Changing the conversation

december 6, sonia pelletier, chris wattie, violence against women

                                                                           Photo: Chris Wattie/ Reuters

On Saturday, December 6, 2014, women, children, and men gathered across Canada in a national day of remembrance and action on violence against women. It was 25 years from the day a lone gunman stormed L’École Polytechnique in Montreal, separated the women from the men, and killed 14 women simply because they were women.

The Toronto Star ran an excellent article about the commemoration, including interviews with two women who were on the killer’s hit list, but avoided harm on that fateful day. You can read that article and see a video about the event here.

Here in Owen Sound, a small group gathered outside the Farmers Market to “remember, reflect, and re-think.” You can read a summary of the Owen Sound event here.

I have been attending events like these since the very first vigils held after the massacre in 1989, first in Vancouver, then in Toronto, and in recent years, in Owen Sound. Recent accounts of previously unreported sexual assaults in Canada’s national parliament, and as attributed to celebrities such as Canadian radio host Jian Ghomeshi and the actor Bill Cosby, have shaken me out of my complacency somewhat and reminded me that it isn’t enough to just be a decent man. There is a conversation going on in this country and around the world, and the question is being asked of men, what are we saying to other men to stop violence against women?

Four men in our community were asked to speak to that question at the vigil on Saturday. I found the remarks of one man particularly cogent and moving. With his permission, I am reproducing his remarks here, very slightly edited for the sake of context.

My thanks to Sergeant Ted Kitto of the Owen Sound Police Service for bravely sharing his insightful remarks through this forum. He started with a look at song lyrics and popular culture through the past half century, starting with appalling lyrics from a very surprising source:

I’d rather see you dead, little girl, than to be with another man,

You’d better keep your head little girl or I won’t know where I am,

Let this be a sermon, I mean everything I’ve said,

Baby I’m determined and I’d rather see you dead.

Run for Your Life (1965), by John Lennon

Let’s fast forward 20 years to see if lyrics depicting violence against women continues:

I used to love her, but I had to kill her,

I had to put her, 6 feet under,

And I can still hear her complain

She bitched so much, she drove me nuts,

And now I’m happier this way.

(I Used to Love Her, but I Had to Kill Her, performed by Guns & Roses – 1988)

Oh my goodness…So let’s fast forward another 20+ years. The millions of lyrics referring to women as “ho’s”, “bitches”, etc., is sickening.

Which brings us to the present day. I check out the fastest selling entertainment product of all time – a Video Game called Grand Theft Auto. Donald Trump is a major investor.

The game’s goal is to steal cars, wreak havoc on highways, and be violent. The lead characters are all men – no women. Women are portrayed as “strippers to throw money at” and “prostitutes to picked-up”. They have SKANK tattooed across their backs. I ask myself, “Don’t the gamers feel dirty…don’t they feel wretched when this game coerces them to fondle a stripper…to degrade women…to normalize such an awful reflection into the real world?? Apparently not: Gaming critics and gamers applaud this game with a 98% high satisfaction rating. I remind you: it is the fastest selling entertainment product of ALL TIME. (which just goes to prove how far we still have to go to achieve a world of gender equality – ed.)

When I see men and male teenagers duplicating the female degradation in popular media, I’m sad to say, “It comes as no surprise”. After all, look what they’re watching, playing and listening to. We all know the difference between right and wrong, so why do we allow ourselves, our sons and daughters, to be negatively influenced through such media?

Today, I’m speaking to you as a middle-aged man who has seen life through a police officer’s eyes for the last 28 years. I’ve seen women become victims of domestic related homicide, sexual assault, assault, threats, and the use of sheer and utter terror as a way to control women. It’s horrifying that the majority of these crimes are too often committed by the persons a woman should trust the most: husbands, former husbands, boyfriends, and dating partners.  I’ve spoken to the mothers and the fathers of the disappeared, I’ve seen their tears, and in a few cases, I still carry the ghosts of the disappeared in me. Even if this happened only once, it’s one time too many.

In 1973 John Lennon declared “Run For Your Life” as the worst Beatles song ever, and he deplored the fact the he wrote those lyrics. John Lennon grew to respect and love women, as evidenced in the 80’s with his lyrics:

Woman, I can hardly express

My mixed emotions at my thoughtlessness,

After all, I’m forever in your debt.

