Friday, July 16, 2010


Endless Conversation

Express Staff Writer

The roar of jet engines that rang through the valley last week as the Allen and Co. media mogul posse left town to some shining city on the coast got me wondering what we may have sacrificed as a species in the name of speed.

Unpack human nature just a little and you find the "fight-or-flight" response to stress that has shaped the destiny of Homo sapiens since the beginning; when confronted with a challenge, or supposed challenge, we either duke it out, or skidaddle. Chilling out may not be in our genes, but it feels good when we manage to pull it off.

The instinct for quickness may have served us well on the plains of Africa a million years ago, but how useful is it now that we have beaten our natural enemies into submission or locked them away in zoos? With more information and wisdom at our fingertips today than we could ever know what to do with, why are we still in such a hurry to go and do?

Well, to win, of course, and when you do, the paparazzi will follow you into the locker room or the boardroom to find out how you did it.

A few years ago I overheard the poet W.S. Merwin and Los Angeles Lakers basketball coach Phil Jackson, a Buddhist, chatting between events at the Sun Valley Writers' Conference. Merwin showed interest in Jackson's principles, but then asked, "Is there a way to set up the basketball game so that everyone can win?"

Jackson was speechless. Leave it to the poet to ask the question: "When is human nature something we must rise above?" The fighting instinct, ritualized in many sports, can create a culture that looks for enemies long after they have been vanquished. Business becomes more a matter of competition that cooperation and we ultimately create an economy in which the only gainful employment a young man or woman can find is in the military.

The art of the skidaddle, whether to flee or to get to something first, has turned the human race into a race for consumption, rather than taste. We gather conquests rather than cultivate quality. My favorite cultural response to this frantic race is the low-rider automobile. It cruises slowly around the plaza, polished and unique, having already arrived.

Of course, we all like to escape from time to time. Travel to distant lands is most beneficial when it sheds new light on what is possible in our own lives. A few years ago, and friend and I flew over thousands of acres of palm oil plantations to the lowland rainforest of Costa Rica. We then ventured by boat from an off-the-grid bamboo resort on the Osa Peninsula to a sanctuary for tropical animals.

There we were introduced to an injured sloth, the slowest of mammals. It circumnavigates only a small plot of jungle in its lifetime, teaching its young to eat one species of toxic tree leaves after another in succession; therefore, it has little competition for food. Because it barely moves through the jungle canopy, predators like the harpy eagle and jaguar often do not notice it.

At least someplace in nature, it makes sense to not be in a hurry.

Tony Evans is a staff writer for the Idaho Mountain Express.

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