This quote was made famous by “Pogo,” a comic strip character created by Walt Kelly (1913-1973) back at a time when environmental issues took front and center stage in America (1970-71), and they are still very much with us today. Here’s a little background information on the quote (source here):
None is more remembered than Pogo the ‘possum’s quote in the poster Kelly designed to help promote environmental awareness and publicize the first annual observance of Earth Day, held on April 22, 1970 (see poster at right):
“WE HAVE MET THE ENEMY AND HE IS US.”
In the poster, under the quote, Pogo is seen holding a litter pick-up stick and a burlap bag. He appears to be getting ready to start cleaning up the garbage humans have strewn over Okefenokee Swamp, the part of the planet where he lives.
Kelly used the line again in the Pogo strip published on the second Earth Day in 1971.
The words poignantly highlight a key concept of environmental stewardship: we all share part of the responsibility for the trashing of planet Earth, so we should all do our share to help clean it up.
Pogo’s quip was a pun based on the famous quotation “We have met the enemy and they are ours”—one of two famous quotes made by American Navy Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry on September 10, 1813, after defeating a British naval squadron on Lake Erie during the War of 1812. (Perry’s other famous quote that day was “Don’t give up the ship.”)
While the environmental issues here in America as well as the rest of the planet are certainly daunting, there is an enemy lurking is all of us that is far more daunting and far more damaging than any environmental issue including the latest one to hit the news known as “global warming.”
While the “trashing of planet Earth” has been the main focus of the global warming controversy, there is another type of “global warming” that threatens all of us, and it is far worse than any particular environmental issue (not that they aren’t important). It is the “trashing of the human race” which is far more serious.
Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) in Nazi Germany (1933-1945) tried to exterminate an entire race of people (the Jews living among them at the time, and he succeeded in murdering six million of them–known as The Holocaust–and a total of eleven million people between 1933-1945) before he committed suicide at the end of World War II. Many centuries earlier, Haman, the main antagonist in the Book of Esther, who was a vizier in the Persian empire under King Ahasuerus, traditionally identified as Xerxes I, also tried to exterminate the Jews but the attempt was foiled and he was hanged on the very gallows he had built for Mordecai, a Jew who Haman considered to be his arch enemy along with the Jewish people living in Persia. As a consequence, his ten sons were also hanged.
In an ironic twist, an article published in “United with Israel: The Global Movement for Israel” titled, “Incredible Parallels between the Purim Story and the Nazi Trials,” published March 10, 2014, shows the uncanny parallels between the hanging of Haman’s ten sons centuries ago and the hanging of ten Nazi war criminals after the Nuremberg trials for the crimes committed against humanity under Hitler. The article is available at this link.
Obviously, the topic of this blog post is one we are all very familiar with, whether it’s bullying in the classroom or road rage on the freeways, or being the recipient of disdaining looks from people we don’t even know. When left unattended, especially over time, it can turn into time bombs like Nazi Germany or the many other “revolutions” that have plummeted this planet of ours over the centuries (including two World Wars in the 20th Century). And it makes our environmental issues pale in comparison. While most of us (except our veterans and other military and medical personnel) have not experience the ravages of war up close and personal, we still run into people who seem to have a pennant for disdaining others whether they know them or not. And there seems to be a lot of pent up rage out there today. Just look at the political climate during this very tumultuous election year. And sometimes it seems like it’s coming from a feeling of superiority in thinking we are somehow better than others who are around us or who are not exactly like us. Whatever form it takes, it is ugly, and we’ve all experienced it and/or been a part of it.
It brings to mind an experience I had three years ago when I was doing a lot of traveling in search of a job (which still has never materialized but the traveling has subsided considerably). I was driving through one of my favorite areas on the Gulf Coast between Houston, TX, and the town I lived in at the time that was located just north of Tampa, FL. I decided to take a short detour and got off the main interstate to drive along a coastal highway next to the Gulf of Mexico lapping on the sand beside the pavement. It was serene and beautiful and I came upon a pretty fancy multi-storied hotel right on the beach that looked too expensive for me to stay in (I found out later that it was formerly condos that had been turned into a hotel). However, I decided to check out the rate for one night anyway so I drove into their parking lot. I was wearing “road clothes” with means I was very “dressed down” in sweats as I had just driven a very long ways from Houston by the time I stopped there. I’m sure my makeup was no longer fresh, either. As I entered the hotel (I had to walk through a parking garage to get to the elevator), I noticed that the people I ran into were definitely of the “upper crust” crowd as their clothing and luggage stated as did the vehicles parked all around the hotel, and while I didn’t mind it at all, the looks I got from the folks I ran into was, well, let’s just say it was less than inviting. It was as if they wondered what the heck someone dressed like me was doing there. Glad they didn’t see my car with the faded paint job on the roof and trunk although it was only just starting then and not nearly as bad as it is now. Anyway, their reaction was disconcerting to say the least.
