This I Believe
Nancy’s dog, Lexie, was lying on her back as Nancy played with her paws. Lexie was resisting. She didn’t want her feet touched. Nancy said to her dog,”I can touch your feet, I own you.” That statement set off an avalanche of thoughts in my mind that uprooted, and made me re-examine what constituted my belief system on ownership.
In my mind I could hear slave owners telling their slaves,” I can take away your freedom, I own you.” And I could hear men say to their wives, “you must submit to my will, I own you.” In many places in the world the laws dictating the ownership of women are still in effect. Then my mind took it a step further realizing that the entirety of the world readily accepts, and does not even begin to question the concept of ownership of animals and of land.
I came to realize that the concept of ownership is simply a construct that our society has accepted, and that what is deemed “property” is fluid and changeable as society’s views on what constitutes property changes. I also realized, that what the idea of ownership allows for, is exploitation, abuse, extraction of resources, and the persistence of the inequitable distribution of the earth’s resources and thus, the persistence of poverty. Twenty percent of the earth’s population owns 80% of the world’s resources and shockingly, women own only 1% of the world’s wealth.
In his book Blessed Unrest, Paul Hawken paints the following scenario: if a space ship manned with 10 astronauts ventured into space on a 50 year mission, no one would consider it just if two of the astronauts were given 80% of the ship’s resources. No one would tolerate that system, not even the two “rich” astronauts. So why do we deem this system fair on space ship earth?
I believe the Native Americans have the philosophy most conducive to living well on Mother Earth. They do not recognize the concept of land ownership–it belongs to all–the two legged, the four legged, the winged and the finned. Their teachings state that we do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, but that we borrow it from our descendants. They follow the credo that what we do to the earth must take into account it’s effects on the next seven generations. They believe that the trees, the mountains and all the animals are our brothers and our sisters and should be treated as such.
I believe we need to follow their example and start seeing ourselves as stewards of the earth, rather than owners of the land. I believe we need to remember what Chief Seattle so wisely said, “Man did not create the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. What man does to the web, he does to himself.”
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