Association of State Wetland Managers - Protecting the Nation's Wetlands.

The Compleat Wetlander: Dangerous Advice from a Wetland

Recently it came to my attention that it is possible to get advice from a tree, a river, a lake and even a wetland.  There are websites where you can not only see the advice given by these entities, but you can purchase a t-shirt or some other type of memorabilia so that you will always have it handy for reference.

Advice from a tree: Stand tall and proud; Sink your roots into the earth; Drink plenty of water.

Advice from a river: Go with the flow; Slow down and meander, Stay current

Advice from a lake: Be clear. Stay Calm. Take time to reflect

Advice from a wetland:  Make a splash. Listen to nature.  Don’t get bogged down

I’m not disputing the usefulness of the advice per se, however, we know that advice from a tree is not really given by a tree, but by someone imagining what a tree might say.  How well the advice reflects what a tree actually might say would depend on how well the person ‘channeling’ the tree understands a tree.  And, even then, would all trees give the same advice?  For example would a tree residing in a tropical rainforest really give the same advice as one from the boreal forests in the far north?  Would a tree located in Central Park in New York City give the same advice as a tree located in Yellowstone National Park in the wilds of Wyoming?

This is even more problematic when thinking about advice from a wetland.  What kind of wetland?  Where?  Is it a high quality or low quality wetland?  This last issue is of particular importance since the illustrations of wetlands generally included with such advice are shallow ponds with a few cattails – not a particularly high quality wetland in most parts of the county.

When I think about ‘advice from a wetland’, the image that comes to mind immediately is a cartoon that has been around for more than 20 years of a heron trying to eat a frog that is trying to choke the heron so it won’t get eaten.   The caption is “Never, never give up!”  Or sometimes “Never, never, never, give up!” which is associated with a famous speech by Winston Churchill.

National wetland policy was a topic of intense national debate in the early 1990s and those of us working in wetlands found both humor and inspiration in the cartoon.  Nevertheless such advice can be dangerous.  If people never give up, they may never compromise, or learn to work effectively with others.  Listening, understanding, identifying common goals—these are essential skills in developing successful public policies and maintaining a well-functioning society.

To temper this advice appropriately, it is only necessary to place it in the context of Churchill’s speech.  The sound bite that many are familiar with does not convey the full meaning of that remarkable talk.  He gave it in 1941 at Harrow and he was reflecting on the grim progress that had been made in the early years of what would become World War II.

“You cannot tell from appearances how things will go. Sometimes imagination makes things out far worse than they are; yet without imagination not much can be done. Those people who are imaginative see many more dangers than perhaps exist; certainly many more than will happen; but then they must also pray to be given that extra courage to carry this far-reaching imagination. But for everyone, surely, what we have gone through in this period … surely from this period of ten months this is the lesson: never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never-in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy. We stood all alone a year ago, and to many countries it seemed that our account was closed, we were finished. All this tradition of ours, our songs, our School history, this part of the history of this country, were gone and finished and liquidated…

Do not let us speak of darker days: let us speak rather of sterner days. These are not dark days; these are great days – the greatest days our country has ever lived; and we must all thank God that we have been allowed, each of us according to our stations, to play a part in making these days memorable in the history of our race.”

—Never Give In, October 29, 1941, Winston Churchill

Never Give In Speech text: recording of Winston’s “never give in” statement:

So here is my New Year’s Resolution:

Advice from a river or a wetland may be useful, but beware of simplistic quotes and sound bites.   Learn as much as possible before moving forward.  Listen to everyone, work with all parties, pay attention to the science and social issues and try to find common ground.  Then repeat again and again and again and never, never, never give up!

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