The World Tree

The World Tree

Pentecost 175

What do Indo-European, Siberian, and American Indian religions have in common?  What do the mythologies of Hungary, Turkey, Mongolia, Germany, Finland, the Slavic nations, Scandinavia, China, and India have in common?  Better yet, what is the significance of the order of mammals to which mankind belongs to the first two questions?

The answer to all three questions is …a tree.  I’m not referring to the more modern definition of a tree which is used in computer science, a tree being a way to organize abstract data.  I mean a tree as in botany – the climbing kind of tree that offers shade and can be climbed, offering a delight afternoon of fun for youngsters and a source of refuge when needed.  Trees are plants, plants that have an extended stem, known as a trunk, which supports branches and leaves.  Trees are perennial plants, which means they have a life cycle greater than two years.

In the northern hemisphere we are at the end of the autumn leaves color tour.  On trees all over, and especially in the northeastern United States of America, leaves have given way to yellow, red, and brown hues before they fall to the ground.  Technically, chlorophyll breaks down as the amount of sunlight decreases and photosynthesis ceases.  This causes the bright green of the tree’s leaves to fade to yellow, gold, and then orange.  Glucose, another part of the tree’s nutritional system, can become left in the leaves and this causes them to appear red or purple.

Now imagine you know nothing of the science of trees.  All you know is that the leaves suddenly turn into a palette of earth colors.  No wonder the concept of a tree, a world tree, features in so many religions and mythologies.  This large, colossal tree supported the sky and linked the earth to the heavens.  With its roots going so deep into the ground, it also joined the Underworld to the rest of creation.

For the Mayans, the tree was symbolic.  Its strong trunk represented the inner strength of mankind, of each of us.  The branches spread out in all four directions of the compass, something which greatly appealed to and was noticed by these ancient and brilliant astronomers of the new World.  A tree’s branches were also symbolic of the connection between human beings and their gods.

We all have roots; we all have a past. Different species of trees have different types of roots.  Some go very deep; some are quite shallow, growing along the top of the ground.  Some seem very strong while others are gnarly and, well, unattractive.  Sometimes our own past is not so pretty.  That past, however, gives us roots and, if we let it, can nourish is just as the roots of a tree gives it sustenance.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once remarked:  “In nature we never see anything isolated, but everything in connection with something else which is before it, beside it, under it and over it.”  One can also pick a culture and find a mythology about trees.  They do much more than simply tower over other plants.  They stand as natural monuments to life itself.

“A human being is a part of the whole, called by us, “Universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest — a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security.”  Albert Einstein recognized our need to explain the world with myths and the importance of science in helping us achieve a sense of humanity.

We are indeed all part of a world tree, a family tree of mankind.  Lord Tennyson summarized it most succinctly:  “I am a part of all that I have met.”  Lest you think such thoughts are only ancient history, let me leave you with a quote from someone in this century, Ellen DeGeneres.  “The truth is, we are all one connected thing.”  We are indeed connected.  Like trees in a forest, we may stand independently but we comprise together one large entity, the family of mankind.  That is not a false story, something dreamed up on a cold winter’s night.  It is fact.  It is science.  It is…life, our life.  We are both tree and gardener, a part of the arbor and the arborist.  Nurture the tree within you today and respect the ones standing next to you in this large garden we call our home, our planet earth.

Easter Thirty – Four

Easter Thirty-Four
May 23, 2014

The Quiet Bully

Researchers have a consensus on what defines the act of bullying. It is not just a negative or hurtful comment or action but one that is comprised of our main ingredients. To be sure, the behavior is aggressive and negative, but it must be carried out repeatedly with intention or deliberate purpose. The behavior also must take place within a relationship where there is an imbalance of power between the parties involved – perceived or real.

Bullying is categorized as a form of youth violence but it also occurs between adults. In adulthood it is often given more legal terms like discrimination, harassment, or the lesser designation of being unprofessional. In 2011 at least twenty percent of all high school students admitted to having been bullied in the past twelve months. In 2007 parents identified over fifteen percent of children as bullies.

