THE GOLDEN RULE: In A World Of Complex Problems…It’s The Simplest Solution

February 15, 2012

We live in a world beset by complex problems.  Naturally, our inclination would be to assume that in order to solve those problems we need to divine equally complex solutions.  It is my pleasure to assure you that seeking those complex solutions won’t actually be necessary.  The answer to all that plagues our planet can be found in one of humanity’s oldest and most universal principles…you may know it simply as, “The Golden Rule”.

The maxim to “Do Unto Others As You’d Have Them Do Unto You,” sounds more like a reprimand from a kindergarten teacher than the answer for all the world’s ills.  But we’ve marginalized the power of this idea by allowing it to be constrained to Sunday School classes and dusty philosophy textbooks.  The Golden Rule is not merely a neglected childhood lesson, it is a naturally occurring shared value that speaks to the interconnectedness of all living things.  It is a preeminent universal guideline that reminds us that the well-being of each individual is reliant upon the well-being of us all.  When we ignore it…when we downplay its importance, we do so at our own peril.

The Golden Rule is the solution to our problems precisely because its absence and neglect has been the trigger that has brought all of our problems about in the first place.  Millions go hungry, our environment is destroyed, violence is perpetrated, and the weak are exploited all because too many of us have not embraced the fundamental law we were taught to follow as children.  The application of the Golden Rule would not so much be a fix as it would simply bring about a cessation of all the pressures that plague us as people.  Our problems would be solved because the roots of those problems would cease to exist.

You may wish to dismiss my idea as childish or naive, but I would urge you to take a moment to look at the world around you, examine our collective predicament, and explain to me how a little adherence to the Golden Rule wouldn’t make all the difference.  Would thousands be foreclosed on and forced from their homes if banks treated each customer as they would their own family?  Would schools, deprived of finances, be crumbling if our elected officials saw each student as their own?  Would we be slaughtering innocent men, women and children in foreign lands with our machines of death if we took the time to recognize our shared humanity?  Would there be enough jobs if executives finally came to see that their bonus wasn’t quite as important as the salaries of a few more employees?  Would children, all over the world, be going hungry if each one of us had a better understanding of the difference between a luxury and a need?

All of the obstacles we face are the product of a world ruled by greed, excess, expediency and the never ending thirst for power.  All of us are capable of falling victim to those selfish motivations, but it only happens when we depress our normal human urge for empathy and dehumanize those who reap the consequences of our egocentric acts.  Minorities are mistreated because bigots fail to see them as equals.  The environment is destroyed because those responsible live far away from the destruction.  Programs that promote the social welfare are cut because the victims remain faceless to those in power.  Bombs are dropped because Presidents and Generals put uneven values on various human lives.  The Golden Rule is a standard that forces us to confer equal worth to every other person on the planet.  The major problems that human beings face are all created by those who are unwilling to acknowledge that equality.

The downfall of the Golden Rule is that we have a tendency to think about it and embrace it only on a micro or personal level.  Mention the Golden Rule to someone and they’re likely to get images in their head of holding open doors and allowing fellow drivers to merge on the highway.  Although those simple, everyday applications of the Golden Rule are incredibly important, why can’t we insist that we employ it on a grander scale?  The Golden Rule can’t just be the standard that guides our interactions with strangers out in public.  It needs to be the broad foundation of our whole society in general.  It should guide our foreign policy and inform our economic priorities.  It should be top of mind for every lawmaker, councilman, CEO, police officer, teacher, clergyman and leader throughout the world.  The Golden Rule should be engraved in giant letters on the entrance of every public institution in the country.  It should be the foundation of every corporate charter and printed on a plaque in every boardroom.  Every sermon, every oath, every bill, every merger, every deal and every judgment should have as its backbone a firm comprehension of the Golden Rule and all that it entails.

