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A gallery of works by persons
who are aware of the sorry state of our Earth.



Just a tree ?

by Gavin Atkinson.

Why have you brought me down ?
what have I done to you ?
I gave you shelter from the storm
and now my life is through.
A thousand years I kissed the sun
gave life to all around
too few to make a protest
as I lie here on the ground.
You took a life, just like yours
for nothing more than greed
you say that it's your livelihood
for your families to feed.
Can't you see what you are doing
what my death will cost ?
Is the money really worth it
compared to all you've lost ?
It's not a question of who is right
I wasn't yours to take
I'm a vital part of nature
like the rivers and the lake.
For many things depend on me
I'm not only here for man
I make the forest what it is
but you don't understand.
You took my life, now what is next ?
The earth where I once stood ?
You turn forests into deserts
just for the sake of wood.
My gift was here for all mankind
but you just refused to see.
You thought me unimportant,
only just a tree.

by Gavin Atkinson
poems from the heart


Caretakers

by Gavin Atkinson.

We are only caretakers of this earth
so precious and so great,
why do we burn our forests
why must we desecrate ?
We're surrounded by such beauty
but our eyes refuse to see
that we take away our lifeline
when we fell a single tree.
If we pollute our rivers
what is there to drink
it only takes a moment
for us to stop and think !
We take out all the minerals
and strip our valleys bare;
Let the smoke rise to the heavens
to take away our air.
Why must we keep destroying -
can't we feel Mother Nature's pain ?
We have nothing left to lose
but everything to gain !

by Gavin Atkinson
poems from the heart


Heroin

by Gavin Atkinson.

I'll be ready when you come for me,
just you wait and see.
I'll be waiting here with open arms
to claim my destiny.
I won't shed a tear, no not one,
nor turn my head away
but take no pride in what you've done
on this my final day.
You took the ones I loved the most
and left my soul to cry.
You laughed at me, then stepped aside
when I preferred to die.
You made me walk the very edge
and hoped that I would fall,
you filled my mind with your deceit
blocked my ears from freedom's call.
When I was down you beckoned me
but still you didn't come,
and when I thought I'd seen the light
your presence hid the sun.
You took away my will to live
then helped me dig my grave
like a vulture picked my bones
and made my mind your slave.
But I have no fear, nor pain of heart
as I play my final game
your mask no longer bothers me
for death, I know your name.

by Gavin Atkinson
poems from the heart


Gavin Atkinson - Biographical note :

Gavin Atkinson was born in 1946 and feels strongly about
the important role we all play in saving this planet.
Between 1997 and 1999 alone, Gavin wrote about eighteen hundred poems !
Some of his work has been published.
"Heroin", was one of only eight picked out of eighteen hundred (!)
entered in a competition to find Australian poets.
Gavin can be reached via Autoscan Systems.


State Of The World
Selected Statistics of the 1990s

by Bob Whiteway, edited and adapted by M. Krochmal

The following material was compiled by Bob Whiteway from data published between 1990 and 1997 by the Worldwatch Institute, Washington, DC, USA. The Institute's annual report "State of the World" is published in 27 languages and is widely used by governments, UN agencies, universities and environmental groups throughout the world. The material provided by Bob is quite voluminous, and has been edited for brevity by M. Krochmal. (Any mistakes are all mine - MK).

Economic growth
People living through the post-war period have witnessed an unprecedented bonanza of economic growth.
The following increases occurred between 1950 and 1995 :

Population : increased by a factor of 2.
World economic production : increased by a factor of 5 - from US $4 trillion to US $20 trillion.
Lumber : increased by a factor of 2, but paper production increased by a factor of 6.
Grain and meat production : increased by a factor of 3 - the same as water use.
Seafood consumption : increased by a factor of 4, as did the burning of fossil fuels.

The level of output to which humans had aspired by 1950 - after two million years on Earth - was quintupled (times 5) in just 45 years !
This explosion of growth carries with it the seeds of its own demise, for two notable reasons :
  • 1. The distribution of wealth is becoming increasingly uneven.
    In 1960, the ratio of the share of wealth held by the richest 20% of Earth's people to that held by the poorest 20% was 61:1.
  • 2. The physical demands of economic output are straining the Earth's limited resource capacity, as is clearly indicated by the data below.

