Connecting to Our Impact on the Earth
by Donald Sutherland, PAg
The word callous has the following two meanings: callous skin—hardened and thickened (usually from physical work) and feeling no emotion (not hard skin, but hard in the heart). The longer I live, the more convinced I become that those who develop skin callouses through walking and physical work become softer in feeling, and more likely to connect what they do with its impact on the earth.
I vividly recall an invitation my wife, children, and I received to join a family in Northern Scotland for “High Tea” over twenty-five years ago. High Tea was quite special. Our hosts “laid it on big” at 4:00 pm. The silver teapot gleaming, salmon served, oatmeal cookies, marmalade jam, and a dram of scotch to top it off.
We were on a holiday in Sutherlandshire, Scotland, and because we shared the surname Sutherland, we were invited by a retired banker to join him and his wife at their home for high tea. During the course of this most memorable two hours, our host asked me what I did for a living in Canada. I was somewhat hesitant to answer, “I am a farmer.” At that time in my life I viewed him as a prosperous businessman, well above a lowly occupation such as farmer. His hands showed no evidence of callouses. He was comfortably retired living in a beautiful home surrounded by well-manicured lawns and gardens. I was shocked at his perspective when he said, “I am full of envy. I wish I could have been a farmer. My life would have been real, full of joy, full of meaning. Instead, I joined the Bank of Scotland at the age of 19 and retired three years ago. It is true that we have a house, lovely yard, and good pension. But was my life worthwhile? I look back on it and see pieces of paper. I signed many, many papers. Within five years they will all be shredded. Had I been a farmer, I would have been doing something tangible—building the health of the soil, raising sheep, and growing grain for livestock and people.”
The real truth is that our host’s many signatures must have resulted in life-changing opportunity for hundreds of bank customers. Daily, he was the catalyst behind the fulfillment of dreams such as: business expansion, house purchases, house remodelling, and farm improvements and expansion. He failed to don work boots and see for himself the connection between the paper trail within the bank and the impact of his loans on both the quantity and quality of life outside of the bank’s four walls.
Our post-industrial society is heavily populated with people who push paper all day, drive home, watch TV, scan the internet, and retire for the night. This cocoon-like lifestyle invites a huge disconnect with the earth and what little remains of the natural world. You can’t respect what you don’t understand.
Reprinted courtesy of Earthcare Connections, PO Box 2800, Humboldt, SK S0K 2A0. Phone (306) 682-2407, fax (306) 682-5416, email: firstname.lastname@example.org, www.earthcare.sk.ca. Donald Sutherland is a career counsellor, personal coach, and mediator with special training in restorative justice. He is also a professional agrologist (PAg) and active farmer, email: email@example.com.