Wednesday, December 1, 2010

We Are All Brothers and Sisters

A professor of biology writing for the Kyeongyang Catholic Magazine begins his article on ecology by referring to the well-known speech of the American Indian, Chief Seattle. Among the most quoted words of the speech were the following: "This we know, the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood which unites one family." The central theme of the speech was that we are all brothers and sisters. And with the phrase from the Analects of  Confucius: "It is not poverty that is the problem; inequality is the problem," the professor prepares us for his own thoughts on the environment.

In 1991, when the professor was an exchange scholar at Cornell University, the United States was one year away from celebrating its 500th anniversary. Together with other students, the professor listened one evening to a talk on the discovery of America, and each one  present was to give a response. His response was that America was not discovered  but was invaded; it was already inhabited, he explained, by those who came by means of the Bearing Sea some 50,000 years ago. Considered to be of the red race, they had a remarkable culture and this is recognized, he says, and yet in the same history books, we are told that  the Americas were discovered.

He stresses that he does not want to refute or minimize what mighty America has done but latent in the American thinking is the belief that "big is beautiful and white is superior," and this prideful attitude he can't help but pity. He has little love for a "Peace Americana," and what added fuel to this way of thinking, he says, was the speech of Chief Seattle. His speech--and the controversy surrounding it--can be easily accessed on the Internet.

We are all descended from the same ancestors, attested to by both biology and evolution, the professor says. That we all have the same orign is a fact of biology. We know also that the way we have been living has caused harm to ourselves  and  other living creatures. Knowing this, however, has not effectively  moved us, he says, to make serious efforts to alleviate the problems.
He compares our situation to a boat that is sinking with  6 billion passagers onboard, and poses an interesting scenario. We Koreans, he says, who are using so much energy are also on this boat. Onboard also are those from the underdeveloped countries who have no choice  but to use little energy. Let's assume, he says, that there is food and water for a hundred days. If there are those with plenty of money to buy what they want and those that can't will this boat arrive at port without difficulty?

The professor often brings to the attention of his class and others within the school environment the words in the Analects where Confucius says "It is not poverty that is the problem; inequality is the problem."  He ends the article with an aphorism from Mencius (slightly changed to words more familiar to us), "Before you criticize another, walk a mile in the other's moccasins."

After reading the speech by Chief Seattle, which was translated by the professor for the article, I can see how a Korean would be upset. It moved me greatly. They certainly express the feelings of many American Indians, even today, and provide all of us with useful guidelines on how we should look upon creation.

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