The most brilliant aspect of the Golden Rule is its universality.  The Golden Rule could be put into practice in all walks of life and almost no one should feel offended.  This wouldn’t be like placing the Ten Commandments in a courthouse at the expense of non-Christians.  The Golden Rule is a precept that can be found in one form or another in ALL of the world’s major religions and a whole handful of the minor ones as well.  Listed below is an example from each of the five most prominent sets of beliefs:


“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”–Matthew 7:12 (NIV)


“What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellowman.  This is the entire Law; all the rest is commentary.”–Talmud, Shabbat 3id


“None of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself.”–An Nawawi’s Forty Hadith 13


“Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.”–Udana-Varga 5:18


“This is the sum of duty: do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you.”–Mahabharata 5:1517

One cannot be accused of imposing their beliefs when it is a belief that is supposedly shared by all.  On what grounds would one be able to object?  And it goes beyond just the five listed above.  Mohism, Taoism, Platonism, Sikhism, Quakerism, Jainism, Humanism, Confucianism, Baha’i Faith, Brahmanism, Ancient Egyptian beliefs, Native American Spirituality, Shinto, Sufism, Unitarian, Wicca and even Scientology all advance and embrace The Golden Rule in some iteration.

Doesn’t it speak to the truth and the power of an idea if it can be found in such a myriad of forms?  If the solution that I’m pushing is to be dismissed, wouldn’t it require a dismissal of thousands of years of common human development and thought?  The fact that the Golden Rule has a home in so many cultures says something meaningful about its place as an objective truth.  Systems of society and belief have come and gone but the Golden Rule remains.  The major questions of religion…Why are we here?  Who shall we worship?  How shall we behave?…produce multitudes of answers across the globe and throughout time.  But yet humans, from all corners and all walks of life have somehow all agreed that “Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You” always sounds like a pretty good idea.

We supposedly live during incredibly fractious times.  Our population and our leaders are split on how to solve all of the largest issues of our day.  No common ground can be found on taxation, education, civil liberties, health care, energy production, environmental conservation, public spending, government debt and every single other issue that lies somewhere in between.  But I believe these divisions are entirely unnecessary and wholly a fabrication.  We can’t find common solutions because we fail to embrace the common moral code that binds us all together in the first place.  The universal nature and well-founded history of The Golden Rule proves that there is indeed a common moral thread woven throughout all of humanity that has the power to bring us together.  Solving the problems of our day does not have to be fraught with political divisions.  If as a people we could find the ability to let The Golden Rule be the beacon that guides our decisions, we would soon discover that we aren’t nearly as divided as we may have once believed.

Many don’t need to find that ability.  Many in this world are already well aware of the power of putting others’ needs on an even field with those of their own.  Unfortunately, the voices of those compassionate souls are often ignored by those in power.  Active practice of The Golden Rule is much easier to find on our own streets than in the halls of Congress or in the boardrooms of corporate America.  It should be the mission of all who realize the unifying power of The Golden Rule to see to it that this message of kindness be pushed onto those in power.  Instead, we allow the forces of division and greed to constrain and diffuse our message.  People and organizations and movements of all stripes have The Golden Rule as a pillar of their agenda, but those who live in the world of selfishness conspire to keep any thought of shared prosperity or sacrifice out of the halls of power.  Those who know better must never allow themselves to grow weary of advancing their message of hope, and they must not allow the common bonds of compassion to be torn apart by the petty cultural divisions of the day.

The Golden Rule has its advocates and it’s message rings true for millions across the globe, but despite this fact, problems still remain.  Our world is still awash in despair.  Too many fail to live up to this most elementary of standards.  Humans are a deeply flawed species and even though the concept of the rule is simple, it’s implementation can be incredibly complex.  Regardless of how attractive my solution may appear, even the most hopeful of believers must concede the enormity of the task.  So where does that leave us?  How can we convince a global population of 7 billion people to leave aside their own selfish desires and come to realize that the only way to bring about a sustained peace and harmony is by ensuring that it is equally achieved by all?

I argued earlier that The Golden Rule needs to be embraced on a large, macro-scale, but it can’t materialize on that scale overnight.  Those of us who wish to see a world where all are treated well have only their own individual acts at their disposal.  If we want a world where The Golden Rule becomes the law of the land,  if we want corporations to freely decide to put people over profits,  if we want the entire globe to universally embrace the idea that others’ needs supersede personal greed, then the only thing we can control is how we each choose to lead our own lives.  The only way for The Golden Rule to succeed on a grand scale is for individuals to take it upon themselves personally to give it a simple spark.  It’s power can be exponential.  How each of us choose to live our lives can affect all those with whom we interact.  If we desire to see the human species reach its universal utopian potential, we must first dedicate ourselves to making the change within our own sphere of influence.  Every time we choose to treat another human being with kindness and compassion we can inspire others to do the same.  The bonds and interconnectedness we create with this kind of behavior will expand and strengthen if our adherence remains true.   Anger, division, resentment and greed can all be marginalized if individuals decide to have faith not only in their own ability, but also in the ability of all of their neighbors to embrace The Golden Rule and let it act as the true agent of harmony that nature intended it to be.