And woman, I will try to express,

My inner feelings and thankfulness,

For showing me the meaning of success,

I love you, I love you…

“Woman” by John Lennon (1980)

So what am I, as an individual, going to say to men to stop violence against women?

  1. MEN, LISTEN UP! THIS IS IN NO WAY UPLIFTING or EMPOWERING. Don’t encourage violence and aggression against women. Encourage loving and healthy relationships.
  2. Turning intolerable, inappropriate media into real-life behaviours, IS NOT ACCEPTABLE.
  3. Aggrandizing and uplifting the male identity – your identity – so you can “take charge” of your woman is UNACCEPTABLE. That behaviour is NOT being a man.
  4. Be a good Dad. Keep your children away from such deplorable and dehumanizing entertainment. It’s your job to never ever demonstrate deplorable and dehumanizing behaviours to your loved ones, or in front of your loved…or strangers. It’s your duty!

Again, my thanks to Sgt. Ted Kitto for sharing his insights through this blog post.

And now, since Ted cited the lyrics to this song in his remarks, and to reflect on another shocking act of violence which forever changed the cultural landscape on this date, December 8, 1980, let’s pause to remember the man himself, John Lennon, with his song of female empowerment, equality, and love.

 

Rambles by the river

river, sydenham, owen sound, reflection, autumn, leaves, water

The river is a healer
The river is a sage
The river knows no ending
The river knows no age

The river is a leader
Every single day
It’s living in the moment
And it always finds a way

Water heal my body
Water heal my soul
When I go down down to the water
By the water I feel whole

Words & music © 2014 Coco Love Alcorn

 

There are so many reasons why I love where I’m living right now.

My apartment is spacious and bright and close to most of the places I frequent. One of the best things about its location is that even though I live in the heart of downtown, in under two blocks I can walk to the riverside and see the scene in the photographs above and below. This is where I like to ramble, and I go there almost every day with Shadow. (Dog owners: aren’t our pets a magnificent excuse for us to get daily exercise, fresh air, and if we’re lucky, commune with nature?)

I have taken photographs from about the same viewpoint throughout four seasons over the past year, and it’s time to post them. I make no claims to any photographic ability. These were all taken with my camera phone and with a couple of them it looks like my lens might have been smudged. Where a photo stands out (like the one above, from October 12), it’s because nature provided the perfect conditions at that moment.

I’ve arranged the photographs in chronological order. It amazes me, how much this one point on the river changes, not just from season to season, but even from day to day, especially in the winter. It reminds me of a line from an old Genesis song, “The sands of time were eroded by, The river of constant change.”

Very recently, my friend Coco Love Alcorn shot and posted a video of her new song “The River“, and I thought it would make a nice addition to this post. More than an addition: her lyrics – which I quoted an excerpt from above – describe the feeling I have when I go down to the river. What is it about standing by the water’s edge and feeling at peace? Does the current carry our worries and doubts away? I think it does.

The riverside is frequented by people fishing during much of the spring and fall; you can see them in the distance in a few of my photos. And Shadow shows up in a few too.

And now, introducing my new companion, the River Sydenham:

 
Thanks again to Coco for her inspirational song, once again demonstrating the power of music for healing and grace. I’m embedding it here for anyone who didn’t make the jump at the link above, or who wants to hear it again:
 

You’re not alone

 

Traci in frame for websiteGrief can be a slow ache that never seems to stop rising, yet as we grieve, those we love mysteriously become more and more a part of who we are. ~ Mark Nepo 

Today’s post was originally published, with the same title, on December 10, 2012. I decided to re-publish it today, on the three-year anniversary of Traci’s death, after a friend who is also a widow reminded me once again, “You’re not alone.” It feels like an important message to share with those who grieve.

I’d like to once again thank Sarah Slean, whose incredible song helped pull me through a very difficult time at the beginning of all this. With the lyrics for this song, I believe she touches on something beyond than our earthly existence. I can’t say what her original inspiration was, but these lyrics transcend the personal and convey a universal meaning that will speak to all who have lost someone special, or who know there is more to life than what we perceive with our physical senses.

