“If at first, you don’t succeed, try try again” is sometimes terrible advice. This morning I watched a seagull try in vain for over an hour to catch a fish. Schools of these fast swimming little creatures have invaded False Creek this week. From my vantage point on the bench, I can see vast numbers of them ripping around the bay just beneath the water’s surface. All in tightly packed formations, these silver streaks of lighting can even launch themselves out of the water like jet-propelled synchronized swimmers. I feel like the BBC’s Planet Earth needs to come and film these little torpedo’s in slow motion, so we all can appreciate their athletic ability a little more. The poor seagull was infatuated with these tender slivers of breakfast. So he paddled around as best he could, giving chase with only his webbed feet’ propulsion. He looked like a drunk driver careening all over a road as he gave chase. He would cut to the left, then back to the right, his semi circles and figure eights rippled the water in all directions. When my winged friend felt like he was close enough to strike, he would slam his head into the water, but every time he came up empty. The fish would jump out of the water or dive down deeper, always just out of reach. The seagull wouldn’t give up, I started to feel sorry for him. His web propulsion system began to tire, making his hunting efforts even more pathetic.
Why don’t you just grab a crab, I thought to myself. This is the edge of East Van, for crying out loud, there are piles of garbage, and the remnants of half-eaten meals everywhere! Use your wings, you dumb bird, and you’ll find a bountiful harvest in no time at all!
But the bird wasn’t listening to my thoughts; instead, he was harnessing his inner Osprey; he stopped paddling and began skimming across the water, picking up speed. Splash! Into the water headfirst, he went. Nope, nothing, the seagull came up empty beaked.
Sometimes we humans are just like that seagull, we get it into our heads that we are supposed to do something or be somebody, and so we set off with full determination to accomplish our goals, but the truth is, we were never really designed to be that person or achieve that goal, and so we try and fail, and try and fail until that becomes the depressing cycle of our life.
The seagull needed to realize that he is neither a seal nor a seahawk. He is a scavenger. His talents lie in other areas. He can rip apart garbage bags in seconds, effortlessly steal food from crows, and spot free meals from miles away. We all have different abilities and gifts. We need to figure out what those are and then implement them into the rhythms of our life. Discover what you are good at and do that, even if it’s not the coolest thing in the world. When a seagull attempts to be a seahawk, only the fish win. When you try to be someone you are not, nobody wins. Live in your gifting. It might be time for you to quit something.
In the east, the sun creeps up on the horizon, a soft but brilliant yellow that blends gently into the blue. Not wishing to be outdone, the Western horizon responds with mauve, pink, and violet hues of spectacular quality. The water, still as glass, picks up on the competition, colour bursts forth off the water, I’m entirely surrounded in marvellous light.
I notice ripples in the water, two otters swim by; it’s usually a seal, but not today; they remind me of best friends out for a morning stroll. Together, almost whisker to whisker, they navigate False Creek. Otters swim heads angled skyward, so they seem to be enjoying the beauty all around just like me.
It’s fall. The air is fresh and crisp. The snap in the air makes me feel alive. This morning even the seagulls are having pleasant conversations. The people who pass by as I sit on my bench are extra friendly. Some even stopping to chat for a moment or two. With the morning masterpiece all around, it’s easy to see why everyone’s mood is up. In these sacred moments of such stellar beauty, it’s hard not to feel something special in my gut. What is it? It’s joy mixed with hope sprinkled with an undeniable sense of appreciation for the experience of life. This deeper awareness must be why I believe in God. I think it’s written somewhere that the heavens declare God’s glory, and the sky shows His handiwork. Whoever wrote that might have been on to something.
The eastern sky now pulls out its trump card. The golden globe has pierced the horizon. It’s shimmering rays reach into the city, grabbing hold of the skyline. Windows everywhere pop with colour. They become miniature versions of the sun, reflecting it’s glory in all directions. The western sky can’t complete; it retreats into blue.
The day is here, and I am happy.
The deer (from the previous blog) captured my son’s attention as well.
He whispered, shaking her out of a dead sleep.
“There is a deer just outside our cabin.”
