Editorial: In the belly of the whale

Trent Ernst, Editor


Psychologist Abraham Maslow is best known for positing the hierarchy of needs, which looks at how we as humans are motivated, from basic physiological needs like food and shelter, through the need for love and acceptance and on to self actualization.

This has become one of the foundational works for understanding human behaviour, but later in his life, Maslow observed a phenomenon. In a book published after he died, Maslow wrote: “All of us have an impulse to improve ourselves, an impulse toward actualizing more of our potentialities, toward self-actualization, or full humanness, or human fulfillment, or whatever term you like. Granted this for everybody, then what holds us up? What blocks us? … In my own notes I had at first labeled this defense the “fear of one’s own greatness” or the “evasion of one’s destiny” or the “running away from one’s own best talents.” We fear our highest possibilities (as well as our lowest ones). We are generally afraid to become that which we can glimpse in our most perfect moment, under the most perfect conditions, under conditions of greatest courage. We enjoy and even thrill to the godlike possibilities we see in ourselves in such peak moments. And yet we simultaneously shiver with weakness, awe, and fear before these very same possibilities.”
We seek to grasp the flame, yet fear to do so, as we might get burned. We strive towards the goal, yet deliberately slow or even stumble to prevent ourselves from reaching it.

I have seen this tendency in myself. That what I wish to do, I do not do, but what I hate to do, this I do.

Maslow called this the Jonah Syndrome after the biblical character of Jonah, who in the book that bears his name is commanded by God to go to Ninivah, but refuses, and flees from his destiny.

This is not, Maslow says, something that happens just within individuals, but within the broader society.

And I wonder if we as a town are perhaps suffering from this Jonah Syndrome, desperately yearning to be more than we are, but afraid of the greatness that we could grasp if we all worked together.
Our roots are planted in the ground; it was coal that gave this town form and life. But like Adam, formed from the dust of the earth, we can be more than just a lump of clay, or rather, coal.

Unlike Jonah, our path has not been laid out to us by a divine hand. We need to scrabble and struggle to create it.

And it is starting to take shape. The Geopark shows us that the area, that this town is, as Charles Helm would say, world class. That it isn’t just wishful thinking. No less than the United bloody Nations thinks this is an area that deserves to be celebrated and honoured.

And as the second wind project takes shape between here and Chetwynd, we see that maybe there’s something to this, too.

But I can’t help but feel that there’s still more there, still more that we can do, more that we can be, but there are people around here who, for whatever reason, feel the need to take and tear down what others are building up.

Why? Perhaps it is because in order to become this new community, we need to change, to grow. And change is scary. Growth can be hard.

Ken Bado says that people don’t fear change, they fear the loss associated with change. Success has it’s benefits, true, but it also has its drawbacks. If suddenly thousands of people discover what we’ve known all along about Tumbler Ridge, we will lose something that was ours to the broader world. We fear failing: perhaps we aren’t good enough. Smart enough. Doggone it, maybe people won’t like us, and so rather than risk failure, we deliberately fail. We don’t open ourselves up to the pain of running our hardest and coming in last if we deliberately trip off the blocks.  It’s sad, but it’s human nature.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Once we know the enemy, we can face it. We can even overcome it, especially if we work together.