Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Three Things

Earlier this year I appeared on Michigan Radio’s “Three Things” series, in which people offer three ideas to help our state in this time of crisis. Here is a rough approximation of what I said: my “Three Things We Can Do to Help Michigan” (or any other place, for that matter…)

You can hear the broadcast here

1. Michigan is defined by its waters, so one thing we can do is find out where our drinking water comes from and go visit it. Every single one of us lives in a watershed, so go find the headwaters of your nearest river, go Kayaking or canoeing, go for a walk along a nearby stream—if you do you’re sure to fall in love with it, and if we love the water we won’t want to pollute it.

When we come to understand that our lives are utterly dependent on the waters, we can begin to see that the rivers and streams are everywhere—not just between the banks and shorelines, but in the gutters and sewers under the street, in our sinks, and literally flowing through our veins. We can each immediately improve the heath of our waters by limiting our use of home toxics and not using fertilizers—if you live in an apartment complex or condominium talk to the management about cancelling the pesticide and fertilizer applications.

2. Keep art local: I’m a musician, so I often think about local art the way many people are starting to think about local food—it should be as fresh and locally grown as possible. We want our art it to taste like our own soil. One of the really great things about our state is the incredible number of local arts organizations that we have—for example there are so many regional orchestras in Michigan—this is something quite unusual about our state that we have to find a way to maintain. We can participate as performers, audience members, donors--Think about going to a live concert or play instead of renting a video, or join your local civic band. We all have the opportunity not only support local art, but also to make it ourselves. If we are all working together to build community organizations at the same time we are striving to make beauty out of everything around us, that cannot fail to improve our lives.

3. In these tough times you’ll hear politicians talking a lot about making Michigan competitive again, but I believe one of the most important things we can do is to think ourselves to a new metaphor that we can use to understand our relationship to each other. Maybe we could replace the idea of competition with collaboration. When we compete, someone always loses, someone is always suffering, even if we win. The truth is, we competed ourselves into this recession; we might have to do something else to get out. Competition is the game that led us to this catastrophe, so setting our determination to play the same game only harder is a nonsensical response. Competition tempts us to engage in a kind of ruthless self-interest that denies our responsibilities to each other.

If we can focus on stewardship of the natural beauties that surround us, and look to the arts as a model for how to cooperate to make meaning in our own communities and out of the stuff of our own lives, we might look around and see friends and neighbors instead of winners and losers. We might come to see the project of participating in the life of our state as a creative and cooperative one.

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