“There is hope everywhere,” concludes Suzanne Simard, in a recent interview with On Being with NPR host, Krista Tippet.
Simard is a professor of Forest Ecology at the University of British Columbia and her most recent book is “Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest.”
The interview shares some of her work recognizing the huge, connected ecosystems that our forests are. Both above and, especially, below ground.
Her optimism isn’t just some saccharine, Pollyanna-like greeting card phrase, though. She comes to it from years of dogged research. Research tempered by the harsh reality of doing that work, parenting her two children, all the while dealing with breast cancer.
These most welcome words of hope come at a time when many of us are experiencing anything but hope. We’re tired. We’re frustrated at the on again/off again prevalence of COVID. At a lack of feeling we are united in addressing COVID. Then, there’s the dark cloud of loss for loved ones COVID has taken — along with the loss of dependable routine in our lives and not feeling connected with each other.
“We are hardwired for connectedness,” wrote author and social worker, Brene Brown, in an interview in Forbes Magazine. “However, we’re not all feeling that connection right now. We’ve sorted ourselves into factions based on our politics and ideology. We’ve turned away from one another and toward blame and rage.”
“To the question, how did we get here?” Brown adds, “... my answer would be fear ... for when we ignore fear and deny vulnerability, fear grows and metastasizes. We move into blame and shame. We will do anything that gives us a sense of more certainty and give our power to anyone who can promise easy answers and give us an enemy to blame.”
Contributing to the unease many are feeling, is living in quickly changing times, amplified by COVID, climate and population diversification.
Hurricanes and drought the nation experienced this summer give credence to the long time predictions of climate scientists. The predictions were of storms more frequent and severe but also, wide swings in weather patterns that brought continued drought out West. And, here it is, just as predicted. The unease from these occurrences is compounded, as well, by concerns that we know what to do, but will we?
Our changing population demographics may also be raising the anxiety level of some, and even harder to admit. The global majority of People of Color are moving toward a national majority in the U.S., as we move deeper into this century.
That’s raising a lot of fear and anger among the far right, and manifesting in an attempt to set up a system of governing without majority votes, just to hold onto power. Will the attempts to rig the process so majority votes won’t count, and create a South African style apartheid government, work here? History shows it didn’t and won’t. Which is why a better strategy is treating everyone equally, with equal rights and opportunities, while seeking to right the wrongs of the past.
As the Brown quote above reminds, we can face our fears or look for someone to blame. Whether we try and look down on People of Color, people from “away” such as refugees, people of a different religion such as our Jewish friends and neighbors, or people of a lesser economic standing — the Blame Game doesn’t work.
The opportunity we have then, is to embrace those coming to the U.S., our state and our towns. To see them as the infusion of new workers our businesses need and the infusion of diversity, that science and nature tell us, create the strongest ecosystems.
Which all circles back to the starting words from Suzanne Simard — and where she gets her optimism. Her research shows these strong ecosystems tend towards healing and regeneration. And, so can we.
The ups and downs we’ll face far and near, can be the catalysts for growth and bringing us together. Not unlike the efforts where I live in Putney, not that long ago. After the two fires at our General Store, it inspired resolve and collective effort to rebuild, from the initial fear and sadness at the loss of our community landmark. Rebuild we did, with the concerted efforts of many.
Likewise, Vermont can lead the way and show the nation.
COVID, climate and diversity? We’ve got this. It’s hard work, yes. There’ll be bumps, bruises, and maybe crashes, but we can create a smoother road to a better future, brighter opportunities for all, and prove Suzanne Simard right.
There is hope everywhere.