If we allow The Golden Rule to be the solution to the problems we face in our own personal lives, it has the potential to become the solution to the problems we face collectively.  Our questions may be complex, but the answer is quite simple…Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You.


OREGON ADVENTURE–A Photographic Travelogue of The Best Vacation Ever

October 21, 2011

Tami and I set off on a two-week Pacific Northwest Extravaganza this September.  It was a trip that we had planned for over a year and we couldn’t have been more pleased with the results.  Many of our friends and family were surprised that we chose Oregon as our destination.  Perhaps that state doesn’t immediately pop into people’s head when they think of summer vacations, but I can most assuredly tell you, there’s was no shortage of beautiful sights, interesting people, fascinating history and unique environments for one to explore.

Our Oregon adventure would take us to Portland, the Willamette Valley for wine tasting, Crater Lake National Park, Cannon Beach on the Oregon Coast, the Columbia River Gorge and up the side of Mt. Hood.  It was most certainly a whirlwind two weeks and my energy for sight-seeing may have worn my wife out, but every place we stayed and everything we saw was so spectacular that it would’ve been a shame to have chosen to cross any of those locations off the list.

The main impetus behind the decision to vacation in Oregon was based on reuniting with my good friend and current Portland resident, James.  James and I (seen above at The Pittock Mansion overlooking Portland) are friends from our days at MSU.  It’s been many years since we’ve seen each other and much has changed since that time.  The last time we spent any significant time together, both of us were single and still in our twenties.  Today we’re both married and James has a lovely two-year-old daughter.  It was important for both of us to become reacquainted and discover how each of our lives had changed.

I’ve got a terrific wife that understands the value of friendship so she was interested in making this reunion possible.  But instead of just merely making a short visit, we decided we should take advantage of having friends in far away places and thought we should make it a grand Pacific Northwest vacation and see what Oregon had to offer.

Our first destination was Portland.  As you can see from the photo above, Portland is a city that prides itself on its spirit of individuality.  It’s a city where environmentalism and liberal thought is embraced and where the conformity of traditional society is rejected.  Tami and I very much looked forward to exploring Portland.  We believed that it could be a place that we felt like we might fit in.  Bike-friendly streets, restaurants promoting local eating and a culture of inclusion were some of the things we found attractive.  However, as we got to explore Portland, we found that it wasn’t necessarily the urban utopia we had imagined.

It was bigger than we expected and because of its size, Portland experiences many of the same problems that all big cities face.  Traffic, garbage and homelessness do not disappear from sight just because a city is trendy and hip.  Although Portland fell short of our unrealistic expectations, it did still have many attractive features.  We ate and drank at numerous unique and delicious restaurants.  We appreciated the free public transportation downtown.  We thoroughly enjoyed the Portland Saturday Market, featuring local artists and vendors selling their wares.  We stayed at two very modern and affordable downtown hotels.  And we were able to take in the sights and attractions of a city that truly did have a lot to offer.

One of those attractions was Portland’s International Rose Test Garden.  It is the oldest official, continuously operated rose test garden in the United States.  Portland is known as “The City of Roses” so how could we not check it out?  The garden itself was nothing more complicated than what the name implies.  It was just row after colorful row of some of the most exquisite and unique roses we’ve ever seen.  I personally have a strong affinity for photos of flowers, so the Rose Test Garden was a perfect destination for me.

After a couple of days in Portland, checking out the city and catching up with old friends, the next stop on our trip was Oregon Wine Country in the Willamette Valley.  We stayed two nights at a Bed & Breakfast in Newberg, OR.  We’ve been wine tasting at just about every winery in Michigan and we’ve also gone wine tasting in the Santa Ynez Valley in California two years ago.  We go for the scenery, the slow pace, the interesting people, the great food and of course, the wine.  The Willamette is well-known for its incredible Pinot Noir, and wouldn’t you know it…that just happens to be our favorite.

