Elders (still) in search of a cause

Stan Hirst writes :-MK-BV1

Just three years ago in this blog we reflected on our origins.  We had originally come together as a small group of seniors in the B.C. Lower Mainland, appalled at the deteriorating state of our planet, and seeking some way to help in the repair and restoration. We lamented the disappearance of the once unfilled spaces of our youth under masses of disposed and industrial wastes, sprawling cities and mega-housed suburbs. We deplored avoidable environmental disasters such as the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and impending disasters such as trans-provincial oil pipelines carrying bitumen to our ecologically fragile coast. We were apprehensive of the massive ecological global impacts starting to become evident as greenhouse gas emissions from our vehicles, homes and industries added incessantly to the Earth’s climatic carbon load. We chafed at the lack of environmental awareness on the part of our national and international politicians who seemed unable or unwilling to take on the difficult tasks of grappling with the real issues.

As we wrote then, it was a realization of what we were losing that brought us as elders together in the first place. The David Suzuki Foundation offered us a home and some friendly words of advice, but told us we would have to make our own way and sort it all out for ourselves. So we sit talking, preaching and harrumphing, as elders are wont to do. We write the odd declaration to tell the world that things are in a great mess and that we don’t like it. We debate structure and function and constitutions. What we really need to do, but have so far taken only baby steps to implement, is actually remedying the situation.

Phillip Hewett writes –PICS Patricia and David, Feb 2013

Who gave us the right to call ourselves Elders?  The short answer is that it was David Suzuki — that’s why his name is in our title.  In his words:  “When we started the David Suzuki Foundation one of the first things we did was to ask a group of elders to come and be a Council of Elders for the Foundation.  My idea was that it would be like the role of elders in indigenous communities.”  He had already described that role at some length in a book he co-authored in the same period.

Perhaps the key sentences are those in which he says of this approach: “It tends to honor as its most esteemed elders those individuals who have experienced a profound and compassionate reconciliation of outer- and inner-directed knowledge, rather than virtually anyone who has made material achievement or simply survived to chronological old age.  It tends to reveal a profound sense of empathy and kinship with other forms of life, rather than a sense of separateness from them or superiority over them… it tends to view the proper human relationship with nature as a continuous dialogue ( that is, a two-way, horizontal communication between Homo sapiens and other elements of the cosmos) rather than as a monologue (a one-way vertical imperative).  Within Native worldviews, the parts and processes of the universe are, to varying degrees, holy; to science, they can only be secular.”

Thus the establishment of the Council of Elders (later renamed to the Suzuki Elders) on this model was intended as a holistic counter-balance to the science- based work of the Foundation.  We did spend some time in working to express a spiritual world-view to motivate efforts towards a sustainable future for our planet. We drew up a motion to the Foundation’s Board which said “Ethical concerns and spiritual insights … can sustain practical endeavours when other motivations cannot stand up to the disappointments and frustrations inseparable from work to restore ecological integrity. ‘Burnout’ is a perennial problem that can only be avoided by this deeply rooted spiritual awareness.” This was presented to the Board and approved, but never adequately followed up.  It remains unfinished business.  In particular, we made only half-hearted attempts at dialogue with aboriginal elders on this theme, on which there could obviously be a basis for concerted action.

In summary, what we need is not to stop calling ourselves Elders but to do more to deserve that title!

Marks McAvity writes –

We are entering a brave new world with a new kind of elder culture. If the community does not call us, then we do indeed call ourselves. We have grown up too much with false humility. We do have wisdom. Are we one hundred percent wise? Of course not. Are we conceited? I don’t think so. We simply have something to say. As one First Nations elder once said – it is elders that SPEAK- and we are pretty good at that.  I believe that, some day, people will listen. It will be an elder version of these “square” revolts around the world, but without the violence.

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8 comments

  • If a consensus is reached on this please let us know. Also, is it possible to have a list of DSF Elders posted on our site? I’d be interested in learning how many we are and our geography. Thanks for your ongoing help Stan.

