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  • Writer's pictureSean

"Whenever we make changes in our surroundings, we can too easily shortchange ourselves, by cutting ourselves off from some of the sights and sounds, the shapes or textures, or other information from a place that have helped mold our understanding and are now necessary for us to thrive. Overdevelopment and urban sprawl can damage our own lives as much as they damage our cities and countryside." - Tony Hiss, The Experience of Place.

Those words, a reflection of Tony Hiss' previous work writing about our place in the world, is a fitting introduction to his newest book, Rescuing the Planet. An optimistic look at potential ways to shift the discussion away from merely destruction and hopelessness to one of change and hope. We've watched the overdevelopment, and urban sprawl take hold, not to mention the environmental disasters that loom large around the planet and in our minds. The daily reminder that we've perhaps already gone too far. Every hint of natural disaster somehow linked back to the climate. It can be difficult for many of us to find the answer to what we can do.

Tony Hiss' book tries to find a path forward for many of us in ways that perhaps we haven't even considered. Carbon emissions garner the lion's share of attention alongside corporate greed. Hiss doesn't neglect these items but instead focuses more closely on nature and how our connection to, and space within it, needs to be healed. E.O. Wilson, and his Half-Earth Project, are one way that this is being done. A continued focus on growing protected lands around the world to allow for biodiversity to not only stabilize but thrive. Hiss spends much of his time speaking of how we as a species have only recently begun to understand how interconnected the planet truly is. Weather patterns starting in one corner of the earth, impacting those halfway around the world. Or consider Hiss' deep dive into how deforestation in the boreal forest, whether man-made or through large-scale fires, can lead to imbalances in wolf populations because elk and caribou behaviour changes with the fauna changing, more open land and less area to hide.

I'll pause for a moment and also recommend Merlin Sheldrake's book Entangled Life on how we are still trying to figure out how the world works and how seemingly innocuous Funghi may be interconnected throughout the planet. A brilliant and eye-opening book on how much we don't understand about the earth.

Hiss seconds this notion recognizing that we have catalogued roughly 2 million species to date but understand that the actual number is likely north of 10 million based on statistical inference. Therefore, the need to protect more lands is vital to maintaining this biodiversity and work being done specifically on climate change.

Another project referenced is the work being done to protect the lands along the Appalachian Trail. Tens of thousands of people walk along parts of the Trail every year with its beautiful landscapes, incredible hiking trails, and ability to connect to nature despite being close to cities in certain areas. The project aims to expand the protected lands beyond the trail as a barrier to any encroaching industry or development. This is something that could happen anywhere as hiking trails become more popular. Why not protect all of the lands around trails and create formal parks around them?

The appetite to do this in economically prosperous countries is obviously greatest, and so it will continue to be essential to work with developing countries to do the same. To recognize that their own biodiversity is far richer than the products coming out of the ground or converted into pastured land. Cities as well can work to grow their green footprint. Many buildings in certain cities now come with green space on the roof to allow birds and insects to live. Forward thing architects are even building the exteriors of some buildings with greenery to help beautify the cities but also do their small part in carbon capture.

This book is part environmental, part science education on biodiversity and what is going on globally. I'd recommend it to anyone interested in the natural sciences and those interested in better understanding how the world is connected. Entangled Life is another recommendation, but I'd also throw in Richard Powers' novel The Overstory. A fictional tale that weaves in beautiful references to the world around us and the connection that forest and nature have with humanity.

"People aren't the apex species they think they are. Other creatures - bigger, smaller, slower, faster, older, younger, more powerful - call the shots, make the air, and eat sunlight. Without them, nothing." - The Overstory.

For additional information, you can check out E.O. Wilson's project, The Half-Earth Project as well.

  • Writer's pictureSean

Have you read any good war stories looks or books on war lately? I don't mean just a history book; I mean the kind of book that keeps you on your toes and buries itself deep inside of you.

Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried is that book. It's the book you may not have heard about but contains some of the most brilliant writing of any book I've encountered, let alone a book on war. It's hard to even describe this book. What seems like one man's story on the Vietnam War becomes more. It becomes a meditation on what war actually means to the individuals fighting while also containing storytelling components that knocked me off my seat.

This is an easy candidate for the Top 10 books I've read this year and likely in the top half, if I'm honest. Once you've read this book, you can see what so many after have tried to capture in their own war stories. To capture their own stories while stripping away the fluff and leaving you having to decide on your own what to think. You will grimace in disgust, feel anger at times, and the next page might be despair and sadness.

