Tuesday, 20 October 2009

"Do what you can, with what you have, where you are"

This quotation comes from Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States. He lived from 1858 to 1919, quite a while back, yet much of what he said remains contemporary. The quote is one I often call to mind when I'm overwhelmed - either by too much or too little.

In relation to the 'too much' scenario it brings me back to myself when the world at large seems alien and out of control, of helping me focus instead on what my situation is, what my most immediate needs are, on what I am doing to stay sane and calm and active in my own small way.

In relation to the 'too little' scenario, my concern is usually to do with too little control, too little money, or a paucity of stamina.

Note repetition of the control theme in each case. Some may see this as an indication of a controlling personality, and there may be those who perceive me this way. However, loss of personal power is known to be a major stress factor, which possibly impacts more on thoughtful people like me who see themselves as outsiders.

I do tend to panic about issues which affect us now and look set to increase incrementally in the near future: global warming, climate disaster, food shortages, economic and political turmoil... It seems that how we respond to these challenges now is going to define what happens on this planet for a very long time to come.

Reading the on-line article entitled "The global food crisis: the end of plenty" by Joel K Bourne Jr, (National Geographic magazine, June 2009) drove this home eloquently. Thanks for the link, Grace, and I agree, everyone should read it.

The article clearly outlines, not the likelihood but the certainty, that as the world's population increases, which it will massively, pressure on resources will also increase which will force the price of basic foods ever higher. Noticed how these have already been hiking up over the last year or so? This trend is not confined to 'undeveloped' economies - it's just that it affects them worse. In previous decades the problem of world food shortages has been addressed by intensive and increasingly artificial methods of food production. While these solutions have worked wonders for a while, there are parts of the world where resulting issues have already brought the food shortages back to crisis point and with local resources in a worse state than before.

We have to get our heads straight about this. It's not a problem that requires huge braininess, but it does require applied intelligence and shared commitment if we are to survive the environmental impact of our collective stupidity.

In searching for the origin of the above quote (a military handbook!) I found other interesting speeches made by President Roosevelt. They show not only that he was a visionary and man of action but also that we haven't changed at all. The problems he identified are still with us, casting longer darker shadows with the increase of population, our technological capability for harming each other, the toxic waste we create and our heedlessness of others. In using the term 'others' I refer not only to our fellow humans but to all other life forms. They have after all been here far longer than we have.

In 1912 he included these statements in a speech made to the Senate and the House of Representatives:
"The conservation of our natural resources and their proper use constitute the fundamental problem which underlies almost every other problem of our National life. We must maintain for our civilization the adequate material basis without which that civilization can not exist. We must show foresight, we must look ahead. [...] The reward of foresight for this Nation is great and easily foretold. But there must be the look ahead, there must be a realization of the fact that to waste, to destroy, our natural resources, to skin and exhaust the land instead of using it so as to increase its usefulness, will result in undermining in the days of our children the very prosperity which we ought by right to hand down to them amplified and developed. For the last few years, through several agencies, the Government has been endeavoring to get our people to look ahead and to substitute a planned and orderly development of our resources in place of a haphazard striving for immediate profit."
And further on in his speech:
"Optimism is a good characteristic, but if carried to an excess it becomes foolishness. We are prone to speak of the resources of this country as inexhaustible; this is not so. The mineral wealth of the country, the coal, iron, oil, gas, and the like, does not reproduce itself, and therefore is certain to be exhausted ultimately; and wastefulness in dealing with it to-day means that our descendants will feel the exhaustion a generation or two before they otherwise would. But there are certain other forms of waste which could be entirely stopped--the waste of soil by washing, for instance, which is among the most dangerous of all wastes now in progress in the United States, is easily preventable, so that this present enormous loss of fertility is entirely unnecessary. The preservation or replacement of the forests is one of the most important means of preventing this loss. We have made a beginning in forest preservation, but it is only a beginning."
The speech is complex and lengthy, wide-ranging in subject matter, in vision and in multiple practical applications. If interested you can read it in full here.

Having located this material and made jottings I once more felt overwhelmed, and, I have to say, distressed. I remembered another quote which helps me at such times: Anne Frank's father, the only survivor of his family following their incarceration in concentration camps, maintained his willingness to vote for life - he said:
"If I knew the world would end tomorrow, I would still plant a tree today."
Thank you, Otto.

I went outside and planted the bean seedlings, which was constructive and calming.

Growing things, including at least some of the vegetables we eat, bottling locally produced fruit and tomatoes, baking using New Zealand grown flour, buying things second hand, walking rather than using the car when I can are some of the things I can control. Talking about it, sharing some of my skills and insights, is another way I can contribute. What happens on a grand scale I can't control, but that is made up of all our little contributions be they active or passive, so I encourage the reader to step out of the modern tide of superficial non-sense, fear and clutter which is so depressing and wasteful, and to consciously exert what influence you can.
"Do what you can, with what you have, where you are."

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