It’s sometimes best if we don’t try to label or explain when we feel the presence of something numinous, or non-material. Some say that this presence is a product of our own brain waves, helping to restore a balance. Some believe it’s the spirit of our loved ones, letting us know they are watching over us. I’m not going to try and define it. Everyone has their own interpretation of Presence, whether it follows traditional doctrine or not. This is how it should be. I just hope that those who need it, feel it, and that it helps with whatever they are struggling with.

The original post follows below. It’s my interpretive response to Sarah’s lyrics. If the use of the feminine pronoun doesn’t work for you, feel free to switch it for the masculine, neuter, or even plural pronoun.

The song is shared here with a static video. If you would like to see the slideshow tribute to Traci with this song as its soundtrack, click here.


This is for those who grieve, who feel the bottom has dropped out of their world, the heartbroken and the despondent. Take courage, my friends. You are not alone. 

“You’re Not Alone” words and music (c) 2011 by Sarah Slean

endeavour to go into it
until a sign appears
don’t be afraid of anything
you are guided

You are guided by a presence that encompasses all. In that presence, the voice of your beloved reaches through to comfort you, even through your tears and sorrow. She will be with you, whenever you need her to be. Not as she was – for that can never be – but as a part of the light, and a part of you, forever.

it will never be as we imagine it
unless we imagine it to be

The future is in your hands and in your mind. Picture how you wish things to be, not as they once could have been, but how they could be now when you sense the universe inside of you, and the unfolding of possibility from which all creation springs.

I wonder where you are now
I hear you calling me

She is calling you, to let you know that it will be all right. Let her go, set her free, the oneness is calling her …

I’m telling you you’re not alone
a kind of light flows through it all

She can feel what you can not, until you allow it and open to it. The light that flows through everything, unites her and you, your loved ones gone before and here now, your loved ones still to come. All are one in the light. There is no past, no future, only now.

I hear a voice inside my own
like a waking dream
no you’re not alone

Her voice comes through yours, in the words that flow from your mouth and from your heart. You can not help but take courage and strength from the inspiration she provides. You will almost feel as though another you is emerging from the darkness, and taking shape in the light.

you cannot see or listen to
the very heart of life
it isn’t there, then suddenly
you feel it

It is very hard to see or feel the light when the darkness has descended on you. Yet, whether you perceive it or not, that light is always there, eternal. It is the very heart of life that beats in us all. Maybe all you need to do to find peace is to sit in stillness. Don’t go looking for the light; wait for it to come to you. Hear through the silence the pulse of life, and be grateful for it.

going no direction it is everywhere
knowing every word it makes no sound
I was no believer
but I am certain now

It is a paradox. How can something be there and not-there at the same time? It is your sitting with darkness which calls forth the light. It is your sitting with silence which brings forth the voice. She is with you because you have opened yourself to her, and when you feel her you will know, you will be certain …

certain that we’re not alone
a kind of light flows through it all
I hear a voice inside my own
like a waking dream
no you’re not alone

Is this really happening? or is it all just happening inside my head? Of course it’s happening inside your head, but why should that mean it isn’t really happening? You are your perceptions: admit and accept them.

there isn’t time for anything but mercy
everything is giving birth to everything

All that was, all that is, all that will be, is here now. Every moment you lived with her, is here now, and amazing, beautiful new things are emerging from that union inside of you, inside the heart of the universe.

nothing in the world is as it seems
light upon the water,
that is the light in me

Now you’re getting it. Transcending grief is never easy. You are forced into such a desperate, lonely place, where you feel the walls crushing in on you. But then an unexpected mercy appears, a light fracture of hopefulness, and in that mere moment of grace, an entire life emerges. You emerge, whole and complete. Now, in this moment, you honour your beloved by saying Yes to life.

and it’s telling me you’re not alone
a kind of light flows through it all
I hear a voice inside my own
like a waking dream
and no you’re not alone

Whenever you feel the darkness descending again, when you feel lost and alone, don’t fear it. Simply accept it, feel it, allow it to be, and sit.

Sit and wait for the light.

