In 1968, I went to Lesotho in Southern Africa to teach at an university with a newly minted graduate degree proudly tucked under my belt. I was full of myself confident about my ability to help solve all the problems of Africa. One dry hot summer day, after brazenly tearing around many a mountain road in my Land Rover, I was rushing to go home hot, hungry, thirsty, and tired. I saw this old man, with only a piece of rag on his back resting his hands and the chin on a crooked walking stick, sitting on a rock by the road. He looked tired, almost sickly. Of course, I stopped the car and offered him a ride like all good missionaries should do. But he waived his hands and said, “U tsamaea ‘utate. Ke emela moea.” Meaning something like, “Go away young man. I walked a long way today. I am waiting here for my spirit to catch up with me.” I thought, “What a stupid old man. That’s why Africa is so backward.”

Only recently, it dawned on me that I was the stupid one, and he was the one with true wisdom. He could teach us a thing or two, if we want to save our planet from destruction.

He might have died in a few years from malnutrition. His people had never contributed to scientific advancement significantly, neither did they contributed to any technological break through. But they never invented weapons of mass destruction, neither did they caused extinction of any species. I am sure, it was the wisdom of my old African friend on the mountain road that God gave us when we were created in God’s image , not the know-how to exploit and manipulate God given nature. In fact, wasn’t it the fruit of the tree of knowledge that God forbade us to eat? We have some element of knowledge, but have not got the wisdom to distinguish what is good and bad. What we have is like a beautiful piece of marvel of technology like Ferrari, but do not know how to handle it nor where to go with it. We may be speeding towards a cliff of Grand Canyon.

During the height of a dollar a litre gas last summer, a car was seen going around and round a city block. A man asked the driver if he could help if he was lost. He answered, “Thanks. But I know where I’m going. A cheapest gas in town just over there. I’m trying to use up a bit of gas left in the tank, so I can fill it.” Some of us are like that. We think we are very clever, but not really. We may know a lot of things, but not necessarily are wise.

We believe that we are the most advanced form of life. After all God created us in his image. We have the most advanced science and technology no other creature ever possessed. But from greed and vanity the way we are going full speed ahead into self-destruction using whatever we possess, could be much more foolish than the man who is in search of cheap gas. A cartoon on the Globe and Mail two Saturdays ago had it that a doctor talking to a figure of a planet earth on the examination table, “The bad news is you’ve got advanced-stage humans. The good news is they’ve just about run their course and you should be on the mend soon.” If our knowledge and achievements are driving our planet into catastrophe due to environmental degradation and constant warfare, are we really that advanced and better than other creatures?

A 19th century historian and philosopher, Arnold Tynbee, once said that if human race continued to wage wars on each other for the reason of doctrinal and religious differences, for national interests, or for wealth, probably better organized societies of ants and bees would survive long after humans disappeared.

Dinosaurs had existed for several hundred millions of years before they became extinct. But I was surprised to find at the Insect Museum in Montreal: I was confronted with the fact that cockroaches had existed millions of years before dinosaurs. And they are still with us. David Suzuki predicted that if we continue to destroy life-sustaining environment at the current rate, humans will be just a hiccup in the history of the planet compared to dinosaurs and cockroaches. Our history of existence on this planet is less than a mere one million years. Are cockroaches more intelligent than we are? They know how to survive.

We have to think deeply what it means to say that we were created in God’s image. Is it just a wishful fantasy of our ancestors? Or is it the truth? If it is the truth, we have to prove it in short order. We don’t have hundreds of millions of years like dinosaurs had, to prove that they were not. We have only a few decades to prove that we are better than cockroaches. We owe it to our children and grand-children to do it. We have to stop our cars and computers, and sit and wait for our spirits to catch up with us. Or do we even know where our spirits are? That is a good question.

March 8, 2007

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