Living in Context and Nuance: It’s Never Either/Or, It’s And…

Our minds are quite capable of holding more than one thought or perspective at a time, in addition to experiencing conflicting feelings around an experience. It’s part of being human.  Some scientists are working to smooth out those “rough” spots and make it “easier” for people to walk in the world (usually through pharmaceuticals). Easier does not always equal good or even desirable. Even challenges that make you drop to your knees are often our best teachers. What we often find hiding behind all the smoke and mirrors is that it is rarely either/or. Both context and nuance play a major role that is either ignored or unacknowledged, to our detriment.
To not consider context or nuance limits our ability to truly experience our place in the world and our relationships with others. It can be the stimulus we need to make changes and the tools of our suppression. Example: When my children were young I enjoyed spending time with them AND I enjoyed being at work several days a week outside the home. For a while I fluctuated between feeling guilty that my mom role wasn’t fulfilling enough (what was wrong with me?) and wanting to be out in the world to share my other gifts and talents that made up me.
It seemed that in the context of my life at that time, I had to make a mental “choice”: either I was a mother or I was a professional. We all know you can’t be both a mom and a career woman because your family will suffer when mothers have a career outside the home. (This last part was the cultural context I experienced living in North Carolina at the time.) I did not buy into that particular context but I ran up against this mindset in others outside of my family who felt it their duty to point out the potential negative consequences of my choices. This cultural backdrop and my choices based on my need to walk my path in this world, and the pushback that it elicited, at times, by well intentioned people, was part of my life.
Placing this experience into a larger context, this was minor compared to what people of color experienced during that same time frame (1980-1990) and those whose very existence depended upon them working one or more jobs, regardless of how many children they had at home. Having the luxury to be able to make that choice adds another contextual layer. I can acknowledge my privileges and work to create a more just social system. I can create a fulfilling life and also be overwhelmed by it. I can be loving to my partner and incredibly selfish. We can create more ands and less either/ors. We can choose to expand our view in some areas of our lives and narrow our focus in other parts, at the same time. I can honor the flag representing our country and resist being told how that honoring should look.
In the herbal community there has been some heated discussions about the mindset of the younger herbalists vs older and/or experienced herbalists. Some assumptions and traditional ways of doing things are being challenged. There are so many more ways to learn about herbs today than 20 years ago.  We don’t have to go out and harvest plants or sit with them – they can be shipped directly to us. We’re not limited to just the plants in our bioregion but have access to the world’s supplies.  The basis for herbalism is our relationship to the plants and with our human community. How will that look as the supply of herbs dwindle due to climate change and human consumption? How will herbalism respond to this challenge?
Herbalism is a big tent. You can be an herbalist whose focus is mainly on the chemical and structural components of herbs and you can be an herbalist whose focus is more on the energetic components and traditional uses of herbs. It doesn’t have to be either/or, just and.  You can study an herb in a book or online and you can experience it. They both provide valuable information and a context in which to view it’s medicine. Wouldn’t you want to be able to go out and experience wild ginseng in it’s native surroundings? To be able to go out and see it in the wild without concern that someone will come along and dig it all up without thinking of the consequences of such devastation? In this context, viewing plants only as how they relate to fulfilling our needs and wants is a limited view of the inter connectedness that binds us all on this planet and feeds into the either/or mindset. Plants can be supported and protected by us and they can be mindlessly destroyed by the same hand. If ginseng quietly leaves this world, we will be the poorer for it.
We need to grow and harvest. Protect and rebuild. Mourn for the destruction and rejoice in efforts to ensure a future supply. We are ALL of these: protector and destroyer; growers and harvesters; dreamers and pragmatists.
 It’s never either/or, only and….
Man holding an earth globe in his hands. Earth image provided by NASA.

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