One item that came up today involved the question of why and how one generation reacts differently from the next generation to stressors (like how Las Madres reacted to the Disappeared Ones versus the orphan daughter astronomer). This made me think about the rings of a tree. If we consider each year of a culture’s development to be represented by a ring of growth in the tree, we can make some comparisons that help wrap our minds around sustainability and its function. A good year’s growth would be one in which all sustaining factors are met: environmental conditions are correct for optimal growth and minimal damage.

One year, an axe scars the outer skin of the tree; here is Pinochet’s terror. The tree weeps; it bleeds sap and begins the process of healing. Subsequent years’ growth in that area is focused on repairing the damage. Those scarred areas don’t transmit nutrient any longer, but the tree repurposed energy to move growth along regardless.  If the scar is deep enough, this can take years to heal and the tree’s overall health will suffer.

Another year, on another part of the tree, damage from the strong winds of a hurricane weakens one side of the tree’s infrastructure; the tree responds by developing more root strength and greater toughness tissues to sustain the weight and balance of the tree. Taking a core sample from this tree in one vector may reveal decades of no damage; these are our privileged few. A tree old enough will have hidden scars underneath its layers. Anyone who splits and burns wood will tell you these are strong parts, tougher to split and usually burn better.  It is these features of the tree’s growth and its reaction to pain and suffering that make the tree sustainable.

If we compare the tree's system to sustainability in education, then we would be an agent that undertakes the burden of belaying stress, pain, and suffering and buffering it so that the whole impact is spread throughout to alleviate scarring and move growth forward.  We may not stop the scarring (and perhaps not directly address the pain, like the young woman raised by grandparents after her parents Disappeared did not immediately go looking for bones)  but we all can help repurpose energy to heal and move culture forward, hopefully, and taller.      - Amanda Eason



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