There have been a great many studies about the victims of bullying and the suicide rates of victims are real and tragic. What about the bullies, though? In the study “Association Between Mental Health Disorders and Bullying in the United States Among Children Aged 6 to 17 Years,” researchers reviewed data provided by parents and guardians on mental health and bullying in the 2007 National Survey of Children’s Health, which included nearly 64,000 children. Overall, children with mental health disorders were three times more likely to bully other children. A sub-analysis by type of mental health disorder found that children with a diagnosis of depression were three times more likely to bully, while a diagnosis of Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) was associated with a six fold increase in the odds of being identified as a bully.

New research shows that parents are a key tool in the prevention of bullying. “Improving parent-child communication and parental involvement with their children could have a substantial impact on child bullying,” said Rashmi Shetgiri, MD, MSHS, lead author of a study presented at the May 3, 2010 Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) annual meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Research indicates that African-American and Latino children were more often bullies than Caucasian children. Another indicator was that children with emotional, developmental or behavioral problems were more likely to be bullies. Additionally, children of parents with a poor understanding of child development and who felt children often acted up just to aggravate the parents were likely to be bullies to their siblings and peers.

Factors that decreased the likelihood of children becoming a bully included children that regularly did their homework, parents who shared ideas and talked with their children, and parents who met their children’s friends. Healthy parental involvement in a child’s life was seen as the key component in children not becoming bullies. It is also believed that previously accepted sibling rivalry may in fact be the first step towards bullying and should not be considered normal or acceptable.

There is still great debate on just how to define a bully, especially among students and researchers. Such a false dichotomy leads to students dismissing anti-bullying messages even though they themselves may be a bully. Swedish students recently surprised researchers by indicating personal traits and preferences led to more bullying than societal norms or cultural environments.
What is known is that bullying crosses over all socio-economic levels and children with mental health issues are three times more likely to bully than those without such. Children growing up without healthy parent interactions are also more likely to be both bully and victim.

The words of a bully are seldom disputed when heard but what about the actions of the surrounding populous? How does society create a bully? Australia is leading the world in fighting bullying, including defining it and in not over-reacting to it. After all, not all negative comments are bullying actions.

Quoting from their “www.bullyingnoway.gov.au” website, “The definition of bullying has three critical aspects ‐ a repeated pattern, the misuse of power within relationships, and behavior which causes harm; all three aspects need to be present in order for behavior to be called bullying. In a situation where there is a power imbalance, one person or group has a significant advantage over another, and if this power is misused, this enables them to coerce or mistreat another for their own ends. In a bullying situation this power imbalance may arise from the context (e.g. having others to back you up), from assets (e.g. access to a weapon) or from personal characteristics (e.g. being stronger, more articulate or more able to socially manipulate others).”

The key to stopping a bully is action. It may seem like the best thing to do is simply walk away but that has serious and long-term emotional, psychological, and physiological consequences for all involved and all witnessing the bullying event, in addition to any immediate harmful effects or physical harm perpetrated. A child witnessing a bully should tell a responsible adult as quickly as possible.

Adults, however, tend to hold back from taking action, especially those who do not witness the event firsthand. Taking no action at all or doing nothing is also a form of bullying because it allows the bullying to continue. Communities that condone negative behavior are simply creating an environment that encourages more of the same.

The answer to bullying is not silence. It is taking action. That action requires finding solution-based, effective ways that promote healthy relationships between everyone towards everyone. Interventions need to be matched to the particular circumstance of the bullying. No single approach to bullying is appropriate or effective in all circumstances or for all people. However, supportive bystanders can stop or diminish bullying and also aid the victim in recovery. Punishment is not the answer to bullying. Social disapproval is far more effective as is a positive attitude toward anti-bullying.

The first step in preventing bullying is positive interaction, healthy relationships, and involvement in a nurturing manner towards all. Then, what’s good will get a little bit better and what’s bad will be gone.