Reflections on Trees, Sharing and Comments Closing for Holidays

Comments open here to friends who want to share a cup of cheer. Closed on all other stories 'til Jan. 6.

By Geoff D'Auria 23 Dec 2013 |

Geoff D'Auria is web manager and technical editor at The Tyee and may have had a little too much Christmas punch last night.

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Image by Byron Barrett via The Tyee's 'Your BC' photo pool on Flickr.

I was once a tree planter in northern B.C. A slow and plodding one, it's true, but a planter nonetheless.

Of all the blocks we planted, one lingers. It was clear-cut and strewn with slash with just a stand of spindly trees jutting up in the middle of it. Couldn't have been more than, say, 10 trees, at most.

The foreman told us those trees were spared for some ecological reason or other. A spotted owl's nest. A rare tree species. Some such.

He handed out hardhats to those planting close. From somewhere behind, one of the veteran planters said, "Stay the eff' away from those. Trees that stand alone are just blowdown waiting to happen."

"Trees that stand alone are just blowdown waiting to happen." That's been rattling around in my head lately.

Perhaps it's because the opposite is also true. Trees that stand together hold each other up in even the nastiest weather.

Simple. I know.

But it's not all sunshine and blue sky and birds singing Stand By Me. Quite the opposite. When a big wind blows and the trees begin to lean in on each other, the weight of massive trunks transfers from one to the next with heaving groans and sighs. There are screams as the odd tree uproots, and howls as the wind blows through. It's hard, and not always pretty, this standing together. But the forest remains.

This is what I think of sometimes when moderating and reading comments on The Tyee. Us humans stand together (and comment together) to figure things out -- more so when the big winds blow. Some of us are hurt and need the rest of us to hear our pain. Some struggle to bear the weight and get defensive or angry in turn. Some bear it with curiosity and empathy. Like the forest, dissipating the power of the storm and negotiating a new formation, it's not always pretty or easy. The arguments and pointy branches, they hurt. That's real. But we share these things together because alone we're blowdown.

And that's something that's right with the world. We share these things together and hold each other up, hard as it is sometimes.

It's a little like what David Simon, the maker of The Wire, said recently in a talk he gave at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas in Australia:

"And how did [America grow strong]? We did that by not giving in to either side. That was the new deal. That was the great society. That was all of that argument about collective bargaining and union wages and it was an argument that meant neither side gets to win.

"Labour doesn't get to win all its arguments, capital doesn't get to. But it's in the tension, it's in the actual fight between the two, that capitalism actually becomes functional, that it becomes something that every stratum in society has a stake in, that they all share.

"The unions actually mattered. The unions were part of the equation. It didn't matter that they won all the time, it didn't matter that they lost all the time, it just mattered that they had to win some of the time and they had to put up a fight and they had to argue for the demand and the equation and for the idea that workers were not worth less, they were worth more.

"Ultimately we abandoned that and believed in the idea of trickle-down and the idea of the market economy and the market knows best, to the point where now libertarianism in my country is actually being taken seriously as an intelligent mode of political thought. It's astonishing to me. But it is. People are saying I don't need anything but my own ability to earn a profit. I'm not connected to society. I don't care how the road got built, I don't care where the firefighter comes from, I don't care who educates the kids other than my kids. I am me. It's the triumph of the self. I am me, hear me roar."

That roar? That's the sound a tree makes just before a mighty wind blows it down.

(Read or watch Simon's full talk when you get a chance.)

What Simon describes is, essentially, Shakespearean tragedy over Chekhovian. In Shakespearean tragedy, as others have said better, dramas end with one side triumphant while the other is destroyed. The problem is this leaves the vanquished to plot revenge, pushing the teleological wheel violently forward. In a Chekhovian tragedy, on the other hand, dramas end in compromise and everyone's a little miserable and no one gets complete triumph but they muddle through.

Muddling through and compromising. Not always winning every argument. Not always losing. Isn't that like The Tyee commenting forum? It's not perfect. Some days it's frustrating as hell. But we're working things out together rather than apart. In that, there's hope. Don't you think?

In short, what I'm trying to say is what's right with it and The Tyee in general is you. Those of you who choose to comment. Those who subscribe to The Tyee. And those who generously became Tyee Builders this year. You all are what's right with the world, all for taking the time and having the patience to work through the tension with us. And we're thankful for it.

'Celebrating what's right with the world'

See, we humans are funny creatures. At the highest point of our success against that which threatens us (disease, hunger, predators... for some, not all, of course), we live in fear. Weird, hey? Of course, it's an evolutionary thing. We're built to be hyper aware of what's wrong with the world, the threats and such. It's that spidey-sense that has always kept us safe. So much so that we've built networked communication systems -- what we call "news" -- in our own fearful image, reporting more on what's wrong with the world than what's right. But the reality is our brains and, consequently, these same communications systems exaggerate the threats and compound that sense of fear, for the most part.

But we don't have to live that way. Not always.

"Celebrate What's Right in the World," is a line that comes from a video of the same name by a photographer who worked for National Geographic, Dewitt Jones. Motivational speakers like Jones aren't my normal cup of tea, but he makes the really important point that good things happen all the time. You just have to be open to them. There's no scarcity of joy or love in the world. We just forget to notice it. Psychologists report that when we do notice and savour those moments, we grow stronger, happier and more resilient. Happy neurons tie together. Scientists have measured it.

So, here's what we'd like to do.

First, we're closing comments on every story but this one for the holidays (until Jan. 6). Our moderators and editors need the rest.

But on this story, we're leaving comments open because we're wondering if you would share with us what you think is right in your world.

Is it that smell of pine from your Christmas tree as you come through the door? A pain free walk in the rain? Your kids' eyes lighting up when they catch sight of you? A surprise from an old friend? Share with us the big, the small.

Let's see if we can do this. Let's use this comment thread to build each other up with joy and resilience so we're strong and ready for the next big wind that blows.

What do you say?  [Tyee]

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