A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Catherine Kemme: What the world needs now is more kindness, less negativity, and peace with ourselves

Forty years ago, tigers and elephants lived in the forests surrounding Watpa Sukato. Then came the loggers. Trees were cut and dropped like dominoes. Habitats decimated. Out went the tigers and elephants, and in came villagers via the abandoned roads of the logging companies. Another instance of human hubris and domination.

But that’s not how Phra Paisal sees it. As the middle-aged monk sits cross-legged talking to me and 20-or-so other graduate students in his home in eastern-Thailand, he speaks of these events with a calm, kind smile. The villagers, now his neighbors, were seeking better lives for themselves, he explains.

In their former circumstances, they could not own land to farm food for their families; such luxuries were only for the few. So they came naturally, by way of roads newly built, to the area of Watpa Sukato, hoping to improve their children’s futures. The loss of tigers and elephants is also an event, a fact, that bears no weight of blame.

Only a year ago, in that same place, a man set a fire to catch a boar. A very common hunting practice. This time, however, the result was not so common. Many days and thousands of water pales later, a quarter of Watpa Sukato’s pristine forests – what was left after the logging contracts and the villager migration — was dead. What a numbskull! What a loss! Was it really worth a boar?

But again, that was not the reaction.

Instead, repentance. And Watpa Sukato forgave. Instead of shaming, energies were focused on setting things right, to turning the now charred landscape into green again — for the sake of the children and the wildlife and the soul of the village itself. Forgiving the culprit opened way for the wound to heal.

Catherine and friends

What does blame really do to improve our circumstances? Does witnessing an individual being punished for his sins, make the lives of the onlookers any better? What does it teach the guilty? What does it teach his children? Would it have healed the scorched forest?

So much of our world is obsessed with blame. My grandmother would say that’s because there are too many darn lawyers. “Everyone wants to sue everyone else, just to get a nickel.” But blame has been around far longer than Elk & Elk. Though, so has forgiveness.

Many I encountered on that journey abroad also chose to expend their energies on solutions, as opposed to finger-pointing or name-calling.

The hornbill researchers didn’t say to the poachers, “What are you doing? You are terrible for killing these majestic birds!” They instead recognized the poachers’ need to feed their families and offered them an alternative: To help save the very animal they had been trapping.

The staff at the rural hospital did not look at the villager with rice matted to his head and say, “What are you doing old man? Are you crazy?” Instead, they asked him, “Why?” and with the man’s guidance, they produced follicle-stimulating ointments.

Sometimes, showing kindness towards the poacher – or the liar or the thief or the politician – is not easy, especially if a person is not raised in a world that fosters such reactions.

Furthermore, such kindness is nearly impossible if we hold negativity in our hearts for ourselves. If we are critical of ourselves or discontent with our own lives, what have we to offer others but that same spirit of critique and discord?

When we are more at peace with ourselves, we can stop relying on external “things” to bring us happiness. We do not feel a desire to take more than we need. It would not make sense. Nor would it be logical to use caustic words….or explosives to solve our problems. Accepting that we are worthy of patience, and love, and forgiveness is pivotal to improving our treatment of others. Only then can we bring compassion – and even loving humor – to our world.

Catherine ‘Katie’ Kemme is a teacher at the Cincinnati Zoo Academy, board member of the Outdoor Adventure Clubs, a graduate student in Miami University’s Global Field Program, and a resident of Newport.

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One Comment

  1. Betsy R. Conrad says:

    Words of wisdom, indeed. Thank you, Katie, for sharing such valuable lessons.

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