Mistin, who is always up for an adventure, quickly shook off the cobwebs of slumber and rolled out of bed. My 11-year-old son wanted to capture this bit of wildness, so rare to us city dwellers, so he grabbed my wife’s I-phone and slipped out the door. Darve crept as close as possible to the doe to get the perfect shot. Not far behind came Mistin, still wiping the sleep out of her eyes but delighted to watch the photographic hunt. After a couple photos, Darve noticed a grasshopper jump; in a flash, deer photography was a thing of the past; there were grasshoppers to catch!
And this is where things began to get real foggy for both my wife and son. About a half-hour later, I came down from the hilltop to find my son in tears, painstakingly retracing his steps from the previous half-hour. The phone was gone.
Darve thought for sure he had either put it back in the cabin or gave it to mom. When he made the shift from wildlife photographer to wildlife hunter, he acquired almost immediately a net and a pail, so he must have offloaded the phone. Back to the cabin, we went, not there. Back to the deer sighting, not there. Across the field and up to the lodge where he had walked with mom to get the pail and net, not there. Down across the play structure to the shed and back over another field where he had chased grasshoppers. The phone was nowhere.
Meanwhile, my wife retraced her steps. She had walked with Darve to the lodge but didn’t remember taking the phone from him. After Darve veered off in hot pursuit of grasshoppers, she had slipped around the backside of the lodge to where our camp stove was. She was looking for signs of me, after just a few minutes, she made her way back around to the front and then up the hill towards the washhouse. It was then that she realized she did not have her phone.
We all sat down and drew out a map. It had to be back at the cabin, somewhere around the lodge, or perhaps on the trail of where Darve was tracking grasshoppers. We mobilized the family into a first-rate search party, and with the enthusiasm and confidence of Sherlock Holmes, we set off to recover the missing phone. Hours went by, the phone had disappeared, what a confounding mystery. Despair began to creep into our ranks. Where was it? No one could have stolen it; we were the only ones on the campus. Did it fall in a gopher hole? Did the deer, resentful of being interrupted over breakfast, steal it? Finally, after nearly 13 hours. I found the phone. Any ideas as to where it was? What’s your best guess?
Darve, in his haste to catch grasshoppers, did indeed race back to the cabin to offload the phone and relinquish his responsibility for it. The fatal error was that he rushed back to the wrong cabin. We were staying at cabin 8, he ran back to cabin 3. Darve never noticed that the porch of cabin 3 was empty while ours was cluttered. He slammed the phone down on the empty table of cabin 3 and was off like a rocket to his next adventure. Late that evening, in desperation, we initiated a cabin to cabin search — and there it was.
What a celebration we had around the campfire that night. What was lost had finally been found.
This morning I stopped to watch a deer who was watching me as I made my way to the hilltop. The doe had such a keen interest in me.
“Who is this biped with the fur of blue and green?”
She wonders. Her ears perk up, she flicks her tail and sniffs the wind.
“This could be trouble,” she thinks. “Wait, where did it go?”
I stood perfectly still.
“I swear, something was right there beside the bush.”
As I freeze, barely breathing, the deer cocks her head, her neck pushes forward as she strains her eyes to see whatever it was that was moving a few seconds ago.
“Hmmm, that’s strange,” she thinks, “it’s gone. Still, I don’t like it, something smells fishy…”
She turns, takes a few steps, and lowers her head back down to the grass.
“Maybe I’ll go back to breakfast.”
As she turns, I begin to move again, A few quick steps. Snap! – My foot cracks a small twig; the noise is barely perceptible, but not to this elegant princess of the woods. The brown coated beauty with the whitetail whips around at the speed of lightning. I freeze again, mid-step. After a few more minutes of intense scrutiny, she concludes.
“Yeah, this game, whatever it is, isn’t working for me, I’m out.”
In seconds the distance between us quadruples. The doe’s movements are effortless and breathtakingly beautiful. I resume my long trudge to the top of the hill, happy to have made acquaintance with such a magnificent creature.
For many people, the experience ends here — A pleasurable but essentially meaningless interaction with nature. But for others, there is more in play. We are limited by time and space, and the material world is all we humans seem to grasp. Still, sometimes, thanks to creatures like the princess of the forest, the material world is so utterly fantastic that, for a second or two, we glimpse something more. Like the doe, we sniff something on the wind and our necks strain towards it. Is there something transcendent, something extraordinary and unnerving, something special that exists beyond us? We’ve caught the scent of something. What is it? The ancients of the Celtic Christian faith tell us it’s the smell of divine love. Could they be right? I sure hope so, whatever it is, I say, breathe it in and see where it takes you.
