Monday, August 27, 2007

Leaves of a Majestic Tree

In the Baemba tribe of South Africa, when a person acts irresponsible or unjustly, he is placed in the center of the village, alone and unfettered. All work ceases, and every man, woman, and child in the village gathers in a large circle around the accused individual. Then each person in the tribe speaks to the accused, one at a time, about all the good things the person has done in his lifetime. All his positive attributes, good deeds, strengths, and kindnesses are recited carefully and at length. The tribal ceremony often lasts several days. At the end, the tribal circle is broken, a joyous celebration takes place, and the person is symbolically and literally welcomed back into the tribe.
- Alice Walker

Isn't that so profound? Instead of using violence, kindness is used. It shows that people resort to violence when they lack love and respect - they don't know how to receive or give it. This tribe is just returning what the person had lost. I also liked this because it shows how connected we all are. Each person has touched someone in the community. Even though we think we are alone, we're really not. A lot of people and experiences have made us who we are. Sometimes we have to remember the people and the positive contributions we have made to each other's lives. (It's like watching those sit coms that do "flashbacks" episodes!)

This story reminded me of something from a book ("Communication Miracles for Couples: Easy and Effective Tools to Create More Love and Less Conflict ") about relationships. I'm not a big self-help book reader, but I had bought this when I first got married. The author had said when you're angry with your partner, you should just hug them for a few minutes. It's like calming a child with a hug. You just need to be reminded you are loved. Why is letting go of others and being emotionally independent a sign of "adulthood"?

In the South African film Tsotsi, a hardened gang member takes his victim's infant. As someone who lacks "decency" as his fellow gang member say, he learns it through the child. He learns what it means to be responsible and discovers a renewal of life in a way through a child. By the end, people are able to reach out to him through words of kindness, not violence.

Actually, on a tangent, a few friends have lost parents and partners this year and are going through the mourning and healing process. I don't think you can ever let go of that person. They've been connected to you so closely and they contributed to you being the person you are today. We can't just "erase" them or "get over it" because it's like erasing a physical part of yourself.

Another good quote I read was in Sun Magazine's Sy Safransky's Notebook:
"When a tree falls in the forest, do the other trees murmur, It was such a young tree. It had so much to live for."

It's a gentle way to say that life will continue - blossom and fade and blossom again.

My final quote is from Gandhi:
We are all leaves of a majestic tree whose trunk cannot be shaken off its roots.


Venkat said...

Some incoherent thoughts.

I have to say, I react strongly (and negatively) to such sentiments! They tend to trivialize the nature of crime, violence and cruelty, raise to the status of axiom the (idealist) assumption of the perfectibility of humans and their innate good nature, and most importantly, minimize the suffering of victims.

This is just one view of crime (in the moral sense rather than legal) among many, and a peculiarly self-assured one that I see many people adopt. One that rests on an illusion that we understand (moral) crime.

Unpalatable as it may be, sometimes we must admit that we do not understand crime, violence and cruelty at their deepest levels, set aside such feel-good self-delusion, face darkness directly, and find solace in a somewhat tragic, but truer view of the human condition.

Quotes and anthropological trivia such as you cite leave me extremely troubled. They do not help understand incidents ranging from the Rwandan genocide, to the Virginia Tech shootings to the holocaust, to sundry terrible murders and other crimes -- all the way down to a thoughtless 5 year old plucking wings off a beetle for fun, to Americans not recognizing the extreme cruelty involved in bringing their (meat-based) food to their table.

While I still stop short of declaring the existence of 'evil' in the world, I have to admit I don't like pink-washing horror either.

It is not that your sentiments are not valid. They just are in danger of being mistaken as a theory of crime, which they are not.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ashini,
I read through a lot of your blog ( very old entries included) and enjoyed it. In fact, it has motivated me to start writing now that I have some free time. I just created a blog for myself :).

As far as this particular entry, I believe that people sometimes can only show as much love as they were shown by someone else. In which case, something like this can be very effective. However, a lot of crimes are committed by people who have something psychologically wrong with them i.e virginia tech shooter, or serial killers and child molesters. In which case, prisons are necessary.

Radhika Shivaraman said...

About vegetarianism : as much as we dont kill animals, we still kill plants. Plants are living beings and Bose or someone else proved that they grow better when nourished with music, move to music and love living as much as we do. So it comes to survival of the fittest and humans need to survive. So vegetarians cant be excused of killing, they kill too. Unless you become a fruitarian eating plants fallen to the ground, we cannot claim any betterment over meat eating individuals.
By the way, i am a vegetarian, used to be proud a while back, but after this realization, we are one step ahead but not yet there completely.

Anonymous said...

When I posted this, I knew my thoughts were all over the place and I was trying to bridge them with the central point of kindness/non violence.

