About Donna Cameron

After many deeply-satisfying years in non-profit management, I’ve been spending my time exploring the good life that Rachel Remen describes as “pursuing unanswerable questions in good company.” I blog about the power of kindness, and my book, A YEAR OF LIVING KINDLY, will be published in September 2018. Always looking for ways to convey the power of stories in our lives, I believe that we can change the world through our stories . . . and through kindness. https://ayearoflivingkindly.com/

The Universe Reveals Her Secrets….

“Practice puts brains in your muscles.” (Sam Snead)

purple flowers 1 (2)Daily, I am inspired, entertained, and even challenged by the thoughtful posts of my fellow bloggers. Recently, the wonderful Jennifer Balink at Jenny’s Lark set me off on a journey of recollection and recognition. Her lovely post recounted an experience where, as a teenager, she witnessed a friend’s mother react with grace to a situation where most of us would have a meltdown. It took years for Jenny to realize what it is that gives someone the ability to instantly respond to a setback with poise and perspective.

It isn’t virtue, or superhuman patience, or even piety. It’s practice. Tedious, mundane, sometimes even annoying, practice. As lackluster as that word may be, I believe it’s one of a dozen or so secrets to living one’s best life.

Practice is one of the most undervalued traits or actions that we humans have at our disposal. Given a choice, we’d much prefer innate genius, instantaneous transformation, or magic to make us better at some pursuit—or simply to become better humans—when the answer is practice. Just keep doing it. Just keep showing up.

“Don’t you have something a bit more wondrous . . . something, I dunno, maybe kinda sexy? Like enchantment, or sleight-of-hand, or maybe something I could buy with cryptocurrency?” Continue reading

A World of Wonders

“One key to knowing joy is being easily pleased.” (Mark Nepo)

duct tape 1cThese days, I’m looking for amusement anywhere I can find it. Like many people, I’ve cut back considerably on my news consumption. Though still (excruciatingly) aware of what’s going on, I also recognize that too much immersion into current events is hazardous to my health.

While I understand that the folks who are responsible for the Jeopardy debacle did not also coordinate our withdrawal from Afghanistan, I am nonetheless struck by the comparisons and the colossal incompetence demonstrated by both events. Sadly, one has become a catastrophe of massive human suffering, while the other just reminds us what fools these mortals be.

Earlier this month, I read Ross Gay’s 2020 release, The Book of Delights. Though he is best known for his poetry, this is a book of what he terms “essayettes”—very short (½-page to 2-page) celebrations of things that delight him—from the large and lovely to the minuscule and absurd. Mr. Gay set a goal of finding at least one delight every day for a year and recording them. The book contains about 100 of these morsels that manage in exquisite prose to shine a light on the world around us while also revealing our shared humanity. I must admit, it was delightful. Continue reading

What We Humans Can Learn from Trees

“Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.” (Chief Seattle, 1854)

DSCN3070I try not to make it a practice to write about things of which I know nothing. That just seems common sensical. But sometimes, there are things that are so grand and so mysterious that writing about them is how I can get closer, how I can touch the magic.

Recently, Bill and I spent a few days in the Olympic National Forest with some dear friends. After so many months of pandemic isolation, it felt wonderful to get away and to socialize among our fellow vaccinatees. When we move up to Seattle forty years ago, the place I wanted most to see was the Hoh Rainforest in the Olympic National Park. Life had other plans for us, however, and it took four decades for that expedition to take place.

It was worth the wait.

In anticipation of that adventure, and since our return, I’ve been reading about trees and forests. What I’ve learned has both inspired and disheartened me. There is so much we are only recently beginning to understand about forest ecology, or as some are calling it, the “Wood Wide Web.” What scientists are discovering is a game-changer for planetary health, but human action—or inaction—puts us in a race to heal the earth before it’s too late.

When most of us look at trees, we see only what is above-ground: the trunk, the branches, the leaves, maybe some of the creatures inhabiting it. We may notice that this tree is growing very closely to that one, or that mosses, fungi, and other smaller vegetation cluster in their vicinity, but we tend to see everything as separate—just as we view people as separate from one another.

attribution: Donna Cameron

A Mother Tree, nurturing seedlings and providing nutrients for its neighbors

Evidence from science now clearly indicates the interrelatedness of all these living florae. Trees and plants and fungi are not only intertwined physically, they communicate in complex and sophisticated ways. They protect one another, they share essential nutrients, they warn of danger from insects, weather, or chemicals. If a tree is ailing, other trees—regardless of species—send nourishment its way. If a tree is dying, it “wills” its remaining vital nutrients to its neighbors. And even in death, a “mother tree” continues to nurture the forest, providing sustenance for the next generation of seedlings.

