Give What We Have, Get Back What We Need

In the magazine Maine Boats, Homes & Harbors, there’s a wonderful column by Mainer Rob McCall called "Awanadjo Almanack," in which he ponders and wonders about nature. His observations are vivid and splendid, and I’ve since learned he’s on the radio and has published some books as well. His words are gifts and I look forward to them with each issue of the magazine.

(c) Fine Solutions

In an Almanack entry he wrote last year, McCall made some observations that particularly resonated with me. He wrote: " Natural economics [is] the ancient universal system in which each creature gives what it has and gets back what it needs.  We put out birdseed, which feeds the birds, squirrels, and chipmunks. In turn, we get the benefit of the birds eating bugs and singing for us...and the squirrels, for their part, cache nuts and seeds far and wide. These feed countless creatures and start the forests of tomorrow. The trees, in their turn, take water, sun, and soil, and make wood, leaves, nuts, and more soil, all of which enrich the natural economy. They don't take more than they can use. They don’t hoard. They waste nothing. In good times, if one has plenty, all have plenty. In bad times, all suffer alike. This is natural economics, and along with every other creature we humans practiced this same system for eons.... Unfortunately, somewhere along the way we humans seem to have gotten lost. Now, success seems to mean taking more than you can possibly use, and giving back as little as you possibly can. Call it "un-natural economics," and it could very well be the ruin of the race.”

I often ask my clients to define "success" for themselves. "Success" means something different to each and every one of us. This notion of a shared societal success that McCall is pondering is something quite different from personal success, though, and sad to say, I do think he's right in calling us out for taking more than we need and giving back as little as possible. This applies most acutely to our precious natural resources, but it also applies to other areas of our lives when it comes to so many people who put "me and mine" above the other, above our earth, above sharing, above "enough." When did having enough become not enough?

We have an obligation to protect our natural world. We have an obligation to raise our children to care. If we're to succeed as a society, it seems to me we need to practice a lot more empathy--and it's often through books and stories that our children can learn empathy. Books and stories allow us to try on someone else's shoes, to breath a different air, to taste something unfamiliar, to walk in the steps of an other, to feel how an other might feel. Books and stories can help us recognize we are all deeply connected one to another and the success of one can indeed nourish the success of another. As capable as we are of great things, we are just as capable of throwing the natural order off balance. To my mind, empathy and success are inexorably intertwined when it comes to what we need to regain that balance and renew our healthy relationships with our world, with each other, and with ourselves.

As authors and illustrators, we have the marvelous opportunity, not to mention the obligation, to give what we have through the stories we create--and what a precious gift we get in return knowing that a child has grown in empathy and compassion by experiencing our stories. To know that through the experience of reading and resonating with our stories children will have the tools they need to pass on that empathy to another living being, be it human, animal, or plant is the very best way to ensure our society will succeed. To give what we have and get back what we need. 

(c) emma d dryden, drydenbks LLC


  1. The stake we have in one another cannot be overstated. Thank you for a wonderful post.

  2. I LOVE this perspective, Emma. Developing a sharing, connected and compassionate attitude for the incredible world in which we live, spills over, I believe, into our stories and lives. You express it beautifully. What a wonderful world we share with one another and all life.

  3. Beautifully said. You've touched my heart.

    1. How lovely this comment is. Thank you.

  4. Great concept. Picture totally illustrates it!

  5. This is so important and, thanks to you, beautifully said.