Our Bed & Breakfast was incredible.  It sat at the top of a ridge that looked out at the vineyards and small town of Newberg below.  The photo above is Tami looking out on the valley beneath while out on the deck just outside our room.  We weren’t sure if we were going to do a lot of wine tasting while in Newberg or if we were just going to do some relaxing.  Our accommodations would’ve certainly been right for that, but we ended up doing plenty of tasting nonetheless.  Our wine bounty was made up of some truly excellent selections and we shipped 14 bottles back home to Michigan.  Those bottles will now be reserved for some special occasions when a simple bottle from the grocery just won’t do.

After our second night in wine country, we awoke early in the morning to depart for Crater Lake National Park.  This was what we expected and hoped would be the crown jewel of our entire trip.  Upon arrival, it was easy to assess that Crater Lake would not fall short of those expectations.

Crater Lake National Park is the most spectacularly overwhelming sight I have ever encountered.  The photos you see here can’t begin to convey its scale and my words will most definitely fall short of appropriately describing its beauty.

Crater Lake is actually the remnants of Mt. Mazama, a volcano in the Cascade Range that erupted some 7,700 years ago.  The eruption was so large the mountain collapsed in on itself creating the giant pit we now see today.  Since that event, melting snow and rain have collected to form what is the deepest and arguably clearest lake in the United States.  With a maximum depth of 1,994 feet, Crater Lake is also the seventh deepest lake in the world.  The walls of the caldera (the cliffs along its rim) range from 1000 to 2000 feet above the water level.  So when you stand at the edge of a cliff, it takes your breath away to realize how far down it is to the shore.

There is only one location at Crater Lake where you’re allowed to get down to the water’s edge.  When I learned prior to our trip that this location also had a 20′ cliff that people jumped off into the water, accomplishing this task became my biggest goal of the whole vacation.  Since we went in September, I was worried that the water would be much to cold to take the plunge.  But on our first day at Crater Lake, the sun was shining brightly and temperatures were near 80 degrees.  I was hopeful as we made the long trek down to the water’s edge, but when I saw others already swimming when we got there, I knew my dream would be realized.

The water wasn’t nearly as cold as I expected.  It was a bearable 60 degrees at the surface.  That’s warm enough for me to swim in Lake Michigan, so it was definitely warm enough to take the plunge here.  The gorgeous blue water was absolutely crystal clear and totally invigorating.  I made the jump four times and would’ve done it four more if time hadn’t been a factor.  While swimming back to shore I took the time to peer around with my eyes open under water and was stunned at how steep the lake bed was beneath me and just how far into the depths I could look.  I’ll never forget the jump and I’ll never forget the sensation I had gazing down into the deep below.

Unfortunately, our time at Crater Lake National Park was limited.  Seen above is the Crater Lake Lodge, located right on the south rim of the lake.  It is without question, the prime location to stay when visiting the park.  But since the next closest accommodations are seven miles away, it is also extremely popular.  As a consequence we were only able to book one night instead of the two we desired.  We were only able to be at the park from around 1pm on Wednesday til we left at about 3pm the next day.

The lodge itself was incredible.  The view is absolutely unrivaled and the room was very nice.  The best feature was the deck on the front of the hotel overlooking the lake.  Our dinner reservations weren’t until 8:45 that night, but we were able to pop open a bottle of wine we had just purchased the day before and drink it at our leisure as we watched the sun set over one of the most stunning attractions in the world.

Despite our short stay, we made sure to see as much of the lake and surrounding sights as we could.  The hikes at Crater Lake are mostly trails that lead from lower parts of the rim to higher elevations for more sweeping vistas.  We took one of these on the first day to Watchman’s Overlook.  The second day, our bike hike was to the top of Garfield Peak.  This hike took us from our Lodge at about 7000′ elevation to the top of the peak at just over 8000′ elevation.

The hikes were steep and cut along the edges of some rather precarious slopes.  I was very proud of Tami and how well she did.  I’m a very “go-go-go” person when on vacation and I have a tendency to push her pretty hard.  But she responded with more vigor and tenacity than what I could’ve ever hoped.  The hikes may have been tiring and arduous, but I’m sure she would admit that the end result was most certainly worth the work.

