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Running, Pull-Ups and the Oneness of Humanity

I’ve never been able to endure even the idea of running on a treadmill, and only reluctantly do I join the walkers dutifully circling the track at local Chinese schools and universities. (My mind constantly runs in circles, so I don’t need cardiovascular reenactments.) Even plodding along familiar streets gets me restless, which partly explains why I love to run in new places. On a recent day in Suzhou, when my balky body had granted relatively enthusiastic permission for a run, I soured on what might have been a sweet outing, partly because my responsibilities as a friendly tourist nixed my locomotion. Walking (and stewing and brooding) burned a few calories, but I was glad to get out the next day.

We were, however, most favoured tourists. Our more-than-gracious hosts’ apartment  was across the street from Central Park, quiet and leafy in the modern section of Suzhou, so my live-in travel agent and I laced up and lumbered. Ponds and stone avenues, lawns and impromptu dancersize groups of Chinese women gave way to streetcore tourism as my bride signalled she’d had enough. I went straight down Broadway – actually, it was called Xinggang Lu, which means “Denim is my Destination”* — toward the Pants. More respectfully known as the Gate of the Orient, this huge dual tower looks like a pair of low-rise jeans on a hipless Chinese girl. Central Park punctuates, for a few blocks, Xinggang Lu as its traffic flows toward and away from the TrouserGate, and it was only partly for the sake of avoiding getting lost that I went Pants-ward. Impertinence aside, it’s enormous and visually quite compelling, and I didn’t resist its bowlegged charms.

* It most certainly does not mean that.

The boulevard made for pleasant city running.

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Baha’u’llah (the essence of all…)

I’ve been reading a short, incredibly dense series of statements by Baha’u’llah from “Words of Wisdom”. Each brief pronouncement names the “essence of understanding”, “the source of courage”, the “beginning of magnanimity”, “true remembrance”, and the like. It is five minutes of reading, and a lifetime of grasping. It concludes this way:

The essence of all that We have revealed for thee is Justice, is for man to free himself from idle fancy and imitation, discern with the eye of oneness His glorious handiwork, and look into all things with a searching eye.”

Baha’u’llah (1817-1892) was the Founder of the Baha’i Faith and the Author,

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Tangled Up in Green

My goodness, but that was a long post on David Suzuki! Kudos to you if you made it through all that goo… (It was very good goo).

When did I get so green? Thanks to good luck in the marriage lottery, I have been exposed to many of the best thinkers on ecology and sustainability. Environmental issues do get me wound up, and it’s not just a function of their size and potentially catastrophic impacts. It’s also because climate change, perhaps more than any single issue other than nuclear war – or an invasion by ugly, laser-toting aliens with attitudes – speaks to what I have become convinced is the central challenge of the modern age.

It’s about UNITY, smarty! We are ever more conscious of the singularity of the planet we call home, and of the oneness of the human race. This seems to be the way of it: if we don’t move toward unity voluntarily, then the spirit of the age kicks us upside the head. So if there’s a silver lining to the threat of cataclysmic climate change, it’s this: it’s a problem we can solve only by united action. All the people. All the governments. All the time. “So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth.” That was Mírza Husayn ‘Ali, in the 19th century. I’m listening. We’re learning, but my God it’s slow!

And because you’ve been so patient, and because I went on so yesterday, that’s all I have to say about that. Now we’re even. (You’re welcome!)

Even Stephen?

Had there been any doubt in my mind about the most important issues facing the world, it would have been dispelled yesterday morning by what I heard on CBC Radio. The Current is more than just a saucy, growling intro from The Voice, and before 9 am I had heard from two of the greatest voices of advocacy and awareness that Canada, that anyplace, has ever had: David Suzuki and Stephen Lewis. When these two get together, what do they talk about?

(Allow me to pause and hereby notify the Nobel people. For all his eloquent education and pleading and all that he has given to those suffering through the Great Pandemic in Africa, the former U.N. Special Envoy for AIDS in Africa has my nomination for the next Nobel Peace Prize. Mr. Lewis should be the second Canadian¹ to join a club that includes Mandela, Teresa, King, Schweitzer and Matthai. The Peace Prize has been awarded since 1901, and will be until, well, until we have world peace, I suppose, but even then there will be milestones and heroes who bring ingenuity, progress and life to the world once war has been politically restrained or banished.)

These particular warriors of peace didn’t have long on the air, but as it so often is these days – and this is a good thing – climate change was the subject. David Suzuki, of course, was far ahead of the public curve on climate change, and has been a passionate defender of the environment for decades. His current campaign has him flying around the country (and, be assured, buying carbon offsets for all that plane travel) asking Canadians what they’d do if they were Prime Minister. Something I hadn’t known was that the first climate conference in 1988 – instigated by the Mulroney government and gathering scientists and leaders from around the world – was chaired by Stephen Lewis. This was several years before the famous Kyoto meeting and the Protocol that resulted from it, and Suzuki and Lewis were blunt and indignant: If we had done what we said we were going to do then, we wouldn’t be in the bloody mess we are today!

It was a superb (if too-brief) conversation with two mighty men, and a trip to The Current‘s website might allow you to play the interview. (It didn’t work for me.) One thing startled me, though: after all the wrenching speeches, tears (his and his audiences’), anguish and exhausting commitment he gave to the cause of African AIDS (and the resultant societal breakdown), I heard Lewis refer to climate change as the single biggest threat the world faces. (Especially to the already-ravaged African continent, not to mention all the low-lying islands and seashores that could be submerged by rising sea levels. Bangladesh.) Imagine the humility and detachment implicit in choosing this environmental threat over the ferocious pandemic he has been fighting from up-close, tongue and tooth and claw…

And there’s more: as big as these two issues are in their human toll – and you may be as worried about war, terrorism, bird flu, poverty, human rights, ethnic struggles – they are still symptoms of one fundamental problem facing the human race. It was elaborated in the 19th century by Bahá’u’lláh: “The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established.” I’ve been thinking about this astounding statement for many years, and I am all the more convinced that this is the heart of the matter. The argument is simple but the implications are gigantic: DISUNITY is the underlying disease of humanity, and beneath all the greatest global problems lies our difficulty in recognizing the essential oneness of the human race.

It’s an awfully big idea to get my head around on a Tuesday afternoon, but I offer it for your consideration all the same.


¹ Buy yourself a milkshake if you knew that Lester B. Pearson, before he was our Prime Minister, won the Nobel for his peacemaking efforts in the Suez Crisis.