For more about Celtic Christian Spirituality, I heartily recommend The Book of Creation by J. Philip Newell.
The pandemic destroyed the missional church movement.
The success of missional communities depends on close physical proximity with others. It’s fundamentally about sharing life together. Physical distancing protocols make this impossible.
Churches must proceed now as many have for centuries: As disseminators of religious information—fountainheads of knowledge for deeper truths beyond the material realm. With technology as it is, the time has never been better to spread the message. Good news is good news whether or not it comes with a neighbourly hug and a freshly baked pie. Right?
Years ago, I became sick of the Church as an “information station.” To me, there had to be more to being a Christian than listening to sermons and participating in theological discussions. I was convinced that relationships had to extend beyond the weekly glad-handing of near strangers and the perfunctory “Hi Brother” and “God bless you sister” that happened during the Shake Hands and Greet One Another portion of the Sunday service.
So I launched myself entirely in the other direction. Sunday gatherings I said are only a small part of what it meant to be the Church. Churches I intoned, should be collections of people on mission in actual neighbourhoods. The high calling of the Church was to be present, available, and helpful. We existed to welcome people into the good news through tangible acts of love. I was sure another sermon was not what Christian people needed. Like any good hockey coach, I realized that more motivational speeches and drawing up plays on the whiteboard weren’t going to help us win the game. It was time to get out on the ice and play!
But now, thanks to the pandemic, all play is stopped. Even the weekly handshake is not a possibility. We have been reduced to online Church, and that is precisely the opposite of missional Church. How does one share life with someone on the other end of a screen? Sharing is no longer allowed. These prohibitions have turned some Christians into conspiracy theorists. They have become convinced that COVID 19 is some sort of anti-Christ scheme designed to destroy the Church. So they will plug their ears to the warnings, trust in the blood of Jesus to keep them safe, and pat themselves on the back as good martyrs when they experience negative push back from the broader culture.
These thoughts turn my mind back to the ancient times when Christianity received such high praise for helping those who were sick and dying from the plague during the late Roman period. While everyone was fleeing the cities trying to avoid the plague, Christians fearlessly went in to help. Bravely many died alongside the ones they ministered to. But I wonder if such bravery inadvertently prolonged the epidemic? Courageous Christians unwittingly becoming carriers of the dreaded black death. Given what we know now about the transmission of such viruses, it’s hard not to think otherwise.
I have little interest in online Church. I’m not going to join the resistance movement either and covertly bring my bean salad to clandestine potlucks where we secretly lay hands on one another to pray in defiance of the Devils morose schemes to ruin the Church. Missional Church, as I’ve known it is finished and what seems right, may, in fact, not be right as my historical reflections have led me to conclude. So what is my Christian life in the community of faith supposed to look like moving forward? I don’t really know. Perhaps that’s a good thing. Maybe it is in the space of humble uncertainty that the voice of divine guidance is most clearly heard. I sure hope so.
Another early morning finds me at the seawall bench. The sun’s warming rays lighten the water’s darkness and turn the wispy clouds in the sky golden. I take a deep breath and close my eyes, such beauty, such peace.
“Whoohoo! Yeah, baby!”
My eyes fling open, and I jerk my head to the left. There, about 50 paces or so down the seawall path, comes a young man. As he dances erratically all over the trail, I notice that this joyful reveller is clad only in a pair of whitey-tighties and a huge backpack. Shoes are not even necessary for this man’s morning romp. As he dances his way towards me, he notices a sizeable long-dead crab that a seagull had dredged up from the water and turned into breakfast a few minutes before.
Under-wear-man’s eyes get big, he freezes in his tracks.
“A rat!” He yells.
“What’s a rat doing here?” He wonders aloud.
He begins to stalk his prey. As he hunches over, I can see that his whitey-tighties are in desperate need of a washing. Our man nearly falls over several times as he navigates towards what, to him, is clearly a rat. Balance is only the first of many casualties to whatever stimulants are pumping through his veins. Finally, he arrives at his destination. He reaches out and grabs the half-eaten crustacean.
“Gotch you!” He gleefully exclaims as he raises the decomposing trophy high above his head. He squints at his prize momentarily, unsure of himself.
“Is this a rat?” He wonders to no one in particular.
