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Is there Algae in your Fountain?

Updated: Apr 18, 2020

I worry when I hear elderly people say really mean things. I reckon and lament they will likely take their bitterness to the grave. But also, I worry about their children, and their children's children. Will their offspring inherit generational algae and other toxins?

Tim Wise, a prominent writer and educator on the issues of racial justice, often talks about his late great-grandmother. She was the daughter of a Klansman. At age 16, she challenged her father, “Either you take that sheet and burn it in our front yard, or I will.”

Wise says his great-grandmother ardently embraced empathy and racial equality. Sadly, as she aged, she developed Alzheimer's, soon forgetting most parts of her life. Tim tells his audience that his great-grandmother could barely remember people’s names. In the days of her diminishing health, she was cared for by black nurses. Tim lamented that as his great-grandmother took her last breath, one of the last words he heard her say, addressing the black nurses, was the “N” word. He regrets, “No matter how accepting my great-grandmother was, somewhere inside her was a fountain holding all the thoughts and words and hatred that had crossed her world.”

I agree with Wise that all of us have a complex fountain inside us. There may be things swimming in us that we could not imagine or that we don’t let rise to surface. We carry what the people before us carried with them, and we are affected by what is in our generational fountains.

I once had a friend who was, generally, pretty down-to-earth. Let's call him Joe. Well, Joe taught at a mostly-Hispanic school. He loves hot salsa and most Mexican food. He travels to Mexico on a steady basis and shares stories of how people in Mexico are so caring and giving. In the classroom, Joe often gives advice to students on how to protect themselves. He preaches the importance of knowing your rights, should a police officer mistreat you. But one day, he shared with me an odd story about a sign he had picked up.

Joe had an affinity for signs. He had recently picked up a cool sign at a convention. He cleaned up the sign, framed it in glass and, come Monday, proudly put up the sign in his classroom. I asked what the sign read. Joe smiled with strange pride and said, “It reads, One Nation, One Language, One flag.”

Although I explained to him how a sign like that could crush a young Mexican boy's self-esteem, my friend could not understand the visceral effect of the words. My friend is a very sweet and giving guy. I truly enjoyed our friendship. But there were things that trickled out from his fountain that muddied the picture of him.

I am not claiming to have perfect, pure water trickling from my fountain. In fact, since I heard Tim Wise speak about the dark side of our water, I am more aware of my shortcomings and imperfect, suppressed thoughts.

So what is the remedy here? Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to routinely rinse out our internal fountains?

In practical terms, a fountain needs cleaning so that algae doesn’t build up. Let’s pretend that the hatred in our fountain is algae. Well, algae can grow back every few weeks despite steady use of algae prevention products. I read that while there’s no sure way to eliminate all algae from a fountain, there are several things one can do to prevent algae build-up. Regular fountain cleanings and proper maintenance of the fountain pump will help keep algae from building up in your water.

So, with that in mind, perhaps we can make it a point to recognize and routinely drain algae and negative debris from out fountains. We can begin by acknowledging the clogging. Our minds can be the pumps that outsmart the hatred with routine preventive maintenance.

However, it is just as important to drop good things into our fountain. I learned that not all algae is bad. While certain varieties of algae produce toxins that can harm, single-celled algae (known as phytoplankton) are a main source of food for fish and other aquatic life. They account for half of the photosynthetic activity on Earth, and that’s good. Some toxins, floating in our fountains, can harm our disposition in life. But worthy, unpolluted water can also trickle down from generations. Think about your favorite aunt, cousin, a loving parent or grandparent and all the good things they've taught or said to you. Generations can also teach us compassion, kindness and tolerance.

Yes, I get bothered by nasty, mean people, especially those winding down in life. But I am also encouraged when I meet people, who share warm smiles, acts of kindness, and words of affirmation. Yes, there are habits, phrases, opinions and biases that lurk around our fountains, but we can choose to confront the ugly and give light to the pretty. Practice routine maintenance of your fountain and make room for rose petals.


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