9154-birth-of-a-star

Related posts:

Ordinary day

Yesterday’s post felt like a bit of a downer, though it generated a lovely response from a few readers. Thank you to everyone who commented; if there is one purpose that “the return of the Rambler” might serve, it’s to help someone who is struggling after loss gain a new perspective and feel hopeful for the future.

Because, after all, as Alan Doyle and the GBS crew sing,

In this beautiful life, there’s always some sorrow
It’s a double-edged knife, but there’s always tomorrow
It’s up to you now if you sink or swim,
Keep the faith and your ship will come in.
It’s not so bad.

Great Big Sea was one of Traci’s favourite bands, by the way. Listening to this song now, it’s as if I can hear her whispering in my ear, “Cheer up, my love. It’s not so bad. Stay positive, and appreciate what you have.”

I will, and I do.

It’s just another, ordinary day. One more day to live, one more day to love, one more day to keep the faith alive.

Hit it, boys:

One thousand and ninety-six days

flag, Ontario, half-mast, island, dock, Georgian Bay

It’s been three years to the day

Since I held you in my arms

There at the dockside

On your way back to the island where you worked.

We thought you’d be gone for ten days

Ten days, we thought, that’s a long time

So we hugged and kissed a little extra tender and long

We kissed and said “I love you” to each other

Then off you went.

Little did we know it was for the last time.

Three days later you left on your final journey.

This is grief, three years in.

Now, I am happy more often than sad.

I have loved another. I have begun to dig myself out from under. I can see the path ahead more clearly. I spend less time looking through the rear view window.

Perhaps it’s that desire to keep looking ahead rather than back which is the main reason I haven’t been writing. This feels self-indulgent now, and I wonder why anyone would want to read it.

I am less “compelled to create” and driven more by a sense of duty. Yet I am hoping to get back in motion and start writing regularly again, if only to help maintain some equilibrium and perspective. It might be self-indulgent, but at least it’s real.

As real as that final hug and kiss, three years ago. Oh, I miss her so.

traci, doug, woman, man, kiss, river, snow

Start Wearing Purple – It’s Purple Day

Purple Day Cover

I wanted people around the world to come together and teach others about epilepsy. ~ Cassidy Megan, founder of Purple Day 

All over the world today, people are wearing purple and holding events for epilepsy awareness. I salute those who are doing so much, including my friends at SUDEP Aware whose compilation, published last year, highlights what the day means to families bereaved by epilepsy.

My wife Traci Cleverley Pink lived with epilepsy from a young age, but she never let it dominate her life. Considering that her seizures were largely controlled through medication, her death from SUDEP in November 2011 at the age of 39 came as an utter shock. Hers was a compassionate, generous soul and she left a large hole in our community. I pray for the day when no one suffers the devastating loss of a family member from SUDEP, and thank the organizers of Purple Day and the SUDEP Aware team for continuing to spread awareness about epilepsy and SUDEP. ~ Doug Cleverley, Purple Day statement for SUDEP Aware

Today, I will wear purple, and remember.

If you or members of your family have epilepsy, I encourage you to find out all you can about seizure prevention and about SUDEP. It’s been said by many that epilepsy has been in the shadows for too long; then there is SUDEP, hidden in the shadows of epilepsy. How many family members of people with epilepsy know nothing about SUDEP? Don’t let tragedy be the reason you find out, as it was for me and continues to be for too many families.

campaign_logoFor more information, I highly recommend SUDEP Aware’s “Making Sense of SUDEP” eToolkit – click here to visit the campaign page and download the materials. For general information about epilepsy, I recommend you visit Purple Day’s Epilepsy Resources page or the Canadian Epilepsy Alliance website.

Will you join me in wearing purple today? Help bring epilepsy and SUDEP out of the shadows!

Burlington-20120326-PurpleDay

Lisa Scott’s Purple Day 2012 miracle orchid – see Moving In and scroll down to the end.

And now for something completely different, because I can never think of Purple Day without thinking of this song, a favourite of Traci’s. Purple is the colour for today …

 

Always remembering Traci

Traci at White Point Resort, Nova Scotia

Your name is upon my tongue
your image is in my sight
your memory is in my heart
where can I send these words that I write ?
Rumi

You would be 42 years old today. I’m reflecting on this, and thinking today will always be a day to remember you. I am sad that you are gone, but happy you were born, and that we shared a life together for a few years.