The entire time under-wear-man has been accompanied by a fully clothed but equally inebriated friend who has been following a short distance behind. As our principal subject turns to look at his friend, an idea begins to hatch in his mind. The mostly naked man starts chasing his friend; he tries to tag him with the gooey dripping mess in his hand. The two stumble around for a few seconds laughing and yelling, but the game is short-lived, it ends when to my shock and amazement Under-wear-man lifts the putrefying mess to his mouth.
Fortunately for us all, it was just a sample taste. After the little nibble the crab goes flying in the air, it lands on the bike path portion of the trail, missing a passing cyclist by inches. The two men continue to laugh as they round a corner and are gone.
All is quiet again, just me and a soggy speed bump for the cyclists remain. But it won’t stay quiet for long, it never does on the sea wall. I wish Under-wear-man and his compadre the best. Perhaps if sobriety can be achieved, such displays of enthusiasm and creativity can be channelled towards a more meaningful occupation.
Island of the Lost is another incredible true story of 19th-century survival involving shipwreck, freezing conditions and a near-constant barrage of adversity. This story shares some similarities with Hampton Sides book the Kingdom of Ice, only the stories play out at opposite poles, and Hampton sides in my estimation is a superior writer. Both stories will have you mystified as to how anyone managed to survive.
One fascinating observation from Island of the Lost comes by way of comparison. Two ships were wrecked around the same time in 1863 on the rocky shores of the Auckland Islands. Two hundred eighty-five miles south of New Zealand. All five crew members on the first ship were able to avoid death and drag themselves to shore. Incredibly after 20 months of ingenious survival on this frozen desert of an island, they were able to fashion a sea-going vessel of sorts, and by some miracle, navigate their way back to civilization.
Meanwhile, 19 of 25 sailers on the other ill-fated ship managed to survive the trauma of deadly reef, crushed timber and pounding surf. Only three of them survived, that number would have been reduced to zero survivors had it not been for a lowly seaman named Robert Holding. The second party had the same merger resources to work with, plus the added benefit of more people and the discovery of a deserted town. The obvious question comes forward: Why was one group successful in their quest to survive and the other not?
Joan Druett offers us her answer:
“It is because of conscientious leadership, resourcefulness with technology, unstinting hard work and an outstanding spirit of camaraderie that they had survived such unimaginable privations.”
- Conscientious Leadership — Captain George Dalgarno froze amid calamity. He needed to assess the situation and take active steps with word and deed to help his men move forward. He wasn’t able to do that. The group descended into anarchy, what little resources they did have were squandered by selfishness and infighting. Depression and despair set in, which made the hard work necessary for survival impossible. The group broke apart into factions, even planning cannibalism at times. Robert Holding was the only clearheaded one in the bunch. He had the knowledge, ingenuity, and strength to survive. Still, no one would listen to him because of his lowly rank; instead, they attempted to eat him! He broke off and struck out on his own, returning every few days to the ever-shrinking group, encouraging them to follow him. Finally, Dalgarno and the first mate did. (Everyone else was pretty much dead at this point) even still, they resented being told what to do by a man of such low rank. Years later, in Dalgarno’s memoirs, he gives no credit to Holding for their survival. Indeed, he is not even named. Captain Thomas Mustgrave, on the other hand, though susceptible to debilitating bouts of depression still managed to build a team out of his men. He gave them vision and purpose. He led by example. He even embraced a sort of democracy to keep the peace. Unheard of by ship captains, even to this day.
- Resourcefulness with technology — The Frenchman François Raynal was a complete and total Macgyver! Captain Mustgrave gave him absolute freedom to use his ingenuity to better their situation. Thanks to Raynal, they built a house, improved their diet, made soap, built a forge, harvested every last item of value from the wreck, and built their escape vessel. Holding was just like Raynal; if only the men of the second ship could have swallowed their pride and let the most qualified lead, the outcome would have been different.
- Unstinting Hard Work — Despair paralyzed the members of Dalgarno’s ship. Conversely, the problematic situation galvanized Mustgrave and his men to undertake back-breaking labour in the hopes that they might survive. The difficulty became their motivation.
- Spirit of Camaraderie — The five men, thanks in large part to Raynal, came to view their group as a family. They held “school” in the evenings in which each member of the group took turns teaching. They acquired pet birds and even a stray cat. They worked hard to make their food (mostly seal meat) as bearable as possible. They teased out whatever humour they could find in their bleak situation. Raynal’s strong Christian faith gave him an undying hope and spirit of optimism that regularly buoyed up the group.
