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America plagued by ‘Poisonwood’

April 15, 2019

I love poetry, but those who don’t often lack the understanding of how to read it or what it represents. Poetry is the most direct form of communicating emotions, ethics or ideas without lecturing or scolding. It is a singular form of expression that comes from the depth of the writer’s soul and, at that moment, is of unrestricted value to the writer.

I first heard the term “of unrestricted value” in a comparative religion class when learning how to define religion that encompasses all religions and belief systems, not just the self-serving judgmental forms that are so common.

I stumbled upon a poem titled “The Fate of Hate is Hate” written by Dr. Rajendra Nirantar, a dental surgeon, writer, poet and humanitarian. He has kindly given me permission to quote from his poem.

The fate of hate is hate

Hate his way of life

Humanity he did not like...

Taught others

To live in hate

In the name of religion

Called himself human

Lived like a demon....

The fate of hate is hate

Hate killed hate.

Dr. Rajendra Nirantar wrote this poem about the death of Osama bin Laden. There were other stanzas talking about bin Laden killing thousands in the name of religion; but the root of this poem addresses (I believe) what we have become numb to, and accept as the norm — especially for our nation. Conservatives use religion like a fly swatter to swat at things that frighten them. Bin Laden did the same. So does Trump.

Trump thumps his babble bible and his followers mindlessly fall in line. Hate is their mantra, and once hate consumes the individual there is no room for decency, dignity, morality, integrity, humanity, honesty, honor or ethics. Hate, like bigotry and intolerance, is a disturbing ethical failing and disease of the soul. It is not a family value.

Tony Schwartz, the (now apologetic) ghost writer of “The Art Of The Deal,” discussed what he learned about Trump in his interview with Ari Melber. His insight is especially compelling because of his close association and interviews with Trump over several months and it took its toll on his own persona.

His take on Trump’s behavior is a sad commentary on humanity, much less a national leader. Schwartz commented on the death of character, (which, as a noun, defines moral qualities, ethical standards, and principles of individuals), concerning Trump’s lack of character and the pathetic imitation of that behavior by those who have become his cult followers.

Most of us believe that deeply held values matter. But we have seen the value of honesty become deceit under Trump. That courage has become cowardice, expressing itself as bullying and humiliation of those he considers inferior or subordinate. Humility, something we admire in effective leaders, has no value in this administration and has been replaced by grandiosity, boasting and inflating accomplishments in an embarrassing display of a seriously broken ego and a lopsided id.

Freud’s model of the id is the primitive and instinctual part of the mind that contains sexual and aggressive drives, while the ego operates as a moral compass to balance the id. Selflessness has become an obscenity, being replaced by self-interest.

Most of us are disturbed by behaviors that undermine a society and its social norms. Every society has expectations as to how its members should or should not behave. A norm is a guideline or expectation of behavior within a specific society. Every society has rules to maintain for a sense of order and security within that society. When social norms are violated, chaos emerges and the society begins to unravel.

In 1972, Colin Trumbull, a British-American anthropologist, published a book, titled “The Mountain People,” concerning his study of a group of people called the Ik. The Ik were groups of hunter-gatherer tribes in Uganda, Kenya and Sudan. The Ik were forced from their nomadic lifestyle and ancestral lands onto a five hundred and fifty-seven square mile mountainous reservation in northern Uganda created for them and named Kidepo Valley National Park. It was anything but a park.

The Ik had no knowledge of equipment for, or the ability to farm, and the land was non-arable. Non-arable land has at least one of the following deficiencies: no fresh water, too rocky, too hot, too mountainous, too nutrient poor. The reservation they were placed on met all of these criteria and the entire ethnic group associated with the Ik slowly starved to death as their society unraveled.

Children were expected to fend for themselves beginning at the age of three. Families, in the once close knit society, disintegrated, and food was literally stolen from the mouths of weaker individuals. Today, there are no more Ik.

The social norms of their society of cooperation, hunter-gathering and sharing were destroyed by greed as the wealthiest of the world removed the inhabitants in order to have exclusive access to resources from the land of the Ik. This is not an unfamiliar or unique situation and shows yet another method of destroying a social norm.

Trump and his cult of devotees revel in the destruction of social norms and thumb their nose at decency, dignity, morality, integrity, humanity, honesty, honor and ethics. Trump’s addiction to name calling has become accepted behavior for his disciples and provides a platform that feed these straw-men messages of hate, bigotry and self-righteousness. Thinking is not an option.

We see young people becoming intolerant and mean spirited as they absorb their parents values. If we understood the impact and horror that hateful behavior has on those being targeted for bullying and hate, our world would be a better place. We have a responsibility to children to teach social norms and behavior that is inclusive of everyone, since we share such a tiny speck of dust in the cosmos. We do not own opinions, perceptions, beliefs or the earth. The earth is the only tangible yet we just borrow a tiny portion of it while we are alive. Intangibles are not the property of anything other then what is between one’s ears.

If we are to come out of the current atmosphere of intolerance, greed and apathy we must change the direction in which we are heading. Our children are our future but unless we can change the bombardment of fear, intolerance and indifference towards our earth, there will be no hope or future for them.

Khalil Gibran, a philosopher, prophet and poet wrote his book “The Prophet” concerning our responsibility towards our children in the early 1900s. It is timeless:

Your children are not your children.

They are sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you.

And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,

For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls.

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

You my strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.

For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent.

The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and he bends you with his might that his arrow may go swift and far,

Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness.

For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so he also loves the bow that is stable.

The bow currently bending our nation is made of Poisonwood.

Helen Delahunt-Avila of Pocatello is a graduate of the University of Washington where she earned bachelor’s degrees in history and comparative religions and a master’s in international studies.