VGR - obviously this is not THE solution to everything. Hugging an emotionally or psychologically deranged person is not going to make him/her change. My post wasn't an attempt at a "theory of crime," but more towards the wrinkles in the fabric.

Reg veg'nism, I think our modern culture has sanitized the act of eating meat. Really, if your average person had to go kill and pluck their own chicken, he/she would think twice about having a chicken caesar salad and would probably turn to the vegn option.

Disha - thanks for your comments and I'm thrilled that I've inspired you (and TAAMommy!) to join the blogsphere!

ZenDenizen said...

"The author had said when you're angry with your partner, you should just hug them for a few minutes."

If only pride didn't get in the way!

Anonymous said...

Forget pride, think about self-preservation.

If I'm mad, I recommend just ducking or getting out of the room! ;-)

Radhika Shivaraman said...

Vegetarianism : There are stores where you can pick fresh lobstah and have them packed, cut, etc. Not sure what they do behind the scenes. Also in other parts of the world, they have fresh produce, fowls, fish, etc in cages, swimming in the water and you can pick and choose. So serving packed meat is not a deterent to vegetarianism. For example, we lovingly grow vegetable patches, wait for them to flower and ripe to pluck the fruits/vegs mercilessly, have them be sliced and diced the way you want with the sharpest of knives and cooked and kindled in saucepans. Have gardens grown so flowers can be detached from their moms and bunched up in vases for human pleasure. So where does this stop ? Meat eating, Vegetable eating, Flower Arrangements - there is no end to it. Humans have an intellect or brains that some animals are not blessed with. Lions and other carnivores are born that way. We cannot fault them. So i guess it is survival of the fittest - laws of nature. The great like Thoreau, Einstein have destined that man will ultimately stop meat-eating and that will happen eventually, but the bus doesnt stop there. There are other gentler kinder muter souls like plants that perish a silent death at our hands

Venkat said...

TAA Mommy and others: I am not sure I buy the 'plants' argument -- I am very skeptical of the case that they feel pain. The dividing line between diets that cause pain and those that don't is much sharper in my opinion. The Bose citation does not bear as much scrutiny as you think.

The best work on this has been 'Meat Market' by Erik Marcus, a good friend of mine ( The ethical argument for veganism is a lot sounder, and I can't summarize it in one comment :)

There are philosophical troubles to be sure. I don't agree with Erik for instance, in some of his more speculative views for instance, that lions should not eat gazelles. And I also buy a general creative-destruction philosophy that accepts pain and death as part of life, but still there is a moral imperative to minimizing pain caused somehow. I haven't worked it all out, but then this is not a simple issue.

On a related note, look at the beautiful essay on the cruelty in lobster eating by David Foster Wallace (yes, the famous novelist guy). It originally appeared in an epicurean mag, (forget which), but it has since become a book ("Consider the Lobster"). Lobsters scream out their pain in ultrasonic apparently, that's why we find it easy to ignore.

Radhika Shivaraman said...

Whenever I've had to say i am a veg, i've had a tinge of pride, which i have managed to erase as w i've managed to convince myself that there is no need to be prideful about it, for one, i was trained a veg. On the other hand, people who convert to a being a veg have a lot to be proud about, pat on the back you guys, it is a hard thing to do cuz all the nonvegs and have always told me 'you do not know what you are missing'
Also, i was thinking, are the carnivores purely meateaters, i can't imagine a lion chewing on leaves as well, and herbivores are definitely only grass eaters. I was just going to conclude that only man as a species is an omnivore but then i thought about birds and then cats lapping milk. So i guess only mammals and birds are omnivores and animals are herbivores or carnivores ? - just random thoughts

Anonymous said...

I'm a "born-again vegetarian" (23 yrs of burgers and hot dogs and 15 yrs meat-free). My reasons for converting warrant their own blog ;-)

However, I never minded the right-to-life for plants. I always hated when people combated my choices with "well, tomatoes have feelings too." I think we have to let it go at some point.

One discovery has stuck in my brain since last week. We went to botanical gardens and there was a plant, like a fern that would fold its leaves when you touched it. It was a defense mechanism. I was surprised to see that. The plant really seemed like a living, interactive creature. (Reminded me of 'Life of Pi' with the carnivorous tree!)

So are the plants -- like the lobsters -- squealing at ultrasonic frequencies?? But, then where do we draw the line on humanity vs survival? Rely on heavily processed foods?

Radhika Shivaraman said...

Indigo : Pat on the back :)
We used to love those plants. We used to see plenty of them in india where i grew up and it was our greatest pastime as kids to keep touching them and see them close. We called it 'thota surungi' in tamil, meaning shrink on touch. And the leaves taste good too, like tamarind.