Friday, September 12, 2008

The Man Who Planted Trees

Note: I wrote this during and after school yesterday, but didn't get the chance to post it.

Today’s journal entry is a question: Can one person change the world? Explain your answer.

I am interested to see what my students think. Do they believe it is possible for one person to affect world change? I know already that I believe it is. And that the fact has been demonstrably proven with both positive and negatives effects.

Take Khalid Sheikh Mohammed as an example of changing the world in a negative way. He was the mastermind behind the 9/11 terrorist attack on the US. That one man did change the world. Wars started. Prejudice and hatred increased. Terrorist attacks have risen. Tens of millions of the world’s poorest children starved to death as direct and indirect result of the economic upheavals that occurred.

On a more positive note, as one of my students pointed out, Gandhi was a person who affected a positive change upon the world. I elaborated by pointing out that the non-violent resistance was not only successful in India, but also in South Africa and the United States as well. Gandhi began his nonviolent resistance in South Africa and that legacy lasted. There was a change of government there that did not require civil war and millions upon millions dead. And Martin Luther King, Jr. adapted the lessons of Gandhi to the civil rights protests right here. Imagine the different way our society and the world would have reacted if the marchers in Birmingham had shot back at the police--or if the Freedom Riders came in armed and shooting.

Some students who are adamant that no one person can change the world, that doing that is up to God. Or that it was just plain impossible. It is a more than a little sad that their life experiences to date have trained them to nihilism. Some are very fatalistic. Some are full of anger. Some have already given up and are trying to live life without the benefit of hope.

Then I showed them the movie The Man Who Planted Trees, from the story by Jean Giono. It is an inspirational story of a man who plants trees, just because he felt the need to do so. And over the course of years he planted a forest. And very slowly and quietly, never seeking recognition, the forest grew. Most others thought that this was a miracle of nature.

To see the changes that this one man nurtured, through two world wars, is little short of miraculous. The animation of the film is breathtaking. It is simple yet profound, as befits the story it tells. I always find it to be an uplifting experience to watch this film.

Giono later wrote, after being asked many times, that the story was a work of fiction. But that should not deter us from believing the deeper message: one man can change the world. I point out the many thousands of people inspired by this story to plant trees. Millions of trees around the world have been planted by those who read the story. Or by others who were inspired by these people. One man, in this case Giono, has made a difference.

I love the power of writing.

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