  • Population growth
    World population growth fell from 2% in 1970 to 1.6% in 1995, but because of the population momentum resulting from a large proportion of children growing up, the current volume of additions is the highest in history. World additions, by decade, are :
  • 1970s : 750 million
  • 1980s : 840 million
  • 1990s : estimated 960 million
    World population is expected to double by the year 2050.

    Ironically, despite the massive increase in numbers, not all human groups are safe from extinction. As an example, an average of one Amazon tribe has disappeared each year since 1900. Nor is the population of all nations growing. Japan and 29 European countries have a growth rate at or about zero. The actual rates range between -0.6% (Russia) and +0.3% (Japan, France, Norway et al.).

    Feeding the World
    Grain
    Area : Cropland per person is expected to decrease by 1/6th during the 1990s, yet 28 million tons of additional grain are needed each year to feed the extra mouths. Grainland per person in 1950 was 0.23 Ha, but this had fallen to 0.12 Ha by 1995.
    Quantity : Since 1991, there has been no growth in world grain production at all, largely because crops cannot effectively use more fertiliser. In that period, population rose by some 440 million. This means that a per capita decrease has occurred.

  • Bob Whiteway - Biographical note :

    Bob Whiteway is a retired teacher and a member of AESP
    (Australians for an Ecologically Sustainable Population).
    Bob can be reached by phone on + 61 (3) 9598 3898.


    Greening the Future

    by Dr. Rasoul Sorkhabi

    The world is faced with numerous environmental problems, some of which have entered our public vocabulary: acid rain, ozone hole, greenhouse effect, deforestation, extinction of species, desertification, and population explosion. People often hear about pollution, disease, disaster, and crisis. But what should be done? What are the solutions?

    If no chlorofluorocarbons are to be used in refrigerators, then what ? If no fossil fuels to power automobiles and factories, then what? Environmental problems are not independent. They have resulted from a complex set of activities and institutions that make up our life and society. Environmentalists and Greens must go beyond problems in order to clarify the causes and suggest solutions. As a person whose profession and passion is concerned with the planet Earth, I can envision seven megatrends - seven broad frontiers of action - which are necessary for greening the future and protecting the environment.

    1. Population megatrend. Dr. Nafis Sadik, the head of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) says, "Our environmental crisis is also a population crisis." To picture the population explosion think of these numerical facts: It took half a million years for the population of homo sapiens to reach 1.6 billion in 1900, another 60 to double, and it is taking only another 37 years to redouble, i.e., 6 billion in 1997. This growth of population cannot continue indefinitely because the earth is limited both in terms of space and resources. To stop and stabilize the population, we should decrease the birth rate because otherwise the increase in the death rate due to famine or war will do it in a drastic way. Strategies for reducing the birth rate such as family planning, female education, and improving the status of women, and fighting against infant mortality must be carried out especially in developing countries because 90 percent of the 95 million that are annually added to the world population are concentrated in these countries.

    2. Energy megatrend. Energy is a key that, to paraphrase a Buddhist proverb, opens the gates of heaven as well as hell. At present, coal, petroleum, and natural gas provide 88 percent of the world's energy. These fossil fuels are, however, exhaustible and polluting. Many of our environmental problems, notably urban air pollution, acid rain, and global warming result from the combustion of fossil fuels. Ultimately, we have to depend on non-pollutant renewable energy sources which are numerous - wind, water, tidal, biomass, geothermal, solar power, and hydrogen fuel. The sooner we move towards them, the better, and in the course of developing technologies to fully utilize the renewable energies, we should also increase the energy efficiency of existing automobiles, factories, power plants, and buildings.

    3. Economic megatrend. In 1968 biologist Garret Hardin in a paper published in Science showed how sheep owners, in pursuit of individual gain, overgraze the common ground, and as everyone exploits the commons, the pasture is destroyed. The tragedy of the commons is also with us. Throughout the world, economic systems and policies of every type are based on short-term profits at the expense of depleting natural assets. Ironically, this unsustainable path is hailed as economic development and progress. In the past decade, some theoreticians, especially Lester Brown of the Worldwatch Institute and Gro Harlem Brundtland, the head of the United Nations Our Common Future project, have put forward the idea of sustainable development, which means "satisfying our demands without jeopardizing the prospects of future generations." Sustainable economic policies are yet to be planned and implemented.

