civilization and measuring wealth.

I’m reading The Rights of Indians and Tribes (4th Ed.) by Stephen L. Pevar.  It’s incredible to read chapter 1 and see, in brief, the hypocritical and genocidal patterns of the US Federal Government between 1789 and the present.  It seems like, time and time again, the native populations in America were labeled as one group of uncivilized, needy people.  Act after Act was passed by Congress in the efforts to “improve” the economic development of tribes which was really just a fancy way of saying “ethnic cleansing”.  The cycle began with the settlers’ push westward, greedy for land and safety from Indian attacks.  It induced action to be taken against tribes which was justified by the settlers’ mentality that their Christian, “modernized” ways were superior and that they were doing the Indians a favor.  Any governmental actions were completely two-faced, though, since their underlying motives were – until recent history – to undermine tribal systems and assimilate Indians into non-Indian culture.  (I’m definitely picturing Uncle Sam with a Hitler mustache these days.)

I still can’t get over this two-facedness.  And I think part of why I feel that way is the inherent irony of the circumstances: Settlers thought they were modern and that Indians were the uncivilized ones.

[Those powdered wigs definitely don’t shout “civilized and modern” anymore.  Nor does slavery.  Or taming horses to pull carts when you can just drive a car.]

Yet it’s not just the materialistic things – it’s the values.  These settlers imposed their civilized ways on native cultures, and modern society continues to hold biases.  If it doesn’t align with “modern thinking”, it’s radical and unacceptable.  Like traditional medicine.  Or nomadic lifestyles when we’ve developed agricultural techniques.

It’s just so ironic, that “native ways of life” are outdated – that assimilation would bring wealth to native communities.  It’s so ironic because I think it’s the complete opposite.  All you have to do is look at the health of the planet and you can see that it’s health has declined aggressively over the last century.  And what has also changed over the last century?  “Civilization”.

Civilized – 1. having advanced agricultural and social development; 2. refined in tastes.

To be “civilized” is to be advanced.  Or, by the second definition, kind of arrogant and picky.  But what is advancement?  I think it has come full-circle.

For the last couple of centuries, we’ve seen dramatic advancements in technology.  We’ve been able to learn and manipulate things we couldn’t have imagined just generations before.  But how does this gain of knowledge help us in the long run?  Certainly it has increased our laziness, thereby causing higher energy usages that deplete resources and consequently harm the planet – our forever home.  Certainly it has increased our life expectancies when not ailed by obesity or diabetes or cancer, for example, but that has increased our population and shed light on the possibility of a carrying capacity to the planet – our forever home.  Certainly it has made the quality of life better in some arenas, but it has also caused new problems and threats to our lives as a side effect.  How are those advancements?

The Paleo Diet.  All of the health advancements we’ve been allegedly making, yet people are reverting back to traditional diets, avoiding manufactured foods, and seeking more natural herbal remedies.  They have been thinking more of what we are and the origin of our medical advancements and rediscovering ancient knowledge.

Many are longing for simpler lives.  The communication systems we have are impressive, but stressing.  We are so interconnected it becomes dangerous.  It’s not uncommon for those in “civilized lifestyles” to long for something less, something more like “what it used to be”.  Or, as Miranda Lambert sings, for the time “before everything was automatic”.

Since the practices of the Indians have been widely replaced by the practices of “modern civilization”, America has lost nearly all of its topsoil.  It’s polluted and ravished by pesticides and other chemicals.  Bison populations were obliterated (intentionally), and other animals that have thrived for as long as humanity knows are suddenly finding themselves scarce and suffering.  No more “three sisters” planting – now everything is mono-crop, industrial-size, motorized, artificial…And, just like with the Dawes Act, all anyone can do is take more, more, more, more, and more…and think they’re entitled to the rest.

What is civilization?  Modern civilization hardly seems civilized to me.  It’s destroying this land and it was brought here by people who accused other cultures of being “uncivilized”, the same other cultures who lived here for thousands of years in peace with the planet.

Being civilized should encompass acknowledging that advancements are only made if a part of that advancement is preservation of the planet.  Because, seriously, can you imagine living in a world without it?  It sounds stupid to try to imagine it because you can’t.  Yet people are living like that, taking what they want as they can because they feel entitled to do so.  Not obligated to respect and pass up opportunities that are wrong.

And what is wealth?  Because I don’t think it’s having all of these silly, materialistic things.  I think it’s knowledge, wisdom gained by experience, giving and thus receiving respect, and – most importantly – finding happiness in next to nothing.  They always say you can never be happy with someone else until you’re happy alone, and I think that’s true of any kind of wealth.

Oh, just my rant for the day.

do everything better.

I’d heard a lot about Shauna Niequist’s book, Bittersweet: Thoughts on Change, Grace, and Learning the Hard Way.  When I tried to reserve it and had to wait weeks on OhioLink, I figured there must really be something good about it.  And it certainly proved to have a lot of simple, selfless moments of realization.  It got me thinking about how I perceive myself, amongst many other things in life.

Reading Shauna’s book, I could feel a lot of similar internal struggle buried under the obvious fact that I am not the girly, frilly, fashion-obsessed, hair-dying lady that Shauna is externally.  In some ways, this realization made me try to compare myself to her more and more as I read – the kind of comparison she accused herself of throughout the book and strove to avoid.  But, despite the moments when I felt so underachieved (I always want to DO BETTER), there were certainly a plethora more when something seemed to stream from my thoughts rather than my reading and I wanted to flip to the cover of the book and make sure I wasn’t actually the author…

I used to think that the ability to turn back time would be the greatest possible gift, so that I could undo all the things I wish I hadn’t done.  But grace is an even better gift, because it allows me to do more than just erase; it allows me to become more than I was when I did those things.  It’s forgiveness without forgetting, which is much sweeter than amnesia.

