Martin Luther King Day 2018

By Larch On March 2nd, 2018

Dear Friends in the Circle,

This letter offers a way to end domestic violence and the violence of war in one generation.  I’m not trying to entertain, but if you just want to cut to the kitten pictures, scroll down to the bottom.  They’re ready to meet you!

This letter is written in the evening of Martin Luther King Day. This morning when I opened my email, there was a message from Cyros.  He worked the harvest with me last spring, and he wants to come back.  That’s Cyros on the left:

Right now, he’s taking a gap year before going to college, and he’s teaching English as a second language to children in Nepal. He has encountered a teacher who beats children, and this is what he wrote: “The kids are genuine, friendly, and respectful. It’s comforting being around their innocence. Three years ago the country banned physical discipline. One young government teacher still strikes the kids. Often quite harshly. Across the face, head, back. It was perplexing to witness. I began to see the kids learning in fear of being hit. I find it unacceptable to teach children in such a manner. I gave him 2 days to move beyond his ‘first impression’, to quit showing his strength and power over children to a new Westerner. Day 3, I pulled him aside. Seems to be going better. I am playing a delicate balance as a delegate as well as teacher. I don’t want to create any tension, but I also will not stand idly beside kids fearing physical pain by a ‘superior’.

This brought up memories for me.  As a child, I was bullied.  In elementary school in Minnesota in the 1950’s, teachers hit me.  Later on, in the late 1960’s, I became a language arts teacher in Florida, and I encountered racism, segregation and violence.  Martin Luther King was identifying racism, militarism, violence and poverty as problems we all needed to solve.  I did my part then, and I continue now.  Allow me to give you some verbal snapshots of my life in those days:

To begin with, I taught school in a rural county on the Suwannee River, and there were two towns in the county.  I taught in the small town that was racist, violent and all-white, and the other town had a segregated school system.  The superintendent was elected, and I invited him to speak to a civics class I taught.  The students and I had already identified and discussed racism, and many of the students were getting ready to challenge the inequities… fact, they challenged the superintendent to change the system, make it equitable.  The result?  After two years of teaching in that small town, the superintendent said, “You can resign, or I’ll fire you.  Take your pick.”

During those two years of teaching in that small town, my lottery number for the draft to Viet Nam came up, and I was ordered to report to Jacksonville Air Force base for my army physical.  Back in college, one of my roommates was a man who had served in special forces in Viet Nam, and he and I agreed the war made no sense.  Half of my generation resisted, one way or another.  In my case, the day of my physical, I was totally repulsed by the sergeant who tried to get us to bond in common hatred of women by entertaining us with dirty jokes about women.  I didn’t fall for it.  Just before we put on our headphones for the hearing test in which we were supposed to push a button when we heard a tone, the sergeant said to us, “OK, boys, mash that tittie!”
Well, whaddya know?  I seem to be deaf to that kind of talk. I guess I just don’t know how to follow orders.  After taking the hearing test eight times, an army doctor looked at the results, and he asked me, point-blank, “Do you want to go in the army?”  I replied, very matter-of-fact, “No, I’m teaching school.  I’m an educator at heart.  I’ve got better things to do.”  He classified me 1-Y which translates to, “If Congress ever declares war legally, you may be used in some capacity.”  I thought, “Fair enough.  That would be a war on our soil, and I would want to be involved.”

Next I taught language arts in Sarasota FL and I was assigned to teach reading to 7th and 8th grade black boys who couldn’t read.  When I passed out the county textbooks, the boys said, “Don’t give us that Mary Carter talk.” Mary Carter was a brand of white paint used by rich white suburbanites.  I agreed with the boys that the textbooks were racist, and so I developed a different approach.  I built a photography darkroom at the school, and I gave the boys cameras.  “Go home and take photos of your life,” I said, and the boys learned basic photography.  After the photos were developed, I tape recorded them describing the photos, and I converted the tapes to print.  Now we had relevant text, and the boys were interested in learning to read.  The result?  The head of my department evaluated my efforts by writing this line: “He’s our most creative teacher, and that’s his biggest problem.”  Eventually, I teamed up with other teachers who had that same “problem” and we started an alternative school!