    4. Political megatrend. Our one and only Earth has been divided politically into at least three worlds and about 166 big and small countries. World political leaders are mostly engaged in handling conflicts to remain in power at home and to gain profit and prestige for their respective countries abroad. From a planetary point of view, however, such divisions are illusory and such activities are suicidal for humanity. The time has come for political leaders to "think globally and act locally as well as globally." We should move towards worldwide cooperation and a common endeavor to understand and preserve the planet. An international treaty on reducing the emission of atmospheric greenhouse gases is a case in point.

    Perhaps nothing better than armaments illustrate the illness of the world's political machinery. Currently world governments spend about $900 billion on the military each year. The reason? Security. From whom? From one another. Only if we are human enough to live peacefully, will we be able to utilize our financial and human resources to green our future. Besides, as recent earthquakes in Armenia and Iran, flooding in Bangladesh, famine in Ethiopia, and cholera in Latin America have shown, environmental disasters often carry a heavier toll and cause more damage than war, which means that governments have to redefine security.

    5. Social megatrend. Today human society is unbalanced: on the one hand, 30 percent of humanity in the so-called developed countries lead a wasteful lifestyle and consume 70 percent of world energy; on the other hand, the majority of humans living in the so-called developing countries lack basic necessities and eke out a living under the burden of a $1.2 trillion debt to industrialized countries' banks and governments. We have to move away from a throwaway lifestyle towards a society that recycles materials as Nature does and from an unfair world toward a world whose majority is not trapped in the vicious cycle of poverty and environmental degradation.

    6. Scientific megatrend. Nature is not divided into separated departments and numerous disciplines, and people need to know what is happening to the Earth and how it works. As a scientist I can understand that to give a minute description of nature, science has to be specialized into minute fields. But science should also move toward a unified field to understand the planet as a whole. Moreover, there should be a flow of accurate information to the public who consume, work, and vote, and need to be enlightened. Ironically, there is a lack of science in most of the developing nations. Since these nations possess a greater part of the Earth's resources and life-supporting systems such as rainforests and continental shelves, they thus need know-how to conserve and manage them. Recent discussion on the Gaia hypothesis advocated by British scientist James Lovelock and the ongoing International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme organized by the United Nations are good signs of this megatrend.

    7. Spiritual megatrend. None of the above-mentioned megatrends in population, energy, economy, politics, society, and science can be made without a transformation in our thoughts and views. The environmental crisis is basically an outward manifestation of our inner, mental crisis. If we, as individuals and a society, develop our inner voice and ethics, and live simply and lightly on this planet, in harmony with nature (rather than subduing her) or without greed and destructive desires, many of the existing problems will disappear and a green future will be in sight.

    The ideas presented above may exist in the back of our minds or on the margin of our social lives, but they need to be transformed into major trends in the current decade so that in the coming century the planet Earth may steer a healthy course.

    Published in JAPAN ENVIRONMENT MONITOR, 10/31/1991


    Comment on the above article
    (Excerpt from Japan Environment Monitor, Vol. 4, No. 6 (#38), October 1991)

    "Greening the Future" Essay Contest Winners Announced Japan Environment Monitor and Namaenonai Shimbun are pleased to announce the results of its recent essay contest in the theme, "Greening the Future". Two first prizes ... were awarded to the best essays submitted in English and Japanese which offered penetrating insights into the contemporary ecological situation and novel ideas on how to begin moving forward to a greener future...

    In the English language category first prize went to Dr. Rasoul B. Sorkhabi, whose essay is published in this issue of Japan Environment Monitor...



    Who is the GMT ?

    by M. Krochmal

    Dawn. Another one of those unbelievably beautiful mornings that Melbourne offers as a prelude to a beautiful day. Sometimes, colourful hot air balloons grace the sky. The early-morning joggers, walkers and staggerers are starting to do their rounds of one of Melbourne's many wonderful parks. It's not called the "Garden City" for nothing. Its Botanical Gardens have achieved world renown, and its citizens know how to appreciate floral and arboreal beauty. It's the hour of the GMT - the "Good Morning" Terrorist, who is at large and about to strike again.

    The GMT, a very average guy, is doing the rounds of one of these gardens, as he does nearly every morning in a semi-successful bid to stave off the inevitable middle-age spread. He's not over the hill yet, but the view from his location is grand ! He deliberately chooses to walk deosil around the park (clockwise, like the planets in their orbits around the Sun, and like white witches in their rituals) rather than widdershins (anticlockwise, which is the habit of most people, all racing horses, trained athletes and supposedly the Devil, in no particular order), so that he can meet more of the people face-to-face as they do their rounds. And as the GMT passes, he politely but cheerfully says "Good Morning" to each one.

