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Excerpt from A Language Older Than Words

Practice Doesn't Make Perfect (p. 355)

From chapter "Trauma and Recovery"

Practice doesn’t make perfect. If our hearts and minds are wrong, it doesn’t matter what we do, nor what justifications we emplace to buttress our decisions, our actions will further destruction. Consider the consecutive claims to virtue for deforestation. Consider the fact that my father never beat anyone without good reason. If we learn nothing else from the insistent cooptation of the words of Jesus by those who would destroy, we should learn this: if your heart is wrong—if you are a member of the race of the indecent, as Viktor Frankl put it; if you are a cannibal, as Jack Forbes said—you can and will twist any words to serve vile ends. It doesn’t much matter whether you are raping a woman because Eve sinned, because you need to determine if she is a witch, or because she provoked you by the clothes she was wearing, the fact is that you are raping her. Whether the tinder is lit because a woman “does marvellous things with regard to male organs,” or “in honor of Christ Our Saviour and the Apostles,” or because you’ve got to clear slash piles from clearcuts, the result is that the world and those in it burn. In the beginning is the urge….

Jesus knew this. And I believe he knew he never had a prayer. Like the salmon who hurl themselves against concrete, he knew there could only be one ending. He could not have been so stupid as to think otherwise.

The opposite is true as well. If your heart and mind are right, it doesn’t matter what you do; it will be the right thing. A father who loves his children would not and could not rape them, nor beat them. He may make mistakes, but he will not traumatize them. A person who loves the world and those in it will not destroy it. A person who loves will not rob others of their voices.

Jesus would have known this also. We all know it. Anyone who has ever been in a bad or a good relationship knows it. If the magic isn’t there, it doesn’t matter how many roses you send nor chocolates you receive, the most you can hope to achieve is that the both of you agree to carry on a fiction (As Kahlil Gibran wrote: It is wrong to think that love comes from long companionship and persevering courtship. Love is the offspring of spiritual affinity, and unless that affinity is created in a moment, it will not be created in years or even generations.” This is true whether the lover is a human, a piece of art, the coyote tree, or the world). The same is true for writing: no amount of rewrites will awaken words that lie dead on the page. The same is true for music: if you have to ask, it ain’t jazz.

While it is true that we all know this, it is also true that on another level those who would destroy are consistently able to convince themselves that they too love the world and that they too would act only in the best interests of those around them. Recall the Nazi doctors who convinced themselves they were acting in the best interests of the Jews. Recall the Boise Cascade advertisement likening clearcuts to smallpox vaccinations. Recall that in order to maintain our way of living, we must tell lies to each other, and especially to ourselves.

Recall finally our collective response to self-evident, if inconvenient, truths. A grenade rolls across the floor. This time, with all the world at stake, do not look away.