  • Thanks for that comment. I have been using The Economist’s “Style Guide” (2003) which is as good a guide to journalistic English as any I’ve encountered. Their rule is to capitalize a descriptive noun only when it is used as a title or refers to a particular group. Thus “Suzuki Elder” but “many of the country’s elders….”
    Any other Elders (or elders) have an opinion?

  • I am very proud to be a DSF Elder. I’ve only contributed a couple of blog postings thus far but I hope to do more in the future. For now I just want to express a small concern about an inconsistency in the way we write about elders/Elders. Some of us capitalize this key word in our messages and some do not. I was taught by my Elders that the reader must be our first consideration and with this in mind I want to vote for capitalization as it is a means for showing respect. Again it was my Elders who taught me that respect is one of the most important things for young people, and all people, to learn in life.

  • Eve – there are several ways for we Elders to act – as individuals, in the kind of info gathering/sharing and consciousness-raising that you are so ably doing, and as a group. I’ll send you our non partisan advocacy criteria checklist for your use in bringing your ideas forward to the Elders’ Council. Thanks for your good work.

  • COAL IS A CAUSE THAT NEEDS ATTENTION ASAP.  THIS IS HAPPENING AS I WRITE THIS…OPPOSITION IN THE STATE OF WASHINGTON, OREGON TO “BIG COAL” BUILDING MORE EXPORT FACILITIES HAVE NOW TURNED TO B.C. TO INCREASE IT’S SHIPMENTS TO ASIA.  NOW MILE-AND-A-HALF LONG TRAINS ARE SNAKING DOWN OUR WATERFRONT IN WHITE ROCK, CRESCENT BEACH, DELTA TO THE WESTSHORE TERMINALS. THE IMPACT TO HEALTH IS ENORMOUS….NOISE POLLUTION, BREATHING IN COAL DUST, ETC ETC.   “METRO VANCOUVER IS ALREADY HOME TO CANADA’S LARGEST COAL EXPORT FACILITY, AND ONE OF THE BIGGEST IN N. AMERCIA. WITH RECENTLY APPROVED AND PROPOSED COAL EXPORT EXPANSION AT NORTH VANCOUVER’S NEPTUNE TERMINAL AND THE FRASER SURREY DOCKS, PORT METRO VANCOUVER’S COAL EXPORT CAPACITY WOULD INCREASE TO A STAGGERING 55 TO 59 MILLION TONNES PER YEAR, MAKING IT THE LARGEST COAL EXPORTER IN N. AMERICA.   WHEN BURNED THIS AMOUNT OF COAL WOULD RESULT IN MORE THAN 150 MILLION TONNES OF GREEN GAS EMISSIONS PER YEAR.  THAT’S A VOLUME OF GLOBAL WARMING POLLUTION MUCH LARGER THAN ALL THE EMISSIONS WITHIN B.C. EACH YEAR.   OPPOSITION SOUTH OF THE BORDER MEANS MORE & MORE DIRTY US COAL IS BEING SHIPPED OVERSEAS THROUGH B.C. PORTS.  METRO VAANCOUVER MUST NOT BECOME A DOORMAT FOR BIG COAL.  OUR US NEIGHBORS ARE SAYING “NO” TO COAL, AND WE SHOULD TO.” …excerpt from the Wilderness Committee pamphlet entitled “SAY NO TO DIRTY U.S. COAL! they won’t take it — why should we?”    So here we have a cause in B.C. I quote “COAL IS THE WORLD’S DIRTIEST FOSSIL FUEL.  WHEN BURNED, IT CREATES MORE CLIMATE CHANGING POLLUTION THAN ANY OTHER FUEL, INCLUDING OIL AND GAS”.   OH YES AT SOME OF THE FORUMS I HAVE BEEN ATTENDING IT HAS BEEN POINTED OUT THAT THE TANKERS ARE SINGLE HULL.   WHAT CAN THE ELDERS DO?   WHAT IS THE DSF FOUNDATION’S STANCE?   SINCERELY EVE WEIMER

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  • And Stan, as a colleague with in the Suzuki Elders, I can provide several pages of Suzuki Elder activities that do indeed show that we carry and wear the term “Elder” (and “Suzuki Elder”) with confidence and commitment. We are not as far ‘behind’ in our filling out the Elder role/work as your comments might be interpreted.

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