Today, Shadow and I will brave the bitter weather and go for a walk on our beach. You will be there with us, in spirit, and I’ll throw a stick for Shadow, thinking of you.

Readers, I have little more I can add to what I wrote last year, and the year before. My life is changing, the face of grief is evolving, and I find I have little to say today that hasn’t already been said. If you knew Traci, and if you are so moved, please just take a moment today, and say, Thank you.

Previous birthday posts:

 

Choosing hope in a desperate time

My reflections (finally) on the article by Charles Eisenstein, published here earlier this month.

sunrise ceremonyIn his essay, 2013: Hope or Despair?, Charles Eisenstein suggests a polarity of ways to look back on the year past. He lists many developments and trends which would justify a feeling of despair, juxtaposed by quieter but compelling reasons to hope. Of the latter, he extrapolates on three trends which he sees as indicative of seismic cultural shifts, trends that mainstream society has yet to absorb but which nevertheless justify feeling hopeful, as they point to “vast, nearly unimaginable changes in coming decades”.

The three trends he identifies are curious indicators, to be sure: cannabis legalization, social acceptance and legalization of gay marriage, and the effect of public pressure in the USA to avert military action against Syria and Iran. Rather than analyzing the specific trends he chooses to highlight as indicators of much greater change to come, I’d like to focus on the question at the end of his essay. Eisenstein asks “that we treat these positive developments as harbingers of the future, and stand firmly in the energy of their possibility. They are not distractions from despair’s version of reality; they are heralds of a more beautiful world. As we move into 2014, let us ask, If these are possible, what else is possible?”

It is that ability for human beings to envision and realize a brighter future which has always inspired my hope. Some call hope a denial of reality, but as I said in my first post of the new year, “only hope without substance is vain.” In some ways, though I only read Eisenstein’s essay after I posted my own thoughts on hope, my personal reflection seems to me to suggest the next step.

After identifying trends in the world which inspire hope rather than despair, how do we make sure our hope is not in vain? Eisenstein asks us to envision further possibilities; while I agree, I think it is also important to act upon those hopeful possibilities. Inspire hope in others, by being part of the movement towards positive change.

Whether it be volunteering in your local soup kitchen, or signing and sharing petitions for causes which speak to a brighter future, or simply recognizing that we all share a responsibility to act even when action seems futile, to love even when despair threatens to divide us, to hope even when all seems hopeless, the actions we take may inspire others to act even though our efforts seem like a drop in the ocean. After all, as Adam Ewing says near the end of the film Cloud Atlas, “What is an ocean but a multitude of drops?”

water, drop, globe, ocean, environment, earth

Comes a time

My take on Charles Eisenstein’s 2013 retrospective is going to have to wait. My recent concert experience in Toronto takes precedence. Here, by popular demand (well, if one friend asking for it half-jokingly qualifies as “popular”, is my review of Neil Young’s recent concert at Massey Hall in Toronto. My apologies for the blurry photos – the distance was a challenge for my phone camera. 

neil young, massey hall, 2014

You and I we were captured
We took our souls
and we flew away
We were right
we were giving
That’s how we kept
what we gave away.

~ from Neil Young, Comes A Time (1978)

A few nights ago, I was treated to “the Neil Young concert every fan hopes to see once in their lifetime,” as a friend described it after hearing my report. Tickets for this rare solo acoustic show sold out in the first half hour after they went on sale in September, but my persistent friend kept checking and three days before the concert she lucked out and bought two tickets online, direct from the Massey Hall box office.

As long-time readers of my blog may recall, I’d seen Neil in concert not that long ago, but that was in a large arena with his band Crazy Horse. It was a great experience, but seeing him up close and personal in an intimate concert hall with the finest acoustics you’ll hear anywhere is a whole different ball game. And he knocked this one out of the park.

neil young, massey hall, 2014First, he just seemed to be in a very good mood all night. Maybe it was all the attention he was getting in the media about his anti-oilsands views. Maybe it was the warm reception the audience gave him. Maybe it was the fun he was having, once he’d settled into playing classic songs that he recorded long ago, and rarely performs anymore. After all, he did just finish a four-night sold-out run at New York’s Carnegie Hall, so he must have been feeling pretty satisfied.