One more example, just for fun:  I had a class of upper middle class children, all white, and the course I taught was called “Freedom and Responsibility.”  It was an exploration of values, and it was designed by people who value teaching by the discovery method.  I set up a real estate office, and on the walls I posted photos of upper middle class waterfront homes, typical of Sarasota.  I paired the students into “married couples” and I gave them all enough play money to buy any home posted on the walls.  One couple was especially bright and popular, something like the typical homecoming king and queen, and without telling them, I discriminated against them when they approached my “office” to buy a home.  I treated them as though they were black, and I played the racist real estate salesman.  When they picked the best home, I said, “Oh, I’m sorry, that home just went under contract this morning, and sale is pending.  I’m sorry, I can’t offer you that home.  Why don’t you come over here and pick out a lovely home where you will be more comfortable……” and I took them into a side room with photos of small homes in the black ghetto of Sarasota.  This couple became angry with me.  All the other children managed to buy beautiful homes. When I finally told them what I had been doing to them, they still remained angry.  It took them several weeks to get over it.  My racism was so blatant, but they hadn’t been able to quickly identify it.  Why?  It was part of their culture, and they realized they were embedded in it, asleep. They hadn’t developed any empathy whatsoever for blacks.  The elephant was sitting in their living room.  They lacked a vocabulary of expression that would serve to identify the pattern of racism.  That was Sarasota in the early 1970’s.

When I came to Maine, I was mentored by Scott Nearing.  Scott was a socialist who addressed poverty and inequitable methods of distribution, and he taught economics at university level. His message wasn’t popular with the feds.  In fact, he was put on trial for “interfering with conscription” during World War 1. He faced serious prison time, but when he spoke to the jury made up of middle class businessmen, he remained a clear educator at heart, and his message went something like this:  “When you hire someone to work for you, you make a profit. Now you have a choice.  You can reinvest the money to improve your own community, or you can take advantage of cheap labor abroad.  When businessmen invest abroad, the next thing they want is an overseas military to protect their investment, and that is the beginning of war process and over-extension of the resources of our country.  Empires collapse in this way.” The jury let him go.  He wasn’t advocating violence, rather he was educating people to become more aware of how their actions affect one’s home community as well as the rest of the world.  We vote with our patterns of consumption and investment.

For a good read, see Adam Brock’s Change Here Now which combines patterns from permaculture with strategies for social activism.  In my own words, this is the question Adam Brock is addressing: “Earth is a spirit garden, a school for souls.  What patterns can we establish on the land and in society that will create a better life for all?”  I was heartened to read the Dalai Lama recently saying that we don’t need to teach religion.  Religions are divisive.  He said that what we need is a secular ethics that involves education of the heart that can be applied to us all.

Here is an example.  Hindus and Buddhists have symbolic hand gestures called hand mudras, and educators of the heart could create a universal hand mudra that signals, “Stop.”  Stop what?  David Deida describes a game for lovers, and he calls it Tussle.
The game has four steps, and I’ll give it to you in my own words as I remember it.  The eyes are the windows to the soul, and in the first step, the couple establishes open-to-the-heart connection through the eyes. In the second step, the couple caresses each other using the right hand.  If either partner feels the other getting distracted or self-absorbed and unable to stay present, the left hand is raised to signal, “Stop touching.  Go back to the first step and re-establish the gaze of love and presence.”