When life gets challenging. I aspire to embrace these qualities and inspire them in those around me. Selfishness and pride are common default mechanisms when life becomes frayed through adversity, but they lead to suffering and death. I hope I can resist them when it’s my turn to go through the shipwrecks life will inevitably throw at me.
It’s more than a cute story about large furry creatures that hideout in the mountains, leave large footprints behind, and occasionally scare humans half to death. It’s a retelling of the human story of religion.
According to the movie, humans create overarching stories that are not true, but the motivations behind these massive fibs are pure, so we shouldn’t be too hard on religious people when they tell us preposterous yarns about where we came from, who we are, and what our purpose might be, they are only making these things up to keep us safe. The truth is dangerous, that’s why religious people try to keep it from us. So we don’t ask questions, “we stuff it down,” and we mindlessly obey whatever is written on the stones. (That’s Yeti speak for the Bible)
But this willful ignorance is a bad idea. We have to face the truth. The stones are false. We have to throw out what we have always believed, come out of the clouds and launch ourselves off the cliff of discovery. It’s dangerous and full of uncertainty, but we must admit that we know very little, the stories that have shaped us are not sufficient. These ancient presuppositions about reality must be cast down. Empirical evidence is the only way forward in the discovery of truth. In the Yeti world, above the clouds, this is where the tension rises. The zealots of Yeti religion will often refuse to embrace truth even if indisputable evidence that contradicts their belief slaps them in the face!
The movie admonishes those who know the truth to be patient with these ignorant ones. They are not all bad. Over time, with gentleness and courage, even the most religious will eventually see clearly enough to cast aside these long-established impediments to truth. When that happens, we will finally come down from the clouds of ignorance and fear and meet each other face to face with compassionate hearts. The result of such bold steps will be peace and harmony for all.
Ha! And you thought this was a kids’ movie!
Are the creators of Small Foot accurately portraying reality? Are the world’s religions just well-intentioned lies designed to keep people safe from the dangers of the truth?
- Everyone, whether through organized religion or other means, has a vision of reality-based solely on faith. Every human has a set of unprovable “stones” that they accept as true. It is not accurate to suggest that only those who embrace organized religion are the people of faith, whereas those who cast it aside embrace truth. Creating a false dichotomy like this suppresses truth more than any religious story that might be believed.
- Are religious people more prone to willful ignorance and the suppression of science-based knowledge? Some religions more than others, but rational thought and free inquiry took root in our world thanks almost exclusively to Christianity. Indeed as Rodney Stark points out, 51 of the first 52 notable scientists from the Middle era were devoted Christians, 16 of them being members of the clergy.
- The 20th century is perhaps the greatest century for truth averse propaganda and ideology coming from the minds and mouth of people who cast aside long-held beliefs and took the leap of discovery. Everything from National Socialism to eugenics, to the “great leap forward” crushed untold millions under the brutal thumb of a new kind of truth that came from a pseudoscience unencumbered by any overarching story connected to divine love. Peace and harmony for all say the movie. Bah, that’s horse apples!
Is there any positive takeaway from this movie? I appreciated the grace, self-sacrifice, and courage to pursue peace that is evident throughout. Whatever one believes, these human characteristics are necessary if we hope to flourish. Is there an overarching story that does a superior job in hard-wiring these attributes into us? Yes, it’s the way of Jesus, and that’s the irony of this movie. The virtues it promotes come most clearly from the system it seeks to cast down.
As I sit on my bench, overlooking False Creek, I can’t help but notice Rock Man and Water Man. It’s just 6:30 in the morning, but these guys are already at their posts. Rock man is to my right, after several minutes of sitting still on a craggy ledge a few yards from the water. Rock man jumps off his perch and begins assaulting rocks wherever he finds them. He hurls some into the water, the bigger the splash, the better. Other rocks get smashed to bits on large boulders nearby. He is currently beating a poor unsuspecting rock with a stick. Now he is hunched over a much larger stone attempting to wrestle it free from its anchored position in the earth. He reminds me of a bear. His hind end rises high as he tries to get leverage on this worthy foe. His underwear fails him in his desperate struggle, and I find myself exposed to butt cleavage, he grunts, what a battle! Despite his best efforts, the mighty rock refuses to budge. Finally, in disgust, Rock Man releases his grip, returns to an upright position, curses, kicks at the unmovable foe and then moves on to easier prey.
