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The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World (CBC Massey Lecture) Paperback – October 13, 2009
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The book explored the various ways different cultures found their way in the world. Some examples: Aborigines practiced environmental stewardships for TENS of thousands of years, although they have no need for the concept of linear time. Polynesian navigators became human supercomputers in order to find specks of land across the vast Pacific Ocean without compasses, sextants, and GPS's. Nomadic tribes in Northern Kenya accrued huge herds of cattle as an adaptation to a land of recurring drought. These practices were all woven elaborately into the customs and traditions of each unique culture; it's all very fascinating stuff.
In modern times, we have a tendency to dismiss these incredible and ingenious achievements that allowed indigenous people to survive and thrive. Sometimes it's unintentional; other times it's outright disturbing. Heyerdahl of the Kon-Tiki fame, ignited the public's imagination with his voyage across the Pacific, but dismissed the reams of evidence that pointed to this great achievement was of Polynesian origins. An Australian politician in the 20th century declared that "there is no scientific evidence the the aboriginal is a human being at all", a commonly held notion that led almost to the extinction of one of the oldest and continuous ways of life in the world. Development agencies, with the noble intentions of helping nomadic tribes settled, destroyed a culture that was developed around surviving drought.
All of these intriguing insights address the central question of the book: Why are cultures worth saving? I'll leave with one of the most powerful passages of the book:
"Were I to distill a single message from these Massey Lectures, it would be that culture is not trivial. It is not decoration or artifice, the songs we sing or even the prayers we chant. It is a blanket of comfort that gives meaning to lives. It is a body of knowledge that allows the individual to make sense out of the infinite sensations of consciousness, to find meaning and order in a universe that ultimately has either. Culture is a body of laws and traditions, a moral and ethical code that insultates a people from the barbaric heart that history suggests lies just beneath the surface of all human societies and indeed all humans. Culture alone allows us to reach, as Abraham Lincoln said, for the better angels of our nature. (p. 198)"
I highly recommend this book. As modern Western culture continues to grapple with issues of depression, meaning, and what it means to become an adult human being, I can't help but feel that there are things we can learn from other
Davis can and does speak to the scholar in us, but he prefers to connect with us, and connect us all, as compassionate sentient beings inhabiting a planet together; as collective caretakers of culture; protectors of a deep truth that has bound us all since the beginning, but is being tragically bulldozed and blanketed by the belief that tomorrow's days cannot include yesterday's dreams: the peoples who still embody, on this day, our ancient noble lineages and sacred truths. Far from being foregone conclusions; by-gone anachronisms doomed to dust, Davis reminds and re-inspires us that these cultures in his book are in-fact whom we should aspire to be like. He gives them their long overdue respect as the phenomenal blood-pumping beings that they are, not just some scholarly subject of habits and rituals or overly mystified as quaint characters in an exotic fairytale. Far from it: their actions, traditions, wisdom and convictions soar above our modern selves.
If you can't tell by now, this book touched every sense and sentience I have, every step of the way. Such is the calling card of a true masterpiece. It has and continues to inspire me on a weekly basis, its words and message forever a part of me, its cause now my own. If I had all the money in the world, I would hand out a copy to all and make it required reading of schoolchildren in every country. My hats off and sincerest gratitude to Mr. Wade Davis.