Mind Matters — Collision of Worlds

Driving to the San Jose, California, airport from Monterey last Monday morning, I saw scores of men and women picking strawberries and artichokes in vast, flat fields.

How often do we on the East coast even consider what back-breaking work this must be? There are no machines, no robotic arms in this continual landscape of long, low green rows—no, these are folks whose everyday labor puts fruits and vegetables on our tables. We may play at our gardens and enjoy the outdoors, growing some flowers and a tomato or two. We may even trek to a farm to pick some strawberries or blueberries for the novelty of it. All some sunny Sunday afternoon. But when do we reflect what it is like to be doing that eight to ten hours a day, every day? (Not to mention harvesting the fungi that grows in our own backyard of Kennett Square, the mushroom capital of the world.)

Also thought-provoking was my visit to Monterey itself. While there, I visited its renowned aquarium. This institution makes every attempt to educate its visitor on the connectedness and the fragility of our environment, showing how what we do on land as well as in our oceans profoundly affects the marine world. How pollution and our carbon footprint can wreak havoc in the propagation of some of our favorite foods from the sea! (See the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Save the Oceans article.)

Many years ago, I recall that César Chávez, who initiated the farm workers movement in California, was having no luck convincing people that pesticides sprayed on crops were making the field workers and their families ill. When he pointed out that these pesticides could also harm consumers, then people started to listen.

So, if not out of care for the common good or out of empathy for others’ plight, we could at least consider now, arising from bottom line basic selfishness, that if something isn’t good for the eco-system of the earth, it’s not good for us as individuals and our families either.

Denial is a psychological phenomenon. We all carry denial in some form or other. It helps us live. We cannot be in a continuously worried state about everything that could go wrong. Yet on the other hand, we do have to be prepared for situations; we have to educate ourselves on how best to handle emergencies, etc. For example, we carry spare tires in the trunks of our cars; in some climates, people get a load of wood in summer to prepare for winter weather. We all know ways we prepare for the “just in case” situation—or for the inevitable, for that matter. Part of the preparation comes from recognizing the possibilities of what could occur in the future.

Perhaps denial occurs when the fear of what can happen is so overwhelming and we have done so little to properly prepare for the emergency that we shut down and can’t see what’s in front of our noses. Denial then becomes our doom.

I write this coming back from a trip in which I flew thousands of miles to visit my son who has just moved to California. Am I part of the problem of denial? You bet I am. I rationalize that it’s okay to fly because that mega oil-consuming flight is scheduled to go where it’s going whether I am on it or not. I know some folks who avoid the use of cars and planes as much as possible to maintain as small a carbon footprint as possible.

I’m not going to stop travelling to see my children (or the world either, I hope). But we all need to start changing our perspectives on how we traverse the earth or the beauty and the grandness of it all will not be sustained for us or our children or grandchildren, onward.

Consider the millions of anonymous people and the many hands that produce our food, make our clothes. Consider also the natural world, including all the fish, even the starfish and the seahorse whose lives become more challenged in our oceans day by day.

We are all in this together. When think we can go it alone, be rugged individualists—that’s denial.