I can remember all of those times when I actually had a perfect moment and I wanted to be absorbed by it.  I would be so blinded by what was that I would forget to live in what is and instead would dream that what will could be as perfect as what has been.  It’s been hard, but I’ve been practicing taking rejection, failure, and discomfort and dwelling on them in a positive way, one that doesn’t change who I am but which opens me to my fullest capacity.  DO BETTER, but on the inside.  That doesn’t always show on the outside.

These years will pass much more quickly than you think they will.  You will go to lots of weddings, and my advice, of course, is to dance your pants off at every single one… Time will pass, and all of a sudden, things will begin to feel a little more serious.  You won’t be old, of course.  But you will want to have some things figured out, and the most important things only get figured out if you dive into them now.

And this is why I like reading and talking to people that have been there.  Why try to figure things out for yourself?  You’re given the luck to not be in the earth’s first generation of humans.  Shauna may not be “old”, just “older”, but still – there’s a reason why the elders are the respected, wise group in traditional communities.  If you want to be better, DO BETTER, you go to them.

For a while in my early twenties I felt like I woke up a different person every day, and was constantly confused about which one, if any, was the real me.  Isn’t that the truth.  Every year, you will trade a little of your perfect skin and your ability to look great without exercising for wisdom and peace and groundedness, and every year the trade will be worth it.  I promise.  Which is good to hear.  Because aren’t we so often concerned with the former and not appreciative of the latter?  Not just in ourselves but in other people as well?  What is really the goal in life?  For whom are you living it?

Now is your time.  Become, believe, try… Don’t spend time with people who make you feel like less than you are.  Don’t get stuck in the past, and don’t try to fast-forward yourself into a future you haven’t yet earned.  Give today all the love and intensity and courage you can, and keep traveling honestly along life’s path.

So how to capture that inspiration?  How to admit what I should be doing?  I would expect Shauna’s advice to be action, but in fact it’s an act of passiveness that she suggests: Admit what you don’t do.  Because spinning your wheels only buries yourself deeper when you keep trying harder to go faster and do better.

I tended to get so tired I’d cry without knowing why, why my life sometimes felt like I was running on a hamster wheel, and why I searched the faces of calmer, more grounded women for a secret they all knew that I didn’t.  (AMEN!)

This is how I got to that fragmented, brittle, lonely place: DO EVERYTHING BETTER…a super-charged triple threat, capturing in three words the mania of modern life, the anti-spirit, anti-spiritual, soul-shriveling garbage that infects and compromises our lives…

Deciding what I wanted wasn’t that hard.  But deciding what I’m willing to give up is like yoga for…that nasty little person inside of you who exists only for what people think.

So, I who loves lists as much as Shauna will now make a new one… Despite what I WANT to do, despite what I WANT to be, here are the things that I, right now, just am NOT, some things I don’t do:

—I don’t have organization.  Disorganization stresses me out, and I have OCD tendencies, but knowing I will fail when I try to keep clean and organized just makes me feel crushed before I even start.  So, thanks, mom for suggesting it’s a reflection of an “artistic” mind.  I’ll just keep being this artsy, I guess…

—I don’t accessorize well.  It’s a lot of work.  I don’t change out my earrings, rings, and necklaces as much as I wish because I just find it a waste of time.

—I don’t keep up with fashion.  It’s just not who I am or in my interests, and I especially don’t support the direction the fashion industry is going these days.  Low-cut shirt?  No thanks.  And I prefer that my underwear stays under my clothes..  Also, my mentality is stuck in circa 1962.  And I like having it there.

—I don’t keep up with TV or movies.  It’s not important to me who an actor is or what he ate for breakfast.  I would rather read a book, stretch my mind, and go for a run.

—I don’t know how to make mixed drinks.  I have the book, the equipment, the desire, but I have neither the guests to entertain nor the money to buy the ingredients needed to mix the amazing concoctions of my dreams.

—I don’t make good rice.  I did once in my life.  It was in error, I’m sure.  I’ll make a mile-high meringue, cordon bleu that I won’t eat, hand-kneaded bread, asparagus with hollandaise, an awesome pie crust from scratch… but I will over-salt, under-water, not set the timer and completely burn every last grain of rice…then neglect to scrape the mess off for days.  And the sad part is I really like rice.

—I don’t wash my dishes in a timely manner (see above).

—I don’t get my nails done.  I hate my toes (despite hating socks and shoes as well) and I just cannot for the life of me justify manicures.  They’re expensive, they actually look really dumb, and an athletic girl simply cannot keep paint on her fingers.  Plus, I just fiddle with them and pick the paint off.

—I don’t fix my hair.  I want my hair to be nice every day, but, like my lack of willpower to organize, I give up before I start.  It’s just so daunting.

—I don’t even know how to do makeup.  I try, but I usually put on patches of bronzer or blush and give up.

—I don’t go to clubs.  And I don’t intend on starting.

These are kind of silly and maybe just make me seem lazy, but I guess that’s the point.  And seeing the things I am NOT reminds me of the things that I AM, which I like.  I’m NOT go-with-the-crowd, jump-on-the-bandwagon.  I’d rather make a riot and go against something just to know that I didn’t go along with everyone else.  I like my independence.  I kind of like NOT DOING.

So, instead of doing everything better, I think I’ll start not doing more often.