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Doing what I can: Revisiting the Hummingbird

Stumbling onto the animated  version of Flight of the Hummingbird, by Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas.

While writing my essay on The Flight of the Hummingbird several months ago, I had asked my partner to read over the piece and give her thoughts. She liked my interpretation that the ultimate outcome depends on the motivations of the hummingbird. She went further to provide another perspective: Is Dukdukdiya really doing all she can?

“It’s all very brave and courageous for her to fight the good fight,” she explained. “But is it possible that her single-mindedness is blinding her towards more effective ways of combating the crisis? As the embodiment of wisdom and foresight, is she wasting her potential to affect change by dropping tiny drops of water onto a raging inferno? Is that her talent?”

Hopefully, Dukdukiya sees that her action is simply a catalyst for change and not the only thing she can do. Hopefully, she will be wise enough to seek more effective actions of combating the Great Fire once she has successfully rallied the other animals of the forest to assist in the fight.

In the world we live in today, we are told we can all do our part to make a difference, to “save the planet”. Change a light bulb. Practice the 3R’s. Plant a garden. But if we come to accept this is the extent of “doing what we can,” that we have done our part, that we can go on with our lives and give no further thought to our other actions, then no change will occur.

In order to affect meaningful and lasting change, I believe the small acts must be rooted in a deeper, broader, and more systemic understanding. Changing a light bulb takes on a different meaning when one realizes how the energy it consumes is tied to climate change and habitat loss through power generation from various sources. When one recognizes that the very notion of disposability is a product of a culture that does not value sources nor sinks, then efforts of waste reduction become meaningful acts . If one realizes the elemental connections humans have to food, soil, and life, then the garden becomes a place for genuine revolutions in thinking and activism.

To always be able to see the relationship between action and consequence is very difficult. But by adopting this mentality, each small act of “doing what one can” is not simply as an end unto itself, nor does it serve as an absolution of further obligation. Instead it becomes just the first step in a continuous process, a process that fuels effective, self-sustaining, and ethical action.

What do you think?

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