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Mike RobinsonMore and more, Newton’s third law makes sense in my volunteer life: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

For many of us, these are dispiriting times. Trade wars, trashing of environmental regulations, insulting of long-term allies, and validation of racist and crude behaviours emanating from our American neighbours aren’t the norm in the North American neighbourhood.

If old Isaac Newton’s thinking can be applied to the contemporary social realm, in every interaction between two objects, there are two forces at play and the size of the forces on the first object equals the size of the forces on the second. Taken spiritually, the forces of evil are equally countered by the forces of good.

There’s nothing new about this relationship of powers – it’s really the organizing principle of most of the world‘s religions. So when the heat gets turned up by the forces you oppose, it makes sense to redouble your efforts in opposition.

I think I’ve unconsciously turned up the volume of my volunteer life in direct proportion to the aggravation I feel. Without deliberately planning it, I’ve recommitted to volunteer works in civil society at an abnormal pace and intensity. And I’m not alone. My two major volunteer commitments, chairing CPAWS (the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society) national board of trustees and being treasurer of PRISMA (the Pacific Region International Summer Music Academy), place me in close association with 25 other like-minded and over- committed folks.

Both organizations are in peak season. One is urging and leading national park and protected area strategies to meet Canada’s commitments to the Aichi Biodiversity Targets and the Paris Agreement. The other is staging a small town symphony music festival involving 90 of the world’s best music students, 24 superb international guest artists and the maestro of the Moscow Symphony Orchestra. That’s just June.

Thrown in with that mix are a CPAWS national executive director search, occasioned by the departure, after nearly a decade, of a superb executive director, and the looming need to recruit new staff to plan PRISMA 7 in 2019. The volunteer boards of the two organizations are conceptualizing, leading and doing the personnel searches. This has involved hundreds of hours of writing job descriptions, supervising postings, reading letters and resumes, organizing the metrics of candidate selection, selecting, shortlisting, interviewing, choosing and contracting. All done by volunteers.

How sustainable is all this?

I pondered that recently as I flew red eye on three planes from Powell River, B.C., where I live, to Ottawa, where the CPAWS executive director search committee was conducting candidate interviews. Granted, I’m retired and have the leeway to throw volunteer hours at the environmental and cultural values I support, but one can still question the sense of urgency that appears to drive all this work.

And so, back to Newton’s third law for a response on the question of drive.

Besides the snarky meanness and daily delivery of the Donald Trump era’s tweets and bashes, there’s the stark absence of books and reading, beautiful art and music, environmental rambles in wild lands, and the simple embrace of learning in all that his disciples advocate.

Why has the public realm been relegated to such a narrow vision of commerce, in the almost total absence of those cultural endeavours that give meaning to the well-lived life? Why has golf (actually, golf-cart golf) become the defining exercise? Why have old boomer white men become the principal exponents of the culture? Why is voluntarism rendered voiceless in the Trump worldview?

Maybe because his worldview is the polar opposite to that of civil society and the old Newtonian opposing forces are once again at play. I use the word ‘play’ advisedly, to steer the dialectic away from physical combat as much as possible.

I think the whole Trumpist game is fake tough and fake fun. The human spirit has evolved over several hundred thousand years in a much more substantive direction – and we owe it to ourselves to champion these best angels of our nature.

Troy Media columnist Mike Robinson has been CEO of three Canadian NGOs: the Arctic Institute of North America, the Glenbow Museum and the Bill Reid Gallery.

human spirit, Trump

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