Nevertheless, I remained undaunted and took the elevator with a few of the well dressed folks with expensive luggage to the front desk located two floors up. As the elevator door opened and we exited the elevator, others were waiting to get on and I received the same look from them (that look of “Honey, what ARE you doing here?” if that look could be verbalized). Granted, I was not dressed like they were dressed but that didn’t matter to me. For all they didn’t know I could have been a billionaire incognito. I was there to inquire about a room to see if I could afford it for one night. Well, I was told nothing was available by a young female clerk who gave me a similar disdaining look, and I got the message loud and clear that I should perhaps look elsewhere. So I did. And I found a really wonderful room right down the street right across from the Gulf from that fancy hotel that catered to the well-to-do.
And that is when I discovered that there really is a caste system right here in America, whether by birth or even if wealth has been acquired recently by those newly rich from the internet/technology boom or Wall Street or mass tort litigation or some other means available in the Land of Opportunity (and maybe through illegal drugs or other unsavory means, although the prescription drug industry is legal and a billion-dollar enterprise). Everybody wants to be rich in America, right? Well, the compulsion is certainly there. Just look at our multi-billion dollar advertising business selling us anything we can ever possibly need or want (and often things we never thought about needing before). And the lottery system has done a real job on us, too, promising instant millionaire status in exchange for a few measly bucks every week. Well, over the years those “few measly bucks” turn into real money for the lottery folks, while the rest of us doing the spending dream on and spend more and get little or nothing in return. I don’t happen to play the lottery.
Well, I’ve gotten a bit sidetracked. The issue at hand is how we treat others, and that includes ALL others. Quite frankly, unless those “others” are our friends or relatives or folks who can do something for us, we don’t much think about the homeless on the streets, or the less fortunate living right under our noses, and you’d be surprised at those who are forced to live in hotels. I never gave it any thought until I was forced to start living in hotels almost 18 months ago.
Probably the most interesting thing I’ve noticed during these past seven years since I lost my job in Houston and my lifestyle was considerably downsized is how there really isn’t much difference between the church folks among us from the rest of the folks in society when it comes to helping others who are truly needy or judging people we don’t even know. But that’s a subject for a blog post I probably won’t write any time soon if ever. That is not to say that there aren’t Christian and secular organizations that stand ready to help people when an emergency strikes (although the initial mess from Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005 stands as a real sore spot in our recent history). But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the day-to-day folks we all run into when we are out shopping or going to jobs (if one is lucky enough to have a job if they want one) or walking a mall, or going to the park, etc. We all can be nice and lovely to those we know and have a lot in common with, but those we don’t know? Well, let’s just say you’d have to walk a few miles in the shoes of all those folks we like to prejudge in order to understand what I’m trying to say here. We are not the friendliest bunch of folks around total strangers in our midst, or else there would be a lot less homeless in our nation if we were. This “brother’s keeper” stuff isn’t much to our liking.
And it hasn’t gone unnoticed, and I’m not even referring to anything I have personally experienced in the past seven years. It is about how we as a nation are perceived by others, and yes, even those living among us who experience our disdain first hand.
I think back to that hotel experience I mentioned above and wonder if anyone in that hotel that catered to the “well-to-do” would have helped me if I had asked for help from any of them. Or were they too busy judging me by my appearance to want to have anything to do with me? The impression I was left with was that they couldn’t have cared less about me personally because my appearance said I wasn’t “well to do” (without them knowing anything about me), and I imagine they would have treated anyone dressed like I was dressed in a similar fashion. While I didn’t take their attitudes personally, I wondered how they treated others that didn’t measure up to their standards that they ran into on a daily basis and not just at that fancy hotel. And we don’t have to be numbered among the rich to treat others so callously, either. Plenty of regular folks are in that category, too. And multiply that number of folks we’ve disdained over a number of years or a few decades. It should matter to us how we treat others we don’t know, but I don’t think it does anymore. We primarily look out for ourselves and maybe family and friends (if we are lucky and it’s not an inconvenience to us).
And don’t think the strangers living among us haven’t noticed. . .
The environment can wait. . .
Humanity can’t afford to wait. . . .
Love is patient, love is kind.
It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking,
it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts,
always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.
~I Corinthians 13:4-8
YouTube Video: “Speak Life” by TobyMac: