Tides and Empathy

photo-9What is “off the grid”? Time to relax? Reflect? Deflect? Unwind, evolve, devolve, assemble, dissemble?

When I stop long enough to see the tide go out and come back in the same day, I am reminded that the same sea, albight in a different configuration of land masses and depths, has washed around the earth for at least four billion years.  The cast of characters change, the small crabs that dart across the sand are ignorant of their place in that march of time, as are the fish on the reef and and the ageless corals that are bleaching to death with slowly rising sea temperatures.  Perhaps sentience means that we alone think about our place with respect to the ebb and flow of tides.

Not much I do back in the real world seems so important here, and yet…  When I was first here in the 1980’s we started planting artificial reefs, and my friends began developing a series of national marine sanctuaries so entire fish populations would succeed, and now those small seeds have grown and the local villagers have access to food that would otherwise have been wiped out three decades ago.  Research, study, and education can have real results, at least on a local scale.

And this: Last evening I could not help recall a small bit of one chapter of my upcoming book, when I cite my friend John Hunter’s suggestion that empathy is the one takeaway we should really want for our students.  Last evening as Julie I and lounged around the pool at this wonderfully peaceful beach resort hidden on central Philippine island of Siquijor, a noisy tourist, a lawyer at that, held loud court at the pool bar, dropping “f”-bombs like rain as he boasted, after a few days in-country, his understanding of people, poverty, and socio-economic causality of developing nations.

photo-1We wandered down to the sand and watched the sunset spin golds and crimsons across a majestic morphology of clouds, pillars and palaces, lizards and dish ware, from the northern shore of Mindanao to the volcanic peaks of Negros.  The dying gasps of color shimmered in the west off a lead-grey sea as flat be-calmed as a morning pond, evening cooking fires dotting a distant shore, fisherfolk paddling in for the night.  I was tempted to walk back to the pool bar and invite this loud gentleman down to the beach, to stop and look for just a few moments, for in those few moments he could have seen the essence of this country, of the tropics, of the timeless interaction of people and place…but only if he wanted to see through those eyes, with empathy for this place, not his place. It is easy for us to think we “know”, when that knowledge is really just the absence of experience leavened with empathy.

Maybe a teacher as great as John Hunter would have taken up the challenge of the dogmatic tourist.  Me? I am on a break, and the world does quite well without me.

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