Meanwhile, to my left is Water Man. Each morning he brings a bucket and a paddle, but this morning, he carries a new instrument. A six-foot-long pole with a propeller attached. Reverently, he descends to the edge of the water, scooping up a bucket of False Creeks finest. Having secured the precious liquid, he turns and, with earnest devotion, climbs up a steep slope to a graffiti-covered concrete wall. Once there, like an Old Testament priest, he pours out his libation. Waterman repeats this process for twenty minutes or more! Water flows freely all around this graffiti-covered alter. Now it’s time for the paddle. He steps in ankle deep and begins to manipulate the water with his paddle. He pushes it to the right, then to the left. Aggressive strokes, gentle strokes, all manner of strokes! If only he had a canoe! He is relentless, the water churns and ripples go in all directions, Water Man is now smacking the water with the paddle. He rivals Rock Man’s intensity for a few minutes, now he widens his stance and bends low his face is close to the water now. Still, even in such an unnatural position, his paddle never stops moving. Now he stands erect. He strikes the iconic Ken Dryden pose. With elbows resting on the top of his paddle, he stoically looks out over the water. He is still as a statue for several minutes, then with great solemnity, he resumes the ritual of the paddle stirred water. Today the new tool, the one with the propeller, remains unworthy and thus unused. Perhaps tomorrow it will get its chance to part the holy waters.
I wonder who these guys are? What is their story? What life circumstances led one to have a death wish for rocks and the other a fetish for paddling water without a canoe? There is a good chance I’ll never know. Perhaps they see me each morning and wonder what life circumstances led me to want to sit on a seawall bench each morning and scribble furiously into a journal. They don’t strike me as the type that would notice, they seem pretty focused on their tasks, but if they did notice and muttered under their breath. “There is Writer Man again” I’d be ok with it.
What comes to your mind when I mention the name, Genghis Khan? For me, it wasn’t much until now. The Empire he created became the largest and most dominant the world has ever known. It’s borders stretched from the Pacific Ocean to Germany. From Siberia in the North to Indonesia in the South. China, the Middle East and parts of India fell under its domains. On a modern map, some 30 countries would have bowed beneath the Spirit Banner of the great Temüjin. If Western geography is more helpful by comparison, Genghis Khan and his offspring’s conquest would have subsumed all the land from Alaska clear through to Brazil!
What further pushes the limits of credulity is that Temüjin was the illiterate son of a kidnapped and enslaved woman. His origins were that of a mere hunter-gatherer who lived in a tent. Daily survival was a going concern for this waif, especially when the tribe that kidnapped his mother abandoned her and her children after the death of his father. Temüjin, as a young boy, was reduced to living off of mice and rats to survive. It’s doubtful that there is a more remarkable rags to riches story human history.
Temüjin was the ultimate pragmatist. “Whatever works” was his master strategy to accomplish his mandate to rule the world. The eternal blue sky had spoken to him. The world needed leadership, and he was the one to lead. It is said of him, what he could not control he destroyed. This accurate depiction is observed early in his life. At the age of 12, he killed his 15-year-old stepbrother for being too controlling.
As you can imagine, the Mongolian Steppe was like the wild wild West on steroids. How could any sort world-conquering juggernaut come from what was mostly a gong show of constant tribal feuding? As Temüjin consolidated his power, he employed four measures to end the infighting.
- No More Stealing
- Stealing normal, even praised on the Steppe. It was the second most common way of obtaining a bride. Livestock was never safe. Temüjin ended these practices. To steal was to forfeit your life. Through him, the world’s most extensive “lost and found” was created. – “Finders keepers” had become a perspective that would bring down the wrath of the world’s most powerful man.
- Religious Freedom
- The Steppe people had embraced all the major religions of the world by the time of Temüjin. In an unprecedented move, he declared that all religions were valid and could be freely practiced within his domains. As long as they prayed for the Khan and were loyal to him. It would be 700 years before the West adopted religious freedom, and Islam still hasn’t.
- Share Wealth
- Looting was no longer a greedy, disorganized rush to acquire. In every conquest, all the wealth was systematically accounted for and equitably distributed among all the Mongolian people. Khan was extraordinarily generous to the widows of war that his conflicts created. Everyone would be provided for, especially the most vulnerable.
