Sunday, April 17, 2011

David Suzuki's Legacy

You came at the right time, Dr. Suzuki. You had greater influence than you know. If not for you, environmental awareness would be negligible, and even Canada would not be such a nice place to live.

You were born between the generations—between the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boomers. You seemed to adopt the Baby Boomers’ stance for a time. Peace, Love, and Rock-and-Roll apparently fit you well, but this was a superficial assessment. You never abided by the hypocritical terms of the Baby Boomers. What we saw as Peace, Love, and Rock-and-Roll was actually Justice, Harmony, and Reconciliation with Nature. There was nothing superficial about you. Born between two generations, you had a choice: The narrow but authentic humanity of your parents, or the hypocrisy and artificiality of your younger sisters and brothers. You chose a third path: Authentic humanity guided by a refusal to wear the blinders that had led your parents and their bigoted white sisters and brothers into their generation’s biggest mistake: the forced relocation of tens of thousands of innocent people into internment camps.

You were a victim of your parents’ generation’s narrow-mindedness, but you never displayed bitterness. This must have been the result of parents whose foresight and care outstripped their desire for retribution. Their understanding of justice must have included dimensions of thought unknown to most of us, and entirely alien to the self-absorbed Baby Boomers. You accepted those notions of justice and fashioned an harmonious and beautiful notion of humankind’s proper place in this universe, and in 1979 you began teaching the world.

It was the right time. The Baby Boomers were just starting to discover country-western music and MBAs and tax shelters. They were only a year away from electing into office the world leader who did more to eviscerate pollution controls than any person before or since. These snot-nosed children, living off their parents’ hard work, saw life as an endless disco dance oriented toward self-gratification. There was probably no reasonable means of changing their attitudes. But their children... PBS was the most trusted babysitter in the United States. Young parents knew they could put their toddlers in front of the television and free themselves from the awful chore of parenting. What they didn’t know is that a man of substance and authentic humanity was teaching their children every day on a version of The Nature of Things that was no longer oriented toward goofy, clunky experiments. Now, with this curly-haired, soft-spoken yet forceful and energetic man leading the show, the entire flavour of the series changed. This was no longer science for the sake of science, but science with a purpose, a message. The message was all about responsibility, and it was delivered with eloquence, energy, and equanimity. The toddlers and young children soaking in your message learned me-first from their parents. From you they learned a cheerful, robust sense of themselves as connected to every other human being and every other plant and animal in the world.

You came at the right time. Your joyous message of justice, harmony, and reconciliation with nature arrived at a dark time that would otherwise have consumed another generation, and pushed the planet onto an accelerated path of destruction. It is because of you, and people like you, Dr. Suzuki, that your grandchildren—and the forests and schools of fish to which they are intimately connected—have a chance of surviving and perhaps even restoring the health of the world. Seven years ago, you were called The Greatest Canadian. Perhaps it is an embarrassment to a humble man. But it is a title bestowed in recognition of the tremendous difference you have made in millions of lives, and the difference you made to the planet that is our home.

April 17, 2011

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