The beauty and complexity of these ecosystems is staggering and our ignorance of them is contributing to their demise, which may, in turn, contribute to our own. These essential forests help sustain our breathable atmosphere. They cool the earth by reflecting sunlight and providing precipitation; they capture and store carbon emissions and help regulate climate; they contribute to rich and fertile soil. Yet in much of the world, sustainable logging practices have been superseded by clear-cutting and other destructive practices that jeopardize land, soil, water, atmosphere, and living organisms across the planet.

Even now, as we are beginning to understand the critical importance of forests—especially old growth forests—we struggle to communicate it. Somewhere I read that most of us don’t even have the vocabulary to comprehend the complex bionetwork that has been evolving for as much as 600 million years into a vast and intricate symbiotic community. And we puny human newcomers pretend to have all the answers…. Our adorable arrogance may be our ultimate downfall.

In his extensively researched novel, The Overstory, Richard Powers explores the parallel world of the forest, revealing its magnificence and interconnectedness, and the potential catastrophe awaiting us if we fail to learn from it. The novel’s characters, settings, and stories are as interwoven as the forest itself, making for a read that is dense, breathtaking, and unputdownable. The book is well-deserving of its 2019 Pulitzer Prize in fiction. I recommend it highly.

There are plenty of non-fiction explorations of forests, as well. A good place to start is Ferris Jabr’s recent article for The New York Times Magazine, “The Social Life of Forests,” which follows Professor Suzanne Simard, ground-breaking forest ecologist and pioneer who is leading the way in this new  field of research. Her own recent book, Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest, is also a page-turner. Another book I just finished and absolutely loved was Lyanda Lynn Haupt’s Rooted, which talks extensively about trees, but also explores other amazing and complicated ways humans are connected to our wild and mysterious natural world.

There is still so much I want to learn and understand about forests and trees. They have a lot to teach the human community—if we would only listen. I feel blessed to have had a recent opportunity to see one of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring places on the planet. I hope what I saw and felt in the Rainforest will help me become a better and more responsible citizen of the earth.

“I do not think the measure of a civilization is how tall its buildings of concrete are, but rather how well its people have learned to relate to their environment and fellow man.” (Sun Bear of the Chippewa Tribe)

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The Unstoppable Power of Compliments and Serendipitous Encounters

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” (Leo Buscaglia)

DSCN2889At least once a week, I come across an article, research summary, or opinion piece lauding the benefits of kindness in the workplace. I’ve shared many of these demonstrated benefits through this blog over its six-plus years of kindness-diving (as opposed to dumpster-diving). And I’ve been encouraged to see that a lot of businesses are taking to heart the advice from experts that kindness is one of the best strategies a business can employ for long-term success.

As many businesses are now planning how best to transition from a remote workforce to fully-staffed offices, or a hybrid (“amphibious”) model, it’s a good time to explore where kindness fits in and how to employ it in our workplaces . . . and in our lives.

In early May, Harvard Business Review published an excellent article summarizing a workplace study of the benefits of kindness. Much of it reiterated conclusions that have been put forward by others, showing that kindness: Continue reading

White America Must Embrace Becoming a Minority

“The price of privilege is the moral duty to act when one sees another person treated unfairly.” (Isabel Wilkerson, Caste)

These are discouraging times, yet also illuminating. While the Black Lives Matter movement has brought hope and determination over this last year, it also brings awareness of how very far we are from achieving equality. And the anti-Asian sentiment that became more evident in response to COVID and climaxed in the horrific shooting in Atlanta last month shows us that hate is an equal-opportunity employer. As more of us act to counter the inequities surrounding race, ethnicity, and gender, the backlash by those intent on preserving the status quo becomes more malicious.

I am a white, middle-class, cisgender female. I recognize my privilege and know I will never fully understand what it feels like to be a minority or a member of a marginalized community. Perhaps it is that recognition that makes me eager for the day when whites join our sisters and brothers of color as minorities in America. It can’t come soon enough.

The U.S. Census Bureau has projected that by the year 2044, non-Hispanic white Americans will join all other ethnic groups as minorities. The Bureau states that, “no group will have a majority share of the total and the United States will become a ‘plurality’ of racial and ethnic groups.” Continue reading