- Best Person for the Job gets the Job
- Nepotism has always been a problem. Not under Temüjin. Birthright meant nothing to him. He was absolutely committed to getting the most talented people into positions where they could be most successful. There was no longer any such thing as a “low born” person without the possibility of advancement.
With the “people of the felt tent” united. Temüjin began to conquer. In his conquests, he employed several strategies that enabled him to be wildly successful.
- Total War
- There were no rules. To win was the objective. Propaganda, deceit and terror were all fair play. Unlike Joseph Stalin of the 20th century who bragged about bleeding his armies, Khan refused to waste men, he didn’t believe in the “glory” of battle. There was no shame in retreat if it was needed. He used speed and firepower to overwhelm his enemies. He was always into new technology. He took advantage of stink bombs, flame throwers, gun powder and all manner of projectiles. Khan did not like close combat, he always preferred to kill at a distance. His was the 1st army to be 100% cavalry. The pace, range, ferocity and loyalty of his soldiers was unmatched. The Mongol horde was the original “Blitzkrieg.”
- Harvest the talent, do away with the rest
- The wealthy ruling elite was almost always slaughtered upon capture. Conquered peasants did not fare well either. Nomadic steppe people couldn’t appreciate the life of grain-eating sedentary farmers. They viewed them as cattle. As “animals”, these human herds were simply used up in the war effort. Untold numbers lost their lives filling in moats, drawing enemy fire or being worked to death. BUT, if you had a skill, the sky was the limit for advancement in the Empire. Linguists, priests, philosophers, metal workers, architects, etc., were welcomed and elevated.
- Commerce & Organization
- No one built more bridges than the Mongolians. They made rapid transit systems, and the success of their Empire was built on commerce. Conquered peoples were allowed to keep their traditions and religions and basic government structures. They had to send a tribute, of course, but they were invited to do business. The Mongolians killed pirates and thieves with ruthless efficiency. Under the protection of the Empire, local economies from Europe to Indonesia had a real opportunity to thrive.
The great Temüjin had no interest in the opulence that naturally comes with power and wealth. He continued to live in a tent, refusing to build a city for himself and “settle down.” He wore the same clothes and ate the same basic food as he always had. He genuinely cared for his people, and he had the kind of personality that inspired loyalty.
The bizarre story of Genghis Khans changing reputation.
Chaucer of the late 1300s in his Canterbury tails praises the qualities of this most remarkable leader. Nearly four centuries later, Voltaire absolutely vilifies him in his play, The Orphan of China. It turns out Voltaire was using Genghis as a euphemism to criticize his own king of France, but the reputation stuck in the West. Jack Weatherford thinks Western pride is the reason for the shift in perspective. The West came to dominate the world, but then there was a 150-year gap in the line of emerging dominance when they were absolutely destroyed by a horde of Asians. They could not abide second place, so a character assassination of the Mongolian people was needed. The pseudo-science of the 19th century proved to be the most effective weapon in accomplishing this goal. An observation was made that people with Downs syndrome, looked somewhat similar to Mongolian people. The men in white lab coats dived headlong down this rabbit hole and came out the other side with a stunning “scientific” discovery. At some point in their lineage, every person with mental retardation had acquired the faulty gene through the sexual savagery of these less than human monsters who plagued the globe in the 13th and 14th centuries. Indeed this is precisely where the term mongoloid came from.
How did it all end?
Temüjin’s offspring did not follow his example, they chose opulence, and embraced the sedentary lifestyle of the peoples they conquered. They also didn’t get along very well, and civil war was not as infrequent as it should have been. They also had to continue to conquer because the heart of the Mongolian Empire could only maintain it’s opulence through the loot of conquest. At some point, even the best armies will be stretched too thin. However, these are not the primary reasons for the collapse. The Plague ended the Mongolian Empire. Some estimates have 2/3 of the Chinese population succumbing to the dreaded black death. The numbers worldwide were not much better. Trade stopped as people isolated themselves. Mongolian leaders, vastly outnumbered by indigenous populations, had no way to defend themselves or enforce the law. With the economy collapsing, regional ethnic groups could see no benefit to remaining under the dominance of this foreign power. Piece by piece, the Empire broke apart.