And there he was, less than a hundred feet from where I sat, belting out sings like Helpless, After the Gold Rush, Ohio, and Southern Man; songs I’d never hoped to hear him sing in concert. In between songs he’d tell stories about his instruments – the high heel mark on one of his guitars, the bullet hole on another, the upright piano he rented from the Hollywood Piano Rental Company in 1970 for the recording of After the Gold Rush – and never returned.

neil young, massey hall, 2014Midway through his set, he climbed a platform at the back of the stage and began playing an ancient-looking pump organ, complete with candles, to perform an electrifying version of Pocahontas. This became his strongest political statement of the night, as he revised the lyrics and sang of Stephen Harper and broken treaties instead of Marlon Brando. He also brought new life to one of his oldest songs, Mr. Soul, hunched over the pump organ like a cross between Tom Waits and the Phantom of the Opera.

neil young, massey hall, 2014From the stage, the politics were under-stated. In interviews Neil Young makes his opposition to Canada’s tar sands project abundantly clear. On stage he allowed the music to speak for itself, his passion for the cause coming through in his selection of songs and the occasional slightly altered lyric (“we’ve got mother Nature on the run in the twenty-first century”) comes to mind. He frequently demonstrated a wry humour, however, with his message clear and succinct, such as when he took a drink out of a tall water bottle, then pointed at it and said “Water. In glass. Try it.”

Another amazing performer opened for Neil: Diana Krall. Normally known as an elegant jazz chantreuse, she took a different approach, appearing on stage in a leather jacket, jeans and knee boots, rambling through a set of mostly obscure pop songs by famous writers, more like a singer in a honky tonk than a concert artist.

This was the first of four concerts across Canada under the title Honor The Treaties. The concerts are a benefit for the Athasbascan Chipewyan First Nation’s Legal Defense Fund, as this small First Nation in Alberta takes on the federal government and Shell Oil for violation of treaty rights, and the ongoing social, economic, and health disaster which the tar sands represent to their people. There were many First Nations people in the audience, and a traditional drumming group the All Nations Drummers played before each set.

drummers, First Nations, all nations, neil young, massey hall, 2014The Athabasca Chipewyan are fighting an uphill battle. For decades their traditional lands have been encroached on by the oil sands development, which if current plans are fully realized will turn an area the size of England into an industrial wasteland. The Athabasca Chipewyan are not saying “no more development;” they have drawn a line in the sand and said no more past this line. They are asking the Canadian government to honour its treaty obligations. They are taking the government to court, a long and expensive battle, and this week, across Canada, Neil Young and Diana Krall are drawing out the crowds and generating lots of funds and media attention to help the cause.

Thanks to a persistent friend with a heart of gold, I was there to witness it. Comes a time, indeed.

Google “Neil Young – News” and you will see pages of articles from just the past ten days or so. The man knows how to get the media’s attention! Here are a few, but I encourage readers to explore further:

2013: Hope or Despair? Essay by Charles Eisenstein

Traditionally end-of-year retrospectives are published before the end of the year and before the essayist’s scan of the year ahead, but I’ve never been bound by tradition. I received a subscription email from writer and philosopher Charles Eisenstein a few days ago containing the essay below. I immediately felt compelled to share it with you, my own readers, and thank Mr. Eisenstein for offering his writings freely to the world through a Creative Commons copyright. The Rambler will return in the next post with my own reflections on the following.

2013: Hope or Despair? | Charles Eisenstein

2013: Hope or Despair?

This essay has been translated into Croatian.

“Things are getting better and better and worse and worse faster and faster simultaneously.”

– Tom Atlee

Was the year 2013 a cause for hope or a cause for despair? Were the positive developments signs that the world is turning the corner? Or were they delusionary exceptions to the downward spiral into tyranny and ecocide?

The case for pessimism is hard to refute. We have the good news, like outbreaks of people power in Turkey, in Brazil, in Thailand and the Ukraine, juxtaposed against the collossal disappointment of the Arab Spring to bring economic, social, or political justice to the Mideast, as Egypt slips back into dictatorship, Bahrain further into autocracy, and Libya into chaos.