Before I describe the third step, I’m going to digress.  Each one of us comes from a family-of-origin that conditioned and patterned the children to accept some level of biological and emotional irritability as “normal”. When two people get together to form a new couple, there is a collision of these two patterns from the past.  Commonly used words can mean very different things to each partner.  The third step in Tussle is the use of “dirty words”.  If a word diminishes the experience of love for either partner, that person raises the left hand to signal, “Stop talking and stop caressing.  This talk is not affectionate. Let’s go back to the open-hearted gaze……not a staring contest to see who’s going to blink first……but a gaze that communicates love and deep heart connection and vulnerability combined with open spacious humor.”

When the couple gets good at these three steps, to the point where they can say just about anything to each other and not experience a diminishment in felt love, but instead maintain deep heart connection, they are ready for the fourth step, which is actual tussling: wrestling, tickling, poking or pinching……or perhaps some massage and bodywork strokes combined with dance forms from contact improv or partner yoga.  Whatever the couple decides, the left hand can be raised at any time to signal “Stop.  This is too much. This doesn’t feel affectionate or sensual.”  Whereupon the couple stops all actions of contact, stops all talk, and returns to step one.

Now imagine a world where the grownups are proficient at playing forms of this game, and they are educating children to understand the universal meaning of the raised left hand mudra: “Stop”.  Imagine that sexual harassment and abuse are confronted using the left hand mudra, and in the adult workplace there are handshakes, and perhaps groups that decide, when they eat together, to have optional holding-hands-around-the-table in shared silence before meals, a way of expressing gratitude toward life.  Imagine that when Cyros encounters a teacher using harsh physical discipline, he knows that his principal and the children will back him up when he says, “I’m raising my left hand to stop the violence, and I know that the children will, too. I’m also going to use a method from nonviolent communication, staying focused on making statements based on human needs we all have in common: every child has a right to be secure in the knowledge that s/he will not be subjected to shaming or physical punishments and violence.”

When I wrote back to Cyros today, I remembered the time when my superintendent did NOT back me up when I took a stand against racism.  I remembered the time when my department head criticized me for creating relevant text that sparked black boys’ interest in reading.  And I remembered a merciful army doctor who was on the edge of admitting that the process of war is obsolete.

Today I’m capable of going a bit further, offering the world a vocabulary of expression that can be helpful.  When embryologists look at embryos, they see that all embryos are feminine at the beginning of life.  Male is an overlay that develops later.  In other words, life is feminine at core, and sometimes there’s a biological overlay, masculine.  A man can be educated to give his gifts to the world, or he can be indoctrinated into patterns of industrialized warfare that inevitably destroy the feminine, destroy life, and destroy the heart core of that man.  It’s really up to all of us to redesign education.
I’m doing my part, writing, and if you’ve read this far, thank you for doing your part. Now we’re literally on the same page, and please share this image about the left hand mudra.

As for giving my gifts, I’m concerned that I don’t have enough ways to introduce kelp into the daily diet of people living in places like New York City and Miami where there could be incidents of radioactive contamination with no hope of evacuation.  (Both of these cities are close to nuclear reactors that are leaking and failing.) We all need adequate iodine in our daily diet so that when we are exposed to radioactive iodine, we don’t take it into our bodies.  If you are a member of a food co-op in any large city, please introduce the buyers to our Soup Mix.

Now for the fun part:  One of our male kittens has been adopted.  He has a new name befitting an aristocratic coon cat, and his owner plays the violin.  What a life he’s going to have!

We still have two polydactyl double-paw kittens up for adoption, and we hope these two brothers get to stay together.  You get to name them.  Here’s a couple of photos of the smaller one, but don’t be fooled.  He’s very quick and playful.  In human terms, he’s something like a bright boy in second grade.

Note his double paws, something like having an opposable thumb.  He’s great at playing catch!  “You toss it.  I’ll jump high and snag it in mid-air!”

And here’s his brother.  In human terms, this was taken when he was in first grade.

Now he’s in fifth grade, and he looks like this:

What an innocent! These kittens have been trained to be human companions, playful heart warmers.

Rest in the Light, abide in the Heart.

Larch Hanson