    The reaction is mixed. If this was Hollywood, the response would probably be : "Get away from me, you pervert! Help! Rape! Police!" But this is not Hollywood, and the response behaviours constitute the complete real spectrum, ranging from those who think the GMT is just plain mad; those who refuse to talk to simply anybody (Mother always said "Don't you dare say 'Good Morning' to anyone, and don't talk to any strangers, especially ones you don't know !"); those who are too absorbed in a discussion with their walking mates to notice the greeting; those who are simply concentrating too intensively on their supreme sporting efforts (and there are some really good athletes who train here - Olympic material, including a retired Olympic marathon runner); those who are totally lost in Hyperspace : the 21st Century world of portable audio - the new Mickey Mouse Club, complete with ears; those who actually manage a grunt in reply; those who produce a feeble but nice smile (still free of charge and even GST, as far as the GMT knows, and the bonus feature is that it does not slow down your running), sometimes smiling just to themselves, but nonetheless noted and appreciated by the GMT; those who actually reply "Good Morning"; and those who add a personal touch, such as a really big beaming smile, or "Nice Day" or "How Are You ?". It is heartening that, even though some people are trapped in their little shells, most indulge in this harmless Game of Friendship. Yes, the success rate is high - after all, the friendliness of Australians, and of Melbournians in particular, is the stuff of legends around the world. The GMT has heard some of these legends himself while travelling.

    Old Satchmo had an intriguing song called "What A Wonderful World", which contains the lyrics : "I see Friends shaking hands / Saying 'How Do You Do' / What They're really saying / Is 'I love You' ". True to the hype of American songwriters, this is a little exaggerated, but not altogether irrelevant. Smiling and greeting are ways of displaying that we are innocuous, and are intended as a precursor to a peaceful encounter, rather than an aggressive one. Desmond Morris, in his classic work "Manwatching", devotes an entire chapter to hellos and farewells, underscoring their importance in our civilisation. He categorises smiling as an "appeasement gesture". A bit of smiling or the odd "Good Morning" or two might go a long way in some places around the world, such as the Middle East, for instance.

    Don Miguel Ruiz, in "The Four Agreements", his outstanding treatise on Toltec knowledge, talks about humans being "domesticated" - trained from childhood like Pavlovian dogs to salivate or growl on command. One of the things programmed into us is fear. And it is this fear which gives rise to the "ten thousand evils", as the Chinese would probably term this ("ten thousand", to the Chinese, is like "infinity" to the Western world) : the many antisocial and negative aspects of our humanity. It is fear which is used as the basic key to programming all of the other behaviours into us. Banishing the fear is the biggest step to realising one's full potential as a human being. Being a GMT is one practical path towards this goal. There are six billion people on this planet. There are six billion paths to self-realisation.

    G.I. Gurdjieff, in his remarkable work "Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson", tells of his grandmother admonishing him as follows : "Either do nothing - just go to school - or do something nobody else does". (Which he then takes to heart and proceeds to sing a funny ditty at her funeral, horrifying the other mourners, but honouring her memory in the sincerest possible way). An interesting modus vivendi, and certainly also one of the many paths to self-realisation.

    The GMT's activity is beginning to meet with a degree of success : he finds that if he delays his morning greeting by just a bit, there are now people who will take the initiative and greet him first. And some of the recalcitrants are starting to warm up to the idea that it might not be the end of the world to say "Good Morning" to someone they do not know. After all, no one is watching and taking notes, no "Conditions Apply" (unlike most ads these days), and it might even feel good.

    An idea rises to the surface again from the dark recesses of the GMT's mind, its author long forgotten : "Think of your best friend. See your friend before you in your mind's eye, and enjoy your friend's most wonderful attributes. Now realise that there was a time when this person was a complete stranger to you !"

    The film "Six Degrees of Separation" posits that just six successive like-minded groups of people (you, your friends, your friend's friends, your friend's friend's friends, etc) would span the globe. This is no doubt true, and seems to be supported by many actual examples which link, for example, any two Hollywood actors (for what that is worth). Naturally, there are even web sites devoted to this phenomenon.

