Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Lines We Draw

The spider mites have returned. They crawled up from whatever god forsaken place they had hidden, strung their insidious webs and are now slowing leaching my plants dry. I do not like them.  They frustrate me horribly. I take an aggressive stance when they appear. I kill them.

I have but a small collection of tropicals: a philodendron, two gardenias, three orchids (of which I wrote about last March), two begonias, a Saintpaulia, a Dracaena, a Pachira and a bamboo. They either have come from rough beginnings (i.e. the orchids and the begonia) or are cuttings received from friends. I have a thing for bringing plants back to life. So when some spineless tetranychidae comes to feed, I get angry.

Unfortunately, my anger doesn’t help much so I clean and prune instead. It’s an ongoing job. The mites are relentless. The technique I have found to be most effective is soaking the leaves in soapy water then putting the plant under a plastic bag for 2-3 days. Mites dislike humidity. It keeps the little bugs at bay for several months, sometimes more. However, my bamboo seems to be chronically affected. Drastic action is called for. I prune with little mercy, soap and cover it with plastic. After a few days when I feel I have the upper hand, I shall prune my bamboo down to base and change the soil. They will not kill this plant.

Like most people, I do not enjoy watching humans or animals die. Our impulse is to do something, anything, to stop the process. It does not matter that death is natural and a foregone conclusion, a part of us feels like it dies too when another succumbs. I extend these feelings to plants and some insects; mites, of course, excluded. It feels somewhat wrong to be biased in this way, after all, a life is a life regardless of the being’s state of consciousness or, I should say, our assumed belief of that state. But we all draw a line somewhere about what is worthy of life and what is not; that is mine.

Still, that line of mine that honours most beings is not so solid. Sure I respect the lives of animals, plants and some insects but I still eat them—the latter most unintentionally. Although I am politically against factory farming, penned up animals and the poor economics behind feeding corn to livestock, my body (unlike those of practicing vegans) does not like to abstain—I tried it for a year and felt the negative effects for far too long. Instead I buy range fed cattle and cage free chicken eggs. I keep my intake down to a minimum and try to pay respect to the animal it was when I eat it. My line, you see, has its issues. 

We all draw lines. Some are rigid; some are like one mentioned above. Lines like that can waver and meander, swirling their way into big loops or interesting gaps depending on the situation. My line against wasteful logging practices is another example: I prefer actual books to reading on-line and posted letters to e-cards. If I was a staunch conservationist I’d be holding a Kindle at night. I don’t. I am also an anti-plastic activist but still wash my polypro clothing even though I know microscopic plastic bits are ending up in the ocean. Interesting gaps to be sure.

There are lines that some draw that are quite rigid. Outside of those that delineate universal moral taboos there are the more individualistic ones that purport to know the truth: I am right; you are wrong. These lines can grow in dimension becoming rigid behemoths where the drawer of said lines can become morally lost and disorientated. Like the politicians who vote for draconian drugs law and then are found buying coke on the street or say abortion is immoral but want to reinstate capital punishment. And even if the lines drawn do not grow in such proportion, you can see it in our everyday lives: nice people who “wouldn’t hurt a fly” buying sweatshop clothes or turning a blind eye to how their computers are built.

I have a friend who has a lovely saying: “Hypocrites welcome”. I see it as an invitation to acknowledge and own our internal and external contradictions. And I don’t mean to own and then ignore like we do with exercise equipment. I mean to really own and build awareness around these grey zones. Like be a pro-lifer but fight for better sex education and free birth control or vow to reinstate capital punishment but work to abolish racial prejudice that puts too many people of colour on death row. Say "no to drugs" but fund better treatment programs and stop criminalizing the end user. Promote trade with totalitarian countries but make human rights a condition for better pricing. Eat fish caught with ethical practices; protest pipelines but start stop driving your car when you can ride a bus; and abstain from buying the latest digital toys each year just because they are new. These solutions in themselves won’t save the world. They will, however, help us regain our humanity.

In other words, we need to constantly examine and reexamine our beliefs. To find ways to dismantle walls of rigidity, own our contradictions and open our hearts to new ways of being. This will not only help us be more compassionate to those who think and act differently but more compassionate to ourselves when we find that the lines we have drawn are not so straight.


  1. Good, thought provoking article. I think you're right, but when I've done that it seems as if I'm sitting on the proverbial fence. But, then again, who says we need to take sides?

  2. Great topic ... it certainly conjures up a lot of emotion and thoughts in me. In particular my early days of starting on my lifelong vegetarian journey. As a six year old and into my twenties I had a difficult time with others opinions and judgements. When I would share that I am vegetarian, I had many people scan down to see what I was wearing on my feet. "Leather?...hmm well not a very dedicated vegetarian..." What your comments remind me of is that we are not perfect, we do our best, we care and do what we can and perhaps it is this idea of either or...being on one side or the other that keeps us from collectively finding creative solutions to the many issues that you name. thanks for this....

  3. Thanks Carla and Bonnie for your comments. I think you both hit it on the head: do we really need to take sides? Maybe if more of us sit on the fence it will collapse with all the weight ... no need for sides when there are no lines drawn or fences built.