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The profound naïveté of “just us”

A photograph of the earth in a black sky above the gray moon landscape horizon
'Earthrise'. This Dec. 24, 1968, file photo made available by NASA shows Earth behind the surface of the moon during the Apollo 8 mission. (William Anders/NASA/AP)

Patti and I planned to travel up to Vermont on Feb. 25, for a winter change of scenery at the end of the second year of the pandemic. The day before we left, Russia invaded Ukraine.

The invasion rocked me. In the weeks leading up to it, I had been writing fairly regularly, but when the invasion of Ukraine hit, we were immersed in watching it unfold on TV. It exploded in my brain. The reality unfolding before our eyes, reverberated with the intense divisions at home in North America, and across Europe, and the implications of it all sent a shockwave through my being.

I lost track of my thoughts. It wasn’t that there weren’t any, there were too many to focus. It felt like a time to just stop, and notice. So I paused on writing.

That was 2 months ago. The violent onslaught in Ukraine continues to rage on with brutal regularity. Russia wields a sledgehammer of destruction on the Ukrainian people and culture, in its effort to eliminate what is Ukraine.

The regularity of destruction in Ukraine becomes almost rhythmic.

My brain’s focus begins to return. So does my naïveté.

In the early days of imagining the idea of creating the justUs Cafe, Patti and I visited with Beth Mount and her husband Stephen Phelps. Stephen is a brilliant thinker, and a former Pastor at the iconic Riverside Church in New York City. I shared some thoughts at the dinner table about my understanding of justice as “right relationship”, and the link to the idea of living as if it is “just us” figuring out what it would mean to share a home. Stephen introduced thoughts about the double edged nature of “just us”, how the definition of “us” shapes the actions that create the world we live in -- a narrow and exclusive focus on who is “us” engenders horrific acts, and societal structures that justify and entrench violence against those who are not “us”.

Grabbing onto the notion of “just us”, aligning in “right relationship”, feels naive. But there is still a naïveté that I am not yet prepared to let go of.

I looked into the roots of the word ‘naiveté’, coming from Old French, meaning,

"genuineness, authenticity," literally "native disposition”.

Getting back to what has never been, and always was.

I recently read Jane Goodall and Douglas Abram’s, “The Book of Hope”. Goodall is 87 years old. She has lived through the devastation of the Blitz bombings in the UK where she lived as a child during World War II; the Cold War and the brink of nuclear annihilation; her life as naturalist, interacting and relating with the natural world, deeply knowing our interrelatedness with other species and our environment; observing the human cruelty that leads to the extermination of species; and the rising tides and burning fires of climate disaster.

Yet at 87, it is her own authentic naïveté, that is the source of her collaboration on writing ‘The Book of Hope’.

“... I do believe there is evil amongst us. But how much more powerful and inspirational are the voices of those who stand up against it. And even when they lose their lives, their voices still resonate long after they are gone, giving us inspiration and hope—hope in the ultimate goodness of this strange, conflicted human animal that evolved from an apelike creature some six million years ago.”

Through all that she has seen and lived, and her travels around the world, she knows that the interconnected “us”, is all inclusive, encompassing all life, and generations not yet born.

“I believe we still have a window of time during which we can start healing the harm we have inflicted on the planet—but that window is closing. If we care about the future of our children and theirs, if we care about the health of the natural world, we must get together and take action. Now—before it is too late.”

I am now reading “Whole Earth - The Many Lives of Stewart Brand” by John Markoff. Stewart Brand the publisher of the “Whole Earth Catalog”, published between 1968-1971. The Catalog was an iconic publication capturing a shift in how we see the world, and tools and ideas that could shape how we create and connect in it.

By the mid 1960s, after years of NASA exploring space, Markoff expresses how Brand became obsessed with the question framed in the prologue:

“Seeing Earth from space would transform the way we view our planet and ourselves, he realized. He spent the rest of the afternoon obsessing over how it would be possible to capture a photograph of the entire planet to bring home the point that all of humanity shared a single home. After a few hours, he headed downstairs, a question now in mind: “Why haven’t we seen a photograph of the whole Earth yet?”

There is just one planet Earth. “Us” includes all that share this habitat.

Yet almost 60 years after photos of the whole earth arrived, and the scientific knowing of our interconnectedness with all life has been amplified, (witness a viral pandemic transmitted through species in China, spreading in humans around the globe; and ice caps melting in Greenland that raise sea levels at the equator) we still do not collectively grasp the implications, and continue to live as though not being connected is an option.

There are millions of large and small ways that we choose to live by a narrow definition of “us”, in spite of all evidence to the contrary. The narrow views most often lead to fear and destruction. It is hard to see how narrowing definitions of us, as evidenced in the language of "nationalists" and "supremacists", is anything but shortsighted, and ultimately self-destructive. There is no win for Russia in Putin's narrow definition of "us" used to justify the invasion and destruction of Ukraine.

In Markoff's book, 'Whole Earth', Stewart Brand grabbed onto a quote from a 1974 talk known as "No Frames, No Boundaries", given by Russell “Rusty” Schweickart , the first astronaut to venture outside the Apollo 9 spacecraft in 1969:

“When you go around the Earth in an hour and a begin to recognize that your identity is with that whole thing. And that makes a change. ...Look at it from this perspective. Look at that. What's important?”

The naïveté -- the 'genuine', 'authentic', 'native disposition', that can embrace an inclusive “just us”, is a profound, and available option for the choosing.

As a grandfather, it is hard to imagine the viability of any other options.

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