I took hundreds of pictures while at Crater Lake National Park and I feel like I’m doing a disservice by not posting more here today.  I really can’t say quite enough about how inspiring I found the place to be.  I have learned that when our country has chosen to make a place a National Park, there’s usually a pretty obvious reason why.  I haven’t been to many of them, but each one finds new ways to top the one I visited before.  We live in a world filled with amazing natural beauty and I feel it is our responsibility to see as much of it as we can.

At the Crater Lake Visitor’s Center there was a quote by author Jack London that I feel summed up my feelings pretty accurately.  He wrote, “”I thought I had gazed upon everything beautiful in nature as I have spent my years traveling thousands of miles to visit the beauty spots of the earth, but I have reached the climax. Never again can I gaze upon the beauty spots of the earth and enjoy them as being the finest thing I have ever seen. Crater Lake is above them all.”

We left Crater Lake feeling remorseful we couldn’t stay longer, but satisfied that we had seen as much as we had in the short time that was available.  Plus, it was only the sixth day of our 14 day trip so there was much that still lay ahead.

We drove back to Portland for another stay in the city.  While there we were able to explore even more and spend more time with my friend, James.

But one of the main purposes for our return to Portland was for the easy access to the Columbia River Gorge.  This National Scenic Area is just a short half hour drive from our downtown hotel.  And that mere half hour is enough to transport you from a bustling urban cityscape to a lush, scenic, moss-covered paradise that at times seems miles from anywhere.

The Columbia River Gorge is a large canyon carved over millions of years by the rushing waters of the Columbia River.  The banks of the river are overlooked by towering cliffs and impressive rock facades.

Cascading off of those cliffs and running down to the river are countless absolutely gorgeous waterfalls of all sizes and varieties.  These waterfalls bring hundreds of thousands of visitors each year to the gorge and we were surely going to join them.  An interstate runs through the Gorge right next to the river, but tucked away just off of that interstate is the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Highway.  This is a road built in the early 1900’s and snakes its way through the Gorge with easy, convenient stops along the way to take the in the beauty of various waterfalls.

This is the first one we encountered…Latourell Falls.

But most spectacular, and most visited, of all the falls is Multnomah Falls, towering 620′ above the river below.

The highlight of our two days exploring the area was our venture into the Oneonta Gorge.  Nestled in the Oneonta Gorge is Lower Oneonta Falls.  The falls can only be reached by trekking up the creek through a very narrow gorge with towering, moss-covered walls of rock looming over you.  While researching our trip to the Columbia River Gorge, I was searching for some unique and extraordinary hikes.  I stumbled across the tales of the Oneonta Gorge and was immediately convinced that this would be a good adventure for Tami and I.

It’s only about a half mile hike, but according to the guides on the internet, we needed to prepare to get wet.  We purchased water-sock shoes for easier walking in the stony creek, and even though it was a rainy 60 degree day that day, we were ready.

Our first obstacle was this very imposing log jam.  There was no way around, the only way through was to go over it.  It was raining that day, so these giant logs were slippery and the pile was over twenty feet hit with some rather daunting cavities awaiting if you made a false step.

Once past the log jam, it was just a walk through creek waters of various depths.  Had it not been for the advice of some friendly hikers who were leaving as we were just beginning, we would’ve certainly been in water up to chests.  The creek water was extremely cold and my adventurous wife had strong urges to turn back, but we pressed on nonetheless.  With the aid of some very crafty maneuvering on some rock edges, we were able to make it to the falls without getting wet beyond our thighs.

And finally, we reached our destination.

After our adventure in the Columbia River Gorge, we were both ready for some relaxation.  Good thing for us our next destination was the beach.  We had two nights booked at Cannon Beach, a small, tourist community on the Pacific Ocean about an hour and a half away from Portland.  I was concerned that our time at the beach would be marred by some poor weather, but we couldn’t have had it any better.  When we arrived we were greeted by a bright sunny sky, warm temperatures and some fantastic scenery.

The centerpiece and main attraction at Cannon Beach is Haystack Rock, a 235 ft. monolithic rock towering over the beach-goers who congregate around it.  Coming from someone who for most of his life has only known the beaches of Lake Michigan, a visit to the Pacific Ocean is always quite an impressive event.  The giant rock formations, the colorful creatures, the intimidating waves and the water levels that shift from high to low in a matter of seconds all create a new and completely engaging environment.