    What the Six Degrees of Separation idea does highlight is that, as individuals, we can change the world. We simply need to rattle our little corner of the spider web, by showing by example how life can be lived in a more productive way, and the effects will be felt around the world. There is that old saw about the flutter of butterfly wings in the Amazon causing a tornado in Kansas, or something of the sort. This is not so far from reality as it might seem. Perhaps one day, across the time and distance of the Six Degrees of Separation, the GMT will make you smile. Then it will be YOUR turn to pass it on ...

    M. Krochmal
    Monday, 8 December 2003


    Why the word "banana" could get you killed one day ...

    by M. Krochmal

    There is an ancient tradition that the Universe will come to a grinding halt the moment someone utters the real name of God. That name, in ancient Aramaic, consists of the consonants Yod Hei Waw Hei, anglicised as YHWH. This name of God, which is also known as the Tetragrammaton (or four-letter word), has been transliterated into English as "Yahweh", and sometimes also as "Jehovah".

    There are various problems which scholars have highlighted over the ages. One of the most glaring difficulties is that vowels are not usually included in written Aramaic (nor modern Yiddish - both of these languages use Hebrew characters, as does modern-day Ivrit, or Israeli Hebrew, which does include vowels).

    So the argument has raged down the ages as to what the actual word may in fact be, let alone its pronunciation. (Let's hope that if some bright spark ever works out how to utter the name of God, that he has a dreadful coughing fit and gives us all an extra few precious minutes).

    In many religions, the punishment for uttering the sacred name of God (especially needlessly), which is the crime of blasphemy, is death. The Monty Python movie "Life of Brian" illustrated this in an amusing way : a John Cleese character keeps repeating the word "Jehova", until a gigantic rock falls out of the sky, crushing him and leaving only his fingertips and toes visible.

    Regardless of the uncertainty about the actual word, there have always been ultra-cautious and conservative elements in our civilisation. It is presumably these elements that have given rise to the insidious and odious PC, or "political correctness" movement.

    It was presumably the PC movement which decided that Yahweh was much too powerful and dangerous a weapon to be fondled by the Great Unwashed. It was therefore decided to replace the name with "Adonei", which means "Lord", just in case. Good article here: Names of God in Judaism.

    Eventually, this word was also considered too dangerous, and was in turn replaced by the name "Hashem", which simply means "The Name". Another usage often employed was to combine "Adonei" and "Hashem" into the name "Adoshem".

    There are in fact *many* other names used for God, and a list of these can be found in the above Wikipedia article. (Note also that many people write "G-d").

    I would like to make it very clear at the outset that the Jewish tradition is by no means the only one to do this - what I am about to say applies to many religious, national and other groupings of human beings around the world. The point I would like to make is that there seems to be a steady drift from original words to replacement words which are often regarded as euphemisms when they are first introduced. These replacement words are then inevitably tainted through usage, and are in turn replaced by neologisms or other, untainted words used in a new context.

    We have seen this in practice, for instance, with the word "Nigger" (and it may surprise some people that this word was not always used as an insult), which became "Coloured", "Negro", and "Black", and now "African American". It also applies to the replacement of words such as "Spastic", which was originally a word used to describe a medical condition (cerebral palsy), but became used as a pejorative, and eventually replaced in that context by the word "Retard". See these articles: Nigger and Spastic

    The reason I have mentioned these two words here is that I find it interesting that, in the context of the UK versus the USA, each of these words is among the most taboo in one country but considered relatively inoffensive or even funny in the other. That should tell us something.

    The something that I have in mind is that words are simply words. Exhalations of hot air, modulated in the mouth. The most important issue driving insults, bullying and discrimination (racial or otherwise) is not in fact the actual word, but the intent of the user. This is why legalisation against bullying, discrimination and other forms of bigotry can never work.

    A close family friend once uttered these immortal and (to me) unforgettable words: "A pig in a suit is still a pig".

    There is also an old piece of schoolboy wisdom that the word "Sir" can be uttered in 29 different ways, all of them an insult.

    And that, precisely, is the issue. It is possible to force people to use fine words. It is possible to make people face dire consequences for uttering taboo words. But unless something changes *inside*, it is all for nought. This is why PC was always a lost cause : the only effect that this insidious movement has had on our society and others is to drive bigotry underground. It was once evident at a glance as to which were the quality offerings in a given section of a bookshop, whereas nowadays any ignoramus can publish a book, meaning that the quality is buried deep under a pile of dross. In a perfectly analogous manner, it is becoming more and more difficult to distinguish bigots simply by their utterances. A finer analytical tool is needed, and although we all possess this tool, it has become blunted by disuse : gut feel.

