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The lessons I learned from the year just passed

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The annual ritual of thinking up New Year’s Resolutions is starting to leave me cold. It’s too bound up in the notion of self-improvement(s), trails not taken, opportunities not seized, and human imperfection. It is always as if the Sisters of Mercy are departed and gone, and face up to it, you missed them. You will not soon be kissing the dew on their hem.

Didn’t Leonard Cohen, at his best, want us to remember what they taught us, and to go forward with that new knowledge? In that spirit I am choosing to celebrate all that I learned in 2016. I invite you to do the same.

To start with, I should be thankful that I am still here, and reflect on why I am. Very directly, I am still here because of the robust vehicle design of my old 2006 Mini Cooper S. It enabled me to survive a potentially fatal rear-ending on the Upper Levels highway in West Vancouver on a dark and rainy July night. My Mini absorbed the hit, its seat belt system prevented whiplash, and my assailant disappeared into the night. The Mini was totalled; I’m still here. As a result, I have learned to be super cautious about late night driving at highway speeds, to value doubly smart vehicle design, to wear my seat belt always, and to never take neighbouring traffic for granted.

2016 also taught me to value more highly all the ways face-to-face association, in real time with other people, enriches my life. We are at risk of succumbing to the algorithmic control of our computerized “devices” and, in this process, forgetting that the boards we serve on, the classes we take, the people we mentor, the friends we travel with, the families we create, the teams we play on, are the primary means for us all to acquire human knowledge. Texting, clicking and tweeting are secondary. And the people who would have us believe otherwise are not to be trusted.

An ongoing learning, reinforced by last year’s passing, was how much I enjoy growing my own vegetables and catching my own fish. This may sound pretty trite to some, but once again I noticed how many friends and relatives stopped at our deer-fenced garden in the middle of the woods, and asked questions like: “Wow – that must take a lot of time. How many hours a day do you spend here?” And: “Is it possible to grow lots of your own food?” Or, at the marina, “Are you catching any salmon?” The answers: “No, after you prepare the beds and plant the seeds, it’s about half an hour per day from the end of May until harvest time;” “Yes, we can eat vegetables and fruit from this garden for at least four months of the year;” and “You can get at least one good strike at Coho Point every day all summer.”

Once again in 2016 I learned that my grown children are firmly into adulthood, and yet I still have to fight the urge to parent. As my daughter would say, “Don’t infantalize us, Pa!” It’s a tough instinct to crack, but it must be done. In return you receive many new gifts. My son spent the year gifting me renewed physical fitness and consciously seeking fun. “I want you to have more fun, Dad!” became a joyous refrain. As a result I lost some weight, developed a new gym regime, and slowly started running again. And it was fun.

Because I’m fortunate enough to live in the country, I continuously learn from the natural world. 2016 taught me that ravens can speak to you; that cougars are always present, but only seen at night; that humpback whales can learn to colonize new territories; that dog salmon are amongst the most resilient of salmonids; and that I’d really like to have a dog again. Another golden retriever would be nice.

Maybe this is the year.

Mike Robinson has been CEO of three Canadian NGOs: the Arctic Institute of North America, the Glenbow Museum and the Bill Reid Gallery. Mike has chaired the national boards of Friends of the Earth, the David Suzuki Foundation, and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society. In 2004, he became a Member of the Order of Canada.

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Mike Robinson

Mike Robinson’s career combined his academic training in Law and Anthropology at UBC and Oxford University, in frontier regulatory compliance work at Petro-Canada and PolarGas, and the leadership of three national NGOs: The Arctic Institute of North America, The Glenbow Alberta Institute, and The Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art. In addition, he has chaired the national boards of Friends of the Earth, The David Suzuki Foundation, and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society. In 2004 he became a Member of the Order of Canada.

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