We have the good news – for the first time, solar and wind power have reached grid parity with fossil fuels – paired with record demand for oil and the vast expansion of fracking and tar sands exploitation, as CO2 levels topped 400 ppm for the first time and the Warsaw climate talks imploded.

We have a rennaissance of cooperative economics in southern Europe, even as austerity deepens, youth unemployment hovers near 50%, pensions are cut, and professionals flee.

In the United States, the moribund labor movement shows signs of life with strikes at Wal-Mart and McDonalds, while at the top of the pyramid, the rich get richer and Wall Street perpetrates on even greater scale the same kinds of abuses that precipitated the 2008 crisis.

Uruguay, Colorado, and Washington state legalized marijuana in 2013, yet the militarization of police forces reached new levels. Edward Snowden exposed the surveillance state to the public, yet the capability of governments to monitor people continued to grow.

Sometimes the positive developments look like pinpricks of light under a blanket of darkness. The points of light are tiny in comparison to the injustice and the ecocide. Let us not delude ourselves: Nothing substantive has really changed. The environment continues to degrade. The ocean grows more acidic. Drought spreads across the globe. Life dwindles in the oceans. Military spending increases the world over. Fukushima keeps leaking. Concentration of wealth intensifies.

The points of light, however, are not merely temporary exceptions to a negative trend, isolated bits of good news. Many of them signify a deep and ongoing tectonic shift in the psychic and ideological foundations of our culture that, while it has yet to substantially manifest in our systems and institutions, portends vast, nearly unimaginable changes in coming decades. That is why, unreasonably, these pinpricks of light inspire such hope within us.

Here are a few examples. Cannabis legalization might seem a drop in the bucket compared to the vast systemic injustice that pervades the United States and the world, but here is what it portends: (1) the demise of the ecologically destructive cotton and wood pulp monopoly for fiber and paper, as industrial hemp comes back; (2) the social acceptance of altered states of consciousness that, unlike those offered by caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol, tend to accompany withdrawal from a violence-based, hurried, linear, machine society; (3) the acceptance of herbal medicine – cannabis, the first herb in a century to enjoy widespread medical use, might be a “gateway herb” at a time when conventional medicine is failing to address so many chronic conditions.

Second, consider marriage equality for gay people. The cynic might doubt whether this victory for a relatively privileged group of North Americans, with no disruption to business as usual, really deserves so much more attention than, say, ending human trafficking or sweatshop labor or water privatization or predatory lending. It is no accident, say the cynics, that the powers-that-be have channeled reformist energy into this relatively innocuous arena. I beg to differ, because gay rights is an outcropping of a deeper vein of principle that holds all human beings equally deserving of every right. Social acceptance of gay marriage marks a momentous retreat from the “othering” of people who are different from oneself – and this othering is the basis of war, punishment-based “justice,” discrimination, and to a large degree, economic exploitation.

A final example: For the first time I can remember, in 2013 public pressure averted American involvement in a war (Syria); it also reversed the trajectory to war with Iran. Insignificant, perhaps, in the context of unabated drone strikes, conflict in Afghanistan, and military bases around the globe, but rather than see Syria as an exception that proves the rule, we might see it as the start of a new trend. It foretells the end of the age of conquering the enemy, a time in which we know we are, as the Black Eyed Peas song puts it, “one tribe, one world, one people.”

Could we be seeing the next stage in the obsolescence of war, that began when the hydrogen bomb made total war between the great powers unthinkable? Could it be that the ecological crisis is making concepts of “America’s adversaries” ring hollow and obsolete? Could it be, as the $15 minimum wage movement and European unconditional basic income movement suggest, that we are beginning to assert the right of every person to be free of material want? Could it be that the rights of nature, as written into law in Ecuador and Bolivia and the subject of Europe’s ecocide initiative, are becoming as self-evident as the rights of man?

Of course, none of these possibilities are original to the year 2013. My point in illuminating them is that we treat these positive developments as harbingers of the future, and stand firmly in the energy of their possibility. They are not distractions from despair’s version of reality; they are heralds of a more beautiful world. As we move into 2014, let us ask, If these are possible, what else is possible?

(Photo Credit: Dan Foy)