39 - Mutual Aid

Prince Peter Kropotkin
Prince Peter Kropotkin

My good friend Jack Cooper said, “Run out of topics? Let me suggest some.” His suggestion was that I talk about folks who had influenced me over the years. The folks who influenced me came mainly from books.

I started working in the Chatham Public Library at quite an early age, when I was in Grade 6.
I became an omnivorous reader, determined to know everything about everything. In the course of this I started reading biographies.

Ernest Thompson Seton was a Naturalist who wrote books suitable for young people. His book “Two Little Savages” had a profound influence on me. It was about 3 boys – one sickly, a farmer’s son and a little redneck. They worked together to learn Indian ways and build teepees and do all sorts of interesting things in the bush guided in part by an actual frontiersman.
I really got into natural history and woodcrafts, therefore, and ended up joining the Girl Guides (that’s Scouts in the USA).

Another influential book was Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘Treasure Island’. In my mind I was Jim, the cabin boy, having adventures on the seas and on the island. That’s why my little gang called itself ‘The Bloody Pirates Club‘.

As I grew older I became interested in such towering figures like Mahatma Ghandi. I read his biography and I was very impressed by the freedom movement in India and the march to the sea to make salt.

Rudyard Kipling
    Rudyard Kipling

Earlier on I had been impressed by Rudyard Kipling’s “Kim”. I read that book aloud to my daughter when she was young and had read it myself several times over when I was younger. This is not the Disney version but a tale of a Caucasian child raised as a native in the Indian Raj. He meets a holy Tibetan Lama and becomes a spy as well. It is quite a story. My daughter became a Tibetan Buddhist nun and I think reading the book aloud to her at an impressionable age may well have influenced her decision to take vows.

On the flag of India there is a spinning wheel and that is because Gandhi preached making one’s own clothes instead of buying European-style garments manufactured in Britain from Indian raw materials. He also respected work of the hands. I took this as a very great lesson that I should always be making something with my hands, and that this was a worthy thing to do. As a result of Ghandi’s teaching and also from the influence of my mother who was a great sewer and potter, painter and crafts person I have always some kind of needlework in my hands whether it be cross stitch, garment sewing, cloth doll making, knitting, crochet and beading. My hands, when not typing on a computer keyboard are almost never idle and, as strange as that may seem, I owe that, at least in part, to Mahatma Ghandi.

Another person who had a great influence on me, again through reading his biography, was George Washington Carver. Not as familiar to people nowadays, he was a prominent African American agricultural chemist. He developed a series of procedures where you could develop and make almost anything from a peanut. He helped to popularize peanut butter. He was a brilliant and public-spirited man. His father had been a slave and his mother was stolen back into slavery. He found over 300 uses for the peanut and worked tirelessly his whole life for something he believed in, sometimes under adverse conditions. He also developed a crop rotation system that revolutionized Southern agriculture.

I’ll add one more to this trio of folks who influenced me and the third one will be Prince Peter Kropotkin, a Russian scientist. Peter Kropotkin, sometimes known as Prince Pete in my Anarchist group, was born to a noble Russian family. He became an Anarchist. In opposition to Social Darwinism, he believed in Mutual Aid and that the ability of people to help each other was a integrally important characteristic of an ideal society. His views, which I obtained from his book titled “Mutual Aid”, had a great influence on how, in later years, I worked with groups. In the passage of time I ended up working for the Canadian government where I was considered to be an unusual employee because I put the good of the whole office, the group, above my own little cell or silo. I worked for everybody and over time this affected the whole office, partially because of communication needs. It made me a natural bridge between separate groups in the office.

Books and people have legs, they influence you, take you through your life, help to make you what you are.

Wavy Line

© Sonia Brock 2005

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