But as impressive as Haystack Rock was during the day, nothing could touch the fireworks we got that evening with a picture-perfect sunset.

On our second day at Cannon Beach we visited Ecola State Park, a mere five miles north of town.  While at the park we headed down to Indian Beach to climb on the rocks, explore the tide pools and hunt for various sea-critters, like starfish.  The waves were much calmer on the second day, so I even had the opportunity to jump in for my first swim in the Pacific.  I had a chance when I visited California two years ago, but missed out, so I was not going to let it pass me by this time as well.

While we were at Ecola State Park, we climbed to the top of a peak that gave some outstanding views of the surf below.  Also visible off in the distance was Tillamook Rock Lighthouse, seen in the photo below.  Our time at the ocean proved to be both relaxing and in its own way, a great adventure.  We saw things we hadn’t seen before, partook of some great food and had the chance to spend even more time with my friend and his wife and daughter who came out and stayed with us.

After we left the coast, it was now time for the final leg of our journey.  We would head back east through Portland on our way to Mt. Hood.  We had reservations to stay at The Resort At The Mountain, a golf and spa resort right at the foot of Oregon’s tallest peak.  Mt. Hood is an 11,000 ft. volcano in the Cascade Range.  It’s an omnipresent fixture in the Portland area on clear days.  Coming from Michigan, a place with no mountains, I get particularly excited anytime that I get to be around them.  I think its part of human nature to have the desire to be in the mountains, to feel some isolation, to explore new terrains and to be able to stand on the edge of incredible elevated vistas.

I had picked a whole handful of hikes we could take in the Mt. Hood National Forest, so our first step was to stop at the ranger station and get some advice on which hikes to choose.  Time was limited our first day, so the ranger recommended that we head to Trillium Lake.  This was a small, beautiful lake at the southern edge of Mt. Hood with amazing scenic views of the mountain.  We did the two mile hike around the lake, but the best part was the photographs.

The lake and mountain were unbelievably picturesque, but it got even better when the hike was completed.  The water of Trillium Lake smoothed to a glassy sheen near the end of the day to produce a reflection of the mountain that I only hoped I would have the chance to capture when the trip was originally planned.

We stayed until daytime faded into dusk and then headed back to our hotel.  On the way, we stopped in the small ski village of Government Camp right at the base of the mountain for some dinner.  The place was dead, but it was easy to imagine what a great location it would be during the peak of ski season.  The resort we stayed at couldn’t have been nicer.  We were given a free upgrade on our room, so we were now staying in some luxury accommodations.  Our room had a balcony, a living room, a huge fireplace and more space than the two of us could ever need.  We both felt so comfortable that it made us question our plans for the next day.  We had been going at such a breakneck pace that the idea of relaxing at a spa and resort and maybe playing some golf sounded really appealing.  But we knew that nature awaited and we needed to take advantage of our surroundings while we had the chance.

The next day we had big plans.  We were headed up the mountain.  Our main destination was the Timberline Lodge.  This is an immaculate wood and stone ski lodge 6000 ft. up the side of the mountain.  It was built by the WPA during the depression and completed in 1937.  Some of you might recognize the outside of the lodge from the movie “The Shining”.  It was a fascinating place.  A complete original that caused us to wonder at the craftsmanship and think of a time when our country made it a priority to take on projects like this.

The inside was even more impressive.

But our day had loftier goals.  We would be embarking from the Lodge on a six mile hike to Zigzag Canyon.  This hike was basically a horizontal trek along the side of the mountain, so there wasn’t a huge elevation gain.  Our trail coincided with part of the Pacific Crest Trail that stretches from the border of Mexico to the border of Canada, so it was exciting to be a part of that.  It was a terrific hike.  It stayed right at the timberline, so we wove in and out of pine forest with almost constant views of the summit looming over us.

It really didn’t take long for us to arrive at Zigzag Canyon, and what a view when we did.  The Canyon is a 1000ft. deep gash cut in the side of the mountain.  It provided wonderful views of the summit and the hills and Mt. Jefferson that spread out to the south.

On our way back to the lodge from the Canyon, we had the chance to take a trail straight up the mountain to the Silcox Hut, located near the top of the chairlift.  The Silcox Hut is an old warming station for skiers that has been converted into a kind of rustic banquet hall.  I really wanted to head further up the mountain, both for the better views and for the chance to do something that I don’t get the opportunity to do where I live.  The Hut was a mile away and 1000 vertical feet up the mountain.  It sounds easy, but after just completing a six mile hike, it definitely proved to be harder than what we expected.  I definitely put Tami to work on this trip, and she handled it all beautifully.  This was the one point where I maybe asked her to do a bit too much.  In my mind, the payoff was worth the work, but I think she might have preferred a cold drink at the lodge instead.

After two weeks of hiking and exploring, this day definitely wore us out.  We had planned of tackling more hikes the next day, but we were satisfied with what we had seen and quite frankly, we were tired.  The next day was Friday, our last day before flying back to Michigan on Saturday.  We headed back to Portland and stayed one more night downtown for easy access to the airport the next day.  We had one last evening to say goodbye to my friend and his family.

Vacations often make me feel like I just don’t have enough time.  I feel like I’ve got to go too fast in order to see and do all that I want, and the end of the trip is always looming close.  This vacation wasn’t like that at all.  It had been a long time since I’ve taken a two week trip and I don’t know how I could’ve possibly enjoyed this one any more than I did.  We saw amazing sights, caught up with old friends, found time to relax and enjoy life, and had the opportunity to explore several new and unique places.  But when departure day arrived, we were ready to go.  This trip didn’t just exceed my expectations, it blew them out of the water.  I had the most wonderful time with world’s best traveling partner and wouldn’t change a single thing.

If you’re looking for an interesting trip, I would absolutely recommend Oregon and all of it’s surrounding highlights.  We got a little bit of everything.  It’s a beautiful world, and we feel completely blessed that we have the opportunity to get out and explore it.

SHORELINE SORROW: Why we’ll never understand the Gulf Coast’s pain

July 14, 2010

Beautiful Lake Michigan. Here's hoping BP stays far, far away.

Sympathy and empathy are not the same.  They’re often used interchangeably as synonyms, but that is incorrect.  When we sympathize, we’re able to recognize someone’s pain or suffering and we feel a strong desire to alleviate it.  We see a person’s problems and we have an emotional and supportive reaction towards them.  But to empathize, we need to go one step further.  Empathy requires true understanding.  It requires us to have once gone through the same struggle ourselves.  It’s the difference between caring for a friend with cancer and commiserating with that same friend because you’ve gone through chemotherapy yourself and you know what it’s like.  Anyone with a heart can sympathize, empathy requires a higher level of connectivity.

It’s important to be conscious of this difference.  I think everyone should remember that just because you can recognize the pain and suffering of others, and just because you may have feelings of pity for them, it does not mean that you can really understand the depth of their despair or the magnitude of their struggle.  I was reminded of this idea when I was thinking about the tragedy of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  It’s certainly not hard to have incredible levels of sympathy when we see pictures of oil soaked wildlife,  when we contemplate the death of 11 workers or when we witness the devastation to a beautiful seaside environment.  But unless we’ve gone through a similar tragedy, or unless we’re former residents of this region, we can’t truly understand just how horrific of an event this actually has become.  This doesn’t mean that our sympathetic feelings aren’t sincere, it only means that the enormity of the effect that this will have on the lives of millions is not entirely within our grasp.

My own inability to truly comprehend the significance of this event dawned on me on a recent trip to Lake Michigan.  We all have our own places and destinations with which we have a special bond.  The pristine beaches and clear waters of Michigan’s Western Coast are sacred places for me.  The feelings of rejuvenation and fulfillment that I get every time I visit these shores are feelings that can’t be replicated anywhere else.  Lake Michigan provides for me a reminder of nostalgic memories, offers a destination for unlimited fun and relaxation and serves as a source for spiritual reflection and deliberation.  I’ve been many places in my 33 years on this planet, but none inspire the reverence I feel quite like the fresh waters of Lake Michigan.

It was during my last trip to the beach that I began pondering what it would be like if the oil spill disaster had happened here instead of in the Gulf.  My stomach sank as I imagined tar-balled beaches, dead fish and oil-drenched seagulls.  I pictured idyllic towns like Grand Haven swarmed with corporate lawyers, visiting politicians and hired goons in haz-mat suits.  My mind conjured up visions of roadblocks, toxic warning signs and a national press clamoring for their next story.  I was horrified as I began to visualize just what an irrevocable transformation it would represent.  It’s not a stretch to say that if it had happened here, this place that I consider sacred would be ruined for the remainder of my years.

This idea of total and complete destruction isn’t given nearly the attention it deserves.  The Gulf Coast is a sacred and special location for millions of Americans.  We’ve heard endless stories about the loss of livelihood for fishermen.  We know all about the looming collapse of tourism.  We’re totally familiar with the concept of a ravaged ecosystem.  But do we realize that when we talk about the oil spill the full breadth of the disaster is greater than merely just the sum of the parts?  A shrimp boat captain may be losing thousands as his ship sits idle in port, but what’s the value of the loss he feels when the beach where he proposed to his wife is now covered with tar?  A restaurant owner may be forced to close her doors, but is it not a greater tragedy that her children will never learn to swim in the same waters that she did so many years before?  Costs and losses of income can be measured and assigned a value, but the desecration of memories and the evisceration of an environment cannot.

When I imagined the oil spill corrupting my sacred place, the emotions inside of me ranged from deep sorrow to seething anger and encompassed every point in between.  And this was only my imagination.  What’s truly being felt by those who are there?  No news story, no magazine article, no presidential visit, no blog post could ever hope to capture the full range of emotion that must be boiling inside of everyone that was personally affected by this disaster.  If this happened here, any and every reaction I could conjure would seem to be completely rational.  My mind could justify violence as easily as it could justify depression.  The people of the Gulf Coast have had something precious taken away from them.  How can we possibly fathom what that loss might mean?  Anyone with a soul is moved by the plight of everyone affected, but the way the images of oil-soaked pelicans affect you and I can’t compare to the unrest and sorrow that is plaguing those who witness it first-hand.  We have to try to go beyond merely feeling sorry.  We need to picture ourselves in their place to begin to comprehend the gravity of the situation.  For them, it is not just an environmental disaster, it’s a complete corruption of their world and an utter destruction of what they possibly hold most dear.

Where is your sacred place?  Would you be moved to tears if that place was forever spoiled by the folly and hubris of others?  Could you put into words or convey to a stranger the entire span of emotions you would feel?  And most importantly, could you assign a monetary value to what has been taken away?  We’re supposed to be impressed that BP agreed to set aside $20 billion to cover their liabilities, but in my eyes, that amount doesn’t come close to fulfilling the emotional and spiritual debt they owe.  No amount of money can replace dreams.  Memories, wonder and inspiration can’t be bought.  A cool ocean breeze, a dazzling sunset and the scent of the salt air are priceless commodities.  All of those things have been taken away from every single man, woman and child who either grew up or currently lives near the Gulf Coast.

As I strolled on the beach that day, I found myself feeling ashamed that I hadn’t put the oil spill into this context before.  My sacred place remains unspoiled.  I am free to walk with white sand between my toes while the warm sun glows all around me.  The absence of this freedom, the theft and destruction of the place that serves as such a mental refuge for me, would be a life-altering experience.  Up to that point, I had certainly felt my fair share of sympathy for all the people who have been affected, but I never understood just how awful it could be.  I am not equipped with the experience and knowledge necessary to truly empathize with their situation.  My special corner of the world has yet to be significantly touched by those same hands of greed and consumption.  I have a new appreciation for the pain that’s been thrust upon them.  We should all be entitled to relish and enjoy the beauty of our natural surroundings.  That coastline and those waters do not belong to BP and they do not belong to the government.  They belong to the swimmers, fishermen and sunbathers that have occupied them for years.  Their destruction, is nothing short of a crime.

Somewhere in Louisiana or Mississippi, there’s a child who’s sitting inside on a beautiful summer day.  Under different circumstances, that child might be building sandcastles, playing in the surf or doing any number of activities that would serve as the starting point of a special bond between him and the shore.  He’s just one of thousands that are missing out on a new and exciting connection to the natural world.  The next time I’m at Lake Michigan, the next time I’m relishing in past memories and reaffirming my bond, I’ll pause to remember their struggle.  I’ll pray for the wisdom to understand their loss and pray that I never have to experience the same.