    So what is the solution? Well, it is interesting how societies change with time. This observation was brilliantly summed up by Henry Petroski on the flyleaf of his fascinating book "To Engineer Is Human" (being an engineer, I just had to read it): "Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny" (the original is actually credited to the German scientist Ernst Haeckel : Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny) - which, in plain English, can be interpreted to mean that societies grow up just like people do. Quite so: I recently saw an episode of "The Three Stooges", which I laughed at when I was a kid (along with a million other kids at the time, I'm sure). I was appalled by what I saw, and wonder whatever it was that I had found funny. But then I realised that we have all grown up, as a society, and kids nowadays would also not find those jokes funny.

    It's the same with insults: American society recoils in horror at what they will only call the "N word" (see above, if you're wondering which word that might be), and most newspapers and magazines over there will not even dare to spell it out in full, for fear of making little old ladies (or even athletic young men) faint in the streets. However, the frequent repetition of "F**k" and even "Motherf***er" in songs, movies, the media, and even casual conversation does not seem to raise any eyelids any more, and these words (and even worse ones that would make a sailor blush) are often used in mixed company and spelled out in full in the media. (I have used asterisks above in case there are any sensitive and easily offended souls reading this rambling essay).

    So it is possible that change can only come with generational renewal, to use a PC euphemism - I mean when the old and stupid bigots finally die off. But there is another possible driver of change.

    There is a very important element which denotes a civilised society, which seems to be visibly evaporating as we look on in horror and disbelief: it is called "Responsibility". In fact, the dreaded "R" word describes something which we should accept for *every* one of our actions, from the smallest to the most major and profound. However, it is also something which appears to be in the process of being bred out of our youth. This trend will no doubt reverse, as it is self-limiting: when the moment comes when nobody takes responsibility for anything, the realisation will dawn that society cannot function at all in this way. And it is the refusal to accept responsibility which is driving the current state of dysfunctional mentality in many societies, both Western and Eastern (and in-between).

    It is this willingness to accept personal responsibility, coupled with a sense of respect for *all* other human (and non-human) beings that is, in fact, the *only* solution to discrimination and social evils in all their manifold manifestations. If I have respect (first and most importantly for myself, and then inevitably, by extension, for all other living beings), and I take personal responsibility for all of my actions, then why would I need to be fed one PC euphemism after the other to give the appearance that I am not a bigot when, in fact, I may be the world's worst?

    The point I have been trying to make is that, if we continue along our path of gilding the lily and ignoring the fact that it is actually rotten inside, then one day the mere mention of the word "banana" may transgress a social or religious taboo and result in your early demise, because it may have evolved to become the ultimate religious or pejorative taboo word.

    Beware!

    © M. Krochmal 22 February 2009 (Incorporating some good suggestions from my son Daniel)


    Travel

    by M. Krochmal

    Travel is an interesting thing: it has the potential to broaden the mind and allow us to see our insignificant, yet vital part in the running of the universe. It also has the potential to close our minds even more.

    How can this be? It all depends on the clarity of our perception, and the state of our heart, both now and at the time of travel.

    On the one hand, if we travel with our hearts and minds closed, caring only about our own welfare and comfort, comparing what we see unfavourably with our own circumstances (which, if we are Australian, are potentially at least the equal of anything in the world), then we will return home disappointed and worse off than when we started.

    On the other hand, if we allow the experience to penetrate deep into our hearts, if we allow ourselves to be open to new experiences, and if we approach the people and places we see without bias and prejudice, without expectations and a sense of entitlement, then even a small trip can transform and enrich us in ways we may never have imagined.

    Isn't it interesting that some people are world-weary travelers who have been everywhere you can think of, and yet seem to be more stupid than a child, while there are others who have never ventured beyond the 5-km circle of their village of birth, yet embody wisdom without measure? Isn't it frightening when you meet a young child who is already blasť and bored with the umpteenth overseas trip that they are about to undertake? Almost as frightening as a child without a smile.

    Having run a small business for a quarter of a century now, I have been extremely privileged to be able to travel more than some people (but also considerably less than others, so I don't wear that as a badge of glory, either). I have visited some 35 countries in my time, mostly on business and therefore with very little leisure time except the occasional weekend trip. What I have learned is this: people are much more important than things. Yes, I have seen some wonderful and spectacular works of both man and nature. I have been lucky enough to take pictures of some of these that almost bring tears to the eyes. But always, it is the people that matter, and that stand out when I review my life.

