. And being human, I know for a fact that some of mine are perceived the same way by others.

It is human nature to see the differences between ourselves and others. We are all most comfortable with people where we agree on the most basic things; people that see things the same way or with whom we can communicate effectively and easily.

There is, however, a down side to experiencing only people like yourself. William Cowper penned “Variety is the spice of life” to note that too much of the same thing, too much agreement, can be boring, not to mention, dangerous.

Hearing only information we agree with imbues it with a false appearance of truth. After all, learning by rote is the earliest teaching technique we are exposed to. We hear and say the same things over and over to learn them. Whether among our friends or family, in a classroom, or from talk radio, repetition teaches us. The trick is to also learn to question the rote messages. Sound bites are the ammo of advertisements and political campaigns, firing rote ideas into our brains and not allowing us the time to think or question the message. “Buy this car,” and “vote for me,” are equally insidious attempts to keep you from thinking.

A knife blade is sharpened against something harder and in opposition to it. The same is true of a mind. We require a different perspective in order to learn to think. Some people are empathetic and easily see another person’s point of view, whether they agree with it or not. I have learned the most from people disagreeing with me, challenging me to better define the validity of my thinking. (I will reserve judgment on how often they actually changed my mind.)

Nature offers me the same perspective as the opinions of others. Away from the screaming headlines, the real and invented crises and the constant conflicts, I can let the whole soup of experiences simmer in the back of my brain until it’s ready to be consumed.

The trees or stream do not require an answer of me. Sitting alone with nature, I can be a part of the scene, and just be. A raven gives me a guttural cry and wonders whether I am foe or food, then decides I’m just there. An inquisitive wasp checks me out and drifts off to more interesting attractions. A young woman walks by rapidly, chatting loudly on her cell phone with ear buds, and doesn’t seem to notice me. Her noise fades away and the natural sounds take over again, but something she said reminds me of some bit of hate or anger left over in my head, and I let it go, to be absorbed by the sunshine, soft sounds and pace of life around me.

Most often, though, the people I see on the trail are quiet — not somber — and appreciative. They see and hear and feel the natural world around them, and have respect and reverence for it.

I suspect that, for the most part, they would be good to lie with in a meadow and watch the clouds.

Thoreau preferred to understand clouds as something that “stirs my blood, makes my thought flow” and not as a mass of water. “What sort of science,” he wrote, “is that which enriches the understanding but robs the imagination.”

~ Jon Mooalem

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