Constructive Creativity

Monday, May 16, 2005

Islands in the Stream?

A recent post by my friend Khodadad has got me to thinking. Well, actually, it reminded me of thoughts that I have had from time to time over the years. Have you ever felt that your life is insignificant, that your existence just doesn't count for much? I think that many people have such thoughts occasionally, I certainly have. A long time ago, my mother's mother tried to teach me a lesson. At the time, it didn't seem very significant. However, it resonates within me now. Her lesson was basically that, "No Man Is An Island". This is an old saying that originates from a work by the 16th century poet John Donne (see excerpt below). Apparently, it was a favorite saying of my grandmother's mother. The saying teaches the moral lesson that every person is interconnected and interdependent with other people. None of us can really live a fulfilling existence without other people. Indeed, it would be impossible for most of us to survive in our modern world without the help of other people. Certainly, there are some people, here and there, but mostly in low tech parts of the world, who retain the knowledge of how to "live off the land". But, how many people are cut out to be Mountain Men or Women who live a lonely, hermit-like existence? I am certainly not cut from that sort of cloth. I need contact with other people to feel healthy and happy.

Lets go back to the old saying for a moment, "No Man Is An Island". I have thought a lot about the concept of human beings as islands over the years. I think that, in some ways, the saying is not entirely correct. We are, to a certain extent islands, separate, distinct, and disconnected from other people. We have our own thoughts, feelings, and perceptions, not all of which are shared with other people. However, every person that lives within communication range of other people does exert some degree of influence upon those others.

I like to use visual imagery to do my thinking. So, for the purpose of this discussion, I would like to imagine all human beings as standing in one huge continuous shallow pond. The distances between the people in the pond are variable, and some groups are so far from other groups that interaction with other groups is essentially impossible. However, this sort of thing is quite uncommon, as there are very few groups of undiscovered humans living apart in some deep and uncharted jungle. Anyway, I digress. Lets focus in on one person in the vast pond. Lets imagine that instead of this pond person speaking to another, he bobs up and down in the water. This action sends out ripples that impact and reflect off other pond people who are nearby. These reflected ripples then impact off more pond people, reflecting until they eventually subside out of existence. Often the ripples that one pond person creates by bobbing will have little effect on the other pond people. (This might be analogous to real human beings engaging in light conversation about the weather.) However, sometimes the ripples from one pond person will resonate with another pond person in a certain way that causes her to begin bobbing in response, thus sending out additional ripples that have a farther reach that the original ripples and which impact off additional pond people. (This might be likened to a person communicating a new and beneficial idea to one or more other people.) Much less frequently, a pond person might bob so energetically that he sets many other pond people bobbing in a resonant pattern that reinforces and multiplies the amplitude of the ripples to the point that they become great waves that wash over and submerge large numbers of pond people, some of whom are so overwhelmed that they never resurface. (An analogous human event might be a war.)

So, why am I spending time talking about pond people? I am trying to make the point that every person has some power to influence other people. We are all powerful in that we can positively or negatively influence the course of other people's lives. Sometimes a kind word or action can change another person's day, and that person may, in turn, perform a kindness for one or more additional people. The opposite could also be true. A negative word or action could have adverse consequences for the recipient, who may pass that negativity along to others. Have you ever seen the movie "Pay It Forward"? For the most part, I thought it was a great movie (except for the ending when the kid died - that really ruined my day!). The basis of the movie was for one person to do good deeds for others and instead of asking for a reward, he or she would ask the recipient of the good deed to do a good deed for someone else. If enough people "paid it forward", the world could be changed for the better. Well, it is a great idea in theory, but in practice, maybe not, given the proclivities of human nature. However, I like the concept. I try to do little good things every day. I give encouragement to friends. I say thank you to people I am doing business with. I wait and allow someone to merge ahead of me into a traffic jammed street. If someone drops something without knowing, I pick it up and hand it to them. There are so many ways that a person can be helpful to others and maybe change other people's lives for the better. So, the next time that you think that your life is of no consequence, think again. Sometimes little things do mean a lot, and none of us are islands unto ourselves!

Sculpture "No Man Is An Island" by Clark B. Fitzgerald, given to the First Congregational Church of Melrose, Massachusetts in loving memory of Herbert and Sarah Tourtillott (my greatgrandparents!) by their children.

Painting by James Becker highlighting the lower right portion of the sculpture.

"Who casts not up his eye to the sun when it rises? but who takes off his eye from a comet when that breaks out? Who bends not his ear to any bell which upon any occasion rings? but who can remove it from that bell which is passing a piece of himself out of this world? No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were. Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."

Excerpt from: Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, Meditation XVII by John Donne

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Some Lighter Elements

Since my last three posts have been serious, I have been thinking that it is about time that I lightened things up a bit. I went to the Indianapolis Zoo a few weeks ago and I would like to share some of my pictures. Maybe it was just the early Spring weather, but all the animals seemed really lazy or very bored. Of course, it may just be that Zoo life is so exciting for them that they all decided to take a break and just chill out. They probably all had little stampedes in their enclosures earlier in the day, before I got there! Well, anyway, here are some pictures and my impression of what these animals had on their minds. Enjoy. :)

Now, were is that handler with my hay bale!?

Hmmm, should I drink or should I poop?

Ahhh, a comfy rock bed and a dead tree to put my paw up on, that's the life!

After walking around the Zoo, I visited the Botanical Gardens that are right next to the Zoo. They have a tropical butterfly exhibit every year that begins in the Spring and runs through early Fall. The Gardens obtain various colorful and attractive butterflies, which arrive in the dormant chrysalid state (the metamorphic period during which a catapillar transforms into a butterfly). These are placed in several transparent enclosures within a large greenhouse. When the butterflies hatch, the Garden's staff open the enclosures to allow the butterflies to fly about the greenhouse for the enjoyment of the guests. I came rather early to the butterfly exhibition, so most of the really big and beautiful ones hadn't hatched out yet. However, the small ones can be quite pretty, too. One of these, for some reason, found me to be an agreeable perch. Trying to adjust and focus my camera with only one hand was a bit challenging, but happily it turned out well. :)

I wish this fool would hurry up and take my picture, I want to get back to my bowl of sliced fruit!