    An interesting thing happens when you take a step back and pretend that you are a visitor from Mars: if you try to look at your life and circumstances objectively, the whole picture changes. I'm talking here about "objectively". And that is the big problem. If we could do this, wars could be avoided.

    Humans have a really interesting shortcoming in their make-up: we act as machines - push button A and out comes reaction B. Push button C and out comes reaction D. Every time. Without fail. It is only when we try to see ourselves as we truly are that change can even be contemplated. And change is not something we can bring about ourselves. That can only happen on a long-term basis, as a result of what G.I. Gurdjieff called "conscious suffering".

    Many of the events that befall us from day to day (good, bad and indifferent) can appear, in the magnification of the moment, to be earth-shattering and major. If we can only learn to take a little step back, and watch our lives as one would an interesting movie (with ourselves as the hero/heroine, of course), we would find the experience to be completely different. It seems to be our attachment to the things that are happening which magnifies the pain: just as, prior to a visit to the dentist, we imagine all sorts of agonies, only to find the reality is not quite as bad. There is an old saying: "The coward dies a thousand deaths".

    Of course, even when we are in the dentist's chair, our tension can magnify pain out of all proportion. An amazing Melbourne man, Ainslie Meares, once wrote a little book called "Relief Without Drugs - How You Can Overcome Tension, Anxiety And Pain". In this book, he suggested an experiment in which you place a thin string on your skin and set fire to it. (The proof of this theorem is left as an exercise for the reader ... :-) )The point of this experiment was that, by using some techniques of relaxation which he detailed, the reader would be able to demonstrate to him/herself that real and imagined pain are poles apart. And so it is. Ainslie Meares scandalised the medical establishment, but the reality is that all of life works like this: the reality of pain is but a fraction of the Academy Award performance that goes on in our minds. You don't need to burn your arm to see this demonstrated. Just watch someone else in pain (it's always easier when the pain belongs to someone else).

    What a different world it would be if people could *only* speak the truth. Strangely, when I have mentioned this in conversation, the immediate response from people has most often been negative. Most people seem to think that lying is a necessary evil in our society. It is only when I explain that this is a major fallacy, and why, that they finally agree with me. At first glance, "fibbing" for someone else's benefit would appear to be productive, and I certainly agree that it is miles ahead of lying for your own benefit. However, the simplest thing in such cases is simply to say nothing.

    When I was a small boy, I read a simple story that has always remained with me:
    A man was taking his son to the top of a mountain, where there were three statues of human heads. The father took a straw and inserted it into the ear of the first statue. The straw emerged again from the mouth of the statue. Then he took a straw and inserted it into the ear of the second statue. It emerged from the other ear of the statue. Finally, the father took a straw and inserted it into the ear of the third statue. With a little "clunk", the straw fell into the hollow interior of the statue, where it stayed. The man said to his son: "These are the types of men on Earth".

    There is another dimension to living correctly: Gurdjieff made a very clear statement about our obligation to the world and those who came before us. When you think about it, absolutely everything that surrounds you is the product of the blood, sweat and tears of someone who came before you. The chair you are sitting on, the lights in the ceiling, the monitor in front of you, even the building you are in. All of these items were once an original concept in the mind of one or more inventive persons. Then, materials had to be found and prototypes built. Even the final version of whatever it is had to be manufactured by someone. Your life would not be the same if you had to invent and manufacture all of these things yourself. We therefore all owe a debt of gratitude to those who came before us. That does not mean that our lives should come to a standstill while we kowtow and bang our heads on the ground. But it means that we must be aware that we are, as Isaac Newton put it: "Seeing further because we are standing on the shoulders of giants". (Actually, that particular statement is thought to have been a nasty and sarcastic dig at his rival Robert Hooke, and Newton did not invent it, either : see here and here).

    Finally, through observing our lives a little more objectively, we can come to realise that *every* being on Earth is a Spark of God, whatever you conceive Him/Her/It to be. If you can learn to make contact "from core to core" with other human beings, then you can relate to anybody, whether they are royalty or toilet-cleaners (or royal toilet-cleaners). And you come to realise that, deep inside, we are all identical. Only the outer trappings differ, to give colour to the world. It is the prospect of this deep connection with another that makes travel, whether 100 metres down the road or 10,000 kilometres around the world, so exciting. And it is the absence of this experience that makes life so disappointing. Yes, the natural and technical marvels of the world are fine, but the experience of deep connection leaves all others in the shade.

