Aug 27, 2005

The Wisdom to Know the Difference

I have one of those pocket prayer cards that read: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; The courage to change the things I can; And the wisdom to know the difference. I don't keep it in my wallet 'cos I had memorised this a long time back for moments like these.

I received an email from one of last Sunday's Reefwalk participants this morning. He raised many concerns regarding how much damage is imposed on our shores during Reefwalks. This is not an issue that is new to us. It is an issue that we grapple with all of the time. How do we educate people during Reefwalk yet minimise the impact of having large groups of people walking the reefs?

I was deeply troubled for the rest of the day. Just sat outside Lucky Plaza after work, putting my troubles down on paper 'cos I didn't know who to turn to for reassurance. I was so weighed down by what he said. --- "Have we succeeded in spreading green ecology? Or, is this just another ‘outing’ for bored Singaporeans .. keen to brag on Monday what terribly different and exciting things they did?" --- "If people cant learn to respect nature, I say it's better to leave it... By highlighting these places as ‘things to do’, we are only helping in their decimation. Let them stick to Orchard and cinemas, .. so the mud skippers, crabs, anemones may live."

I wasn't upset by his words. In fact, I was very grateful and touched that he took the trouble to share his thoughts and feelings 'cos it showed he cared. I was upset because I felt I didn't have the wisdom to know the difference between what can be changed and what can't, what is right or not so right in the long term, what may seem wrong but is actually right. Darn it, I didn't even know the difference between a dead or live octopus.

We have always maintained a "soft approach" to spreading the message of marine conservation. We don't storm into restaurants while people are enjoying their shark's fin soup to show them gory pictures of fin-less sharks bleeding to death. We don't picket outside buildings to fight for a cause. Our approach is simple - conservation through education.

"If you want to build a ship, don't drum to the women and men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea." - Antoine De Saint-Exupery, The Wisdom of the Sands

So for us, we can't simply say "Don't litter", "Don't throw rubbish into drains 'cos it will end up in the ocean". We SHOW them how littered our shores are. We don't expect people to fight for or against something unless we know that the groundwork has already been laid - that people already FEEL for our shores.

But how do you make people FEEL?
--- God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;

Do I have the ability to change a mindset or move a heart?
--- The courage to change the things I can;

Can I do so without causing even more damage to the very things I'm trying to protect in the first place?
--- And the wisdom to know the difference.


UdangHantu said...

On Chek Jawa, when this issue is brought up, we always tell the visitor that we take them along a designated "kill zone" where a sacrifice is made for the education of the public, and that there are other areas that are left alone for either recovery, or just to let it be.

In Kusu, I think there are two lagoons, and both are used for walks? Perhaps mention could be made of the area closer to the beacon where there are huge corals, anemones and shrimps, and nemoes, and that the area is not being shown off due to being too pretty and may be dangerous for public to go down.

kilbunny said...

either sacrifice a small number of sea stars in exchange for a more enlightened public who learns not to collect shells or keep kusu pristine, but suffer the ignorance of an uninformed public. we do try our best to impose as little as we can on kusu. i do feel that the participants go home with equipped with that little bit of knowledge to protect other bits of nature we have left in singapore. and learn to understand the magnitude of their actions.
i had a group of participants who were so horrified after i told them the origins of soft shelled crabs they declared they were gonna avoid that dish from then onwards. whether or not that would materialize, at least i know i've done my bit in spreading that little bit of conservation message. (i do still luv soft shelled crabs tho'. no sharks' fins however.)

nan said...

i agree that it's better to sacrifice a little to achieve a bigger objective. it's really important for reefguides to explain the purpose of reefwalks and stress the importance of participants keeping in line to minimize damage to the reefs.

i was heartened that my group of participants religiously kept to a single file behind our guide,daniel, during the recent kusu walk. at one point, one of the guys stepped out of line and hearing the hard coral snap and break under his feet, was so embarrassed that he quickly stepped back into line. no doubt that some corals were sacrificed in the process but i m sure that everyone in the group went back with a heightened awareness of the fragility of our environment and perhaps that will set them thinking about how to protect it.

Papa Jeff said...

I was intrigued by the issues raised in the feedback.

I would encourage eveyone who has read the comments to take some time to reflect on the issues that were raised, and come to an agreement, with yourself, that what we are doing is the right thing to do.

Points of view are just that ...they do nothing in, and of themselves. What is important is the decision to act thereafter (to do nothing is an action in itself).

We at BWV have (or may not have) reflected on our actions, and have decided to continue with our activities, because we feel that the way forward is to bring this knowledge of the reefs to the public, in the hopes that they will (eventually) lend their voices to the cause of conservation - more specifically, on marine conservation.

And if anyone needs some avenue for release, I think we can arrange that too :)


fLoGgiE said...

The quote "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; The courage to change the things I can; And the wisdom to know the difference" brings to mind once more ten 15 years ago when I was a very frustrated person and the quote guided me through to today.

I have also learned that in life, there are issues which are within our area of influence to affect and change, and there are issues which are only within our area of concern, where we can educate and raise awareness.

I do hope that President Bush, after seeing for himself the devastation left in the wake of hurricane Katrina will recognise that the earth is suffering from the abuse by mankind in the name of economic progress and that unless we begin to take measures to stop the pollution, we must be prepared for much more worst from nature.