After picking this one off the stack to read on a Friday night, I found myself finished that same night. It didn't even make the #currentlyreading list. It was just over.

One of my favourite quotes from this one (note the tabs because I didn't even have time to set up a proper note page in my notes app!) was this:

"A true war story is never moral. It does not instruct, nor encourage virtue, nor suggest models of proper human behavior, nor restrain men from doing the things men have always done. If a story seems moral, do not believe it. If at the end of a war story you feel uplifted, or if you feel that some small bit of rectitude has been salvaged from the larger waste, then you have been made the victim of a very old and terrible lie. There is no rectitude whatsoever. There is no virtue. ... You can tell a true war story by its absolute and uncompromising allegiance to obscenity and evil."

That quotes sums up the book quite well. Don't expect to feel good about this one or that morality wins. In fact, don't even expect to relate to the characters because you will soon find that most struggled to relate to what they were doing as well. It's a book about real people going off to fight a war with no sense of what war is or why they are fighting. I think Tim O'Brien captures that essence brilliantly in this one and it deserves a read.

First, a shoutout to Portfolio Books for sending a free copy my way!

How are your listening skills? Do you think of yourself as a good listener?

Ximena Vengoechea's book Listen Like You Mean It could be the book you need to really step up your listening game while helping to reclaim connection. What really stands out about this book is its readability, the inclusion of easy-to-use exercises, and graphics that lighten the book's overall tone. Some books can come across as stiff and inaccessible, but Vengoechea's book breaks up any perceived monotony with infographics and drawings.

The real strength of this book is the content. Thorough, helpful and as mentioned, full of exercises and insight to better make us all better listeners. Everything starts with our mindset and how we approach each conversation. Do you find yourself stressing about the three things you need to say, or are you relaxed and ready to let the discussion flow as required while being mindful of your message? This all starts before the conversation even happens as we build our own awareness of how we interact with others.

Consider that our posture, our level of interest in the topic (can we shift to being more curious about the other person?), and our emotions at the moment all factor into how the conversation may go and something we need to think about before starting. Ximena distinguishes listening into the idea of surface listening and empathetic listening, which is a helpful distinction. Surface listening is us hearing the literal conversation but missing the emotional content. As Ximena writes, empathetic listening "is what allows us to be more effective listeners ... when we deliberately slow things down and seek to understand others' inner worlds."

She notes:

"One of the most common and easiest listening mistakes we can make in surface listening mode is to project our own feelings, ideas, or experiences onto others."

This is often where we lose track of our own conversations, a singular focus on what is going on inside our minds versus what the other person may be feeling. There are parallels to what we see in social media, where many "conversations" are two individuals speaking their one side. Imagine two individuals trying to connect in a way where understanding is the fundamental goal. Sadly, social media isn't designed for conversation; text limits, endless scrolling, and no incentive to connect (will we actually talk to this person again?)

I'm reminded of this quote from Sherry Turkle in her book Reclaiming Conversation:

"So we move away from the slower pace, where you have to wait, listen, and let your mind go over things. We move away from the pace of human conversation. And so conversations without agenda, where you discover things as you go along, become harder for us. We haven't stopped talking, but we opt out, often unconsciously, of the kind of conversation that requires full attention. Every time you check your phone in company, what you gain is a hit of stimulation, a neurochemical shot, and what you lose is what a friend, teacher, parent, lover, or co-worker just said, meant, felt."

This book looks to not only reclaim conversation but strengthen the ways we converse. Understanding that being curious about another is our way in and recognizing that the emotional feelings of the other person are how we can genuinely connect. With this recognition comes the need to be humble. Vengoechea recognizes that humility can be one of our biggest strengths. Consider this easy to remember list to place yourself in the right mindset for humility:

  1. Let go of preconceived notions

  2. Leave judgment at the door

  3. Assume you are in the presences of an expert

How often are we crippled by our own preconceived notions? Why are we automatically correct, and why do we think we know this other person? As humans, we seem hardwired to judge quickly and move on. As these judgments solidify, we tend to apply them to everyone who comes into focus. Reminding ourselves this ahead of time can help to break down those barriers we may have erected.

This is an excellent book for anyone looking to strengthen their conversation skills and, ultimately, their connections. In a world where we've spent the last year working from home and conversing through computers, a book like this can help get those face-to-face conversations rolling again.


For a deeper look at Sherry Turkle's book Reclaiming Conversation check out this post here. Looking for something to boost your mindset before heading into those conversations? I'd suggest this post on Martin Seligman's book Authentic Happiness.

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