    So the end result of travel is potentially to allow the traveller to become aware of his/her true position and purpose in life. Whether that potential is realised is another matter.

    ©M.Krochmal 23 February 2009


    The Meaning of my Name

    by M. Krochmal

    A couple of days ago, I posted a Facebook Status to the effect that I wanted to thank my Friends for the wonderful and positive contributions they have made to my life. For most of my life now, I have referred to these very special people as "Friends, with a capital F". They have stood out above the crowd, and I am deeply indebted to them.

    And then Hanni, who is indeed one of my closest Friends, and one of my most true, tried and trusted ones at that, suggested that I actually post a list of these Friends. But I am really loath to do that, and I will try to explain here why. I thought about this the whole night after I read her request, and there are so many things that came to mind. These considerations are too lengthy to burden casual passers-by on my fb page with, so I am posting them here instead.

    Most of us love to bask in the glory of seeing our names up in neon lights. In fact, I believe that it was Dale Carnegie who, in his once very influential book "How To Win Friends And Influence People" said that "Remember that a person's name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language".

    But in fact, there are also those who would rather shun the light. Sometimes, they might be called the "quiet achievers". Whoever they are, they prefer not to be named, and would in fact possibly be embarrassed and perhaps offended if I did name them.

    The encroachment of old age on my poor long-suffering brain means, on the other hand, that I may forget to mention some others. I would not want them to be hurt by such an omission.

    In any event, if I was to draw up a list, I would have to put myself at the top. Why ? Not because I love myself in the way that has become a popular insult, but because I realized long ago that to love others, you must first love yourself. As I have usually put it in my own quirky way: "If you want to be a lifesaver, you first have to learn how to swim". To me, that means that you have to give yourself a chance, and it always saddens me immensely when I meet people who do not do this.

    When I was young, I used to think that the aim of life was to "get your act together". But eventually I realized two things: a) that moment will never actually arrive, because there's ALWAYS something else to work on, and b) when you DO more or less have "your act together", you have actually only just arrived at the starting blocks. The REAL job, after that, is to "Pass It On".

    The next issue is this: that there is in fact a SPECTRUM of people who make each of our lives better. Sure, there are the Friends, who are the stars of the 3-ring circus that is life. But there are also less well-acknowledged people. How about family; how about the Friends of old, long forgotten, who gently nudged us on to the right path earlier in our lives; how about the more casual friends that nonetheless help us at various times ? But in fact, equally important, how about the many, many people with whom we interact as a result of chance encounters? The people with whom we have a 5-minute chat on the train? The ones who give us a smile when we haven't got one?

    The Internet and the literature are awash with cases where a chance encounter, a fleeting smile, or a kind gesture have forever changed, or even saved, someone's life. I won't bother going into any of those tales here, and perhaps some of them are apocryphal. But I am certain that there are also plenty of genuine ones.

    Suffice to say that these encounters should be considered in the light of an idea that struck me to the quick when I heard it, and has haunted me ever since. Namely: "Think of your very best friend in life. Recall their name. Picture their hair, their eyes, their smile, their quirky mannerisms. Now remember the very moment BEFORE you first met them. Do you realize that, at that moment, they were a PERFECT STRANGER to you?" That is how life is: 7.1 billion stories, and every one an adventure waiting to be shared. The important thing is to show basic respect as a human being to EVERYONE in your path, whether they are a toilet cleaner or a king or queen. Then we start cooking with gas. Because every one of these human beings is a spark of God. Whatever you conceive God to be.

    So why do I mention all of that? Because I realize that my life has been molded not only by my Friends, my friends, my family, and my acquaintances, but by EVERY SINGLE PERSON I have ever met. That's a really daunting thought!

    Therefore, my thanks go, not only (although specially) to my Friends, but also to the other people who have made me what I am today, for better or for worse. I owe them all a debt. And that debt is to be the best I can be, and to pay it forward to the World.

    So that is why I can't post the list. It would be endless.

    To come back to the title of this rambling piece: my name comes from the Hebrew. It consists of three words: Mi Ha El. These words in fact form a question, not a statement: "Who is like God?". The answer, which may surprise some, is: "Every human being on Earth".

    ©M.Krochmal 26 July 20013


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