I AM THE LORAX: Of Seuss, Sustainability And The Power Of Words And Youth
In all realms of Man’s fantasy and reality, he never wields a more invincible and potent power than language.
Once spoken, they can never be unsaid. Where they are written, once read and remembered, they can never be truly “unwritten”. When treated as an impeccable bond between another and one’s actions, there exists a great power to indelibly cement formidable faith – so profound a power, in fact, that to break or dishonor that word is to do great harm to the Speaker and the Receiver.
When harnessed with great skill and exacting intent, the course of history yet unwritten bows and bends before the enduring, sometimes unpredictable impact of words.
Theodor Seuss Geisel held a deep conviction the power of language is never so timeless as in the lessons children learn from their first formed memories. What’s more, he understood that being limited to simple language didn’t make children simple-minded. In fact, “Dr. Seuss” himself believed, no people are so meaningfully moved by words as those with the most understanding of life yet to be filled in for them by the world at large.
In his life, Dr. Seuss changed the course of everything around him and generations to follow him just by explaining what could be unpleasant, sad and complicated things in the most honest, ageless and transcendent of ways.
One of those stories shaped the man I would become, the principles to which I would adhere my future, and a respect I am lovingly passing to my children and hopefully many generations to come.
Every day that I greet my work here at Mouse and Man, I give thanks that I met The Lorax.
We should perhaps all be grateful that Dr. Seuss envisioned the Lorax, a diplomatic defender of trees against the greedy and short-sighted industrialist Once-ler, as a gentler and more diplomatic representation of his feelings toward the thoughtless assault of corporate greed upon the environment. This was not the optimistic Oh, The Places You’ll Go timbre we all fondly remember. This was sage-like but seemingly disenchanted.
“The Lorax came out of my being angry,” he said once. “In The Lorax I was out to attack what I think are evil things and let the chips fall where they might.”
I’ll choose not to recite the whole fable here, as to do so would do no justice to this wonderful, classic tale with a transcendent message. To explain it briefly, though, a young boy visits the isolated, aged and depressed Once-ler in his crumbling forest dwelling because the lad wants an answer to something that clearly was set in motion long before his time: what happened to the picturesque valley where Brown Bar-ba-loots, Swomee Swans and Humming Fish roamed wild and free among the shelter of tall, proud truffula trees.
Yeah, the rhyming just kind of “happens” once you’ve been treated to Dr. Seuss enough times. You just kind of have to go with it.
The Once-ler, with a heart filled with sadness, then regales the boy with an admission that, yes, it is he who wiped out the area’s natural splendor as the manufacture of “Thneeds” – a phenomenal invention of his could be shirts, socks, gloves, hats, carpets, and a theoretical stand-in for a lost towel in the event of a hitchhike across the galaxy – demanded he cut down and weave the neighboring truffula trees.
As the Once-ler deforests all the livelong day, he is warned time and again of assured disaster by the Lorax, a furry little truffula stump-dwelling fellow who “speaks for the trees, for the trees have no tongues”, that he’s destroying renewable things that could endure and replenish for generations if left alone or at least used wisely so that he can make a finite number of things that will only be of use a limited while.
Of course, one plea after another to spare the trees and wildlife goes unheeded and the Once-ler presses onward “biggering” his operation as all of nature withers around him at the impact of his industrial expansion. Finally, the last truffula tree falls. Dejected, defeated and with one final sorrowful backward glance, the Lorax departs the depleted forest for what seems the last time.
However, he left the Once-ler with a parting gift, one he understands and embraces only as he recalls the forest’s death to the boy: a stone tablet etched with the word “Unless”. Then, and only then, hope rises again.
See what I mean, about the rhyming?
Better late than never, right?
With that moment of clarity, the Once-ler discovers faith that some things, once done, can eventually be undone. There’s still time for this young visitor to redeem what he can’t and save his generation from embracing the same destruction he’s wrought and can’t (or doesn’t) want to repair:
“Catch! calls the Once-ler.
He lets something fall.
It’s a Truffula Seed.
It’s the last one of all!
You’re in charge of the last of the Truffula Seeds.
And Truffula Trees are what everyone needs.
Plant a new Truffula. Treat it with care.
Give it clean water. And feed it fresh air.
Grow a forest. Protect it from axes that hack.
Then the Lorax
and all of his friends
may come back.”
The story as a whole speaks to something even greater than sustainability and the urgency of corporate responsibility. It’s a moral cautionary tale about personal accountability. If we wait day after day for “the other guy” to crusade for what we know is just, we mortgage the sustainable for the finite and count on someone else’s compass – which may or may not be shared with our own – to uphold the balance.
It’s a lesson I’ve carried forward in every facet of every day, from family to activism to business:
“It’s not about what it is, it’s about what it can become.”
What we destroy will not only cease to be, but will never be everything else than it could of, from human life to the beautiful flora and fauna around us.
Unless I take my share of the responsibility for what is and could be created, there’s no promise that it will be something that leaves this world better than today.
Unless someone (ME) cares a whole awful lot, nothing’s going to get better, it’s not.
So this is my simple message to you, I want to make the biggest difference. Are you working on such campaigns that can make a big difference (rather than just making money)? Do you know of a message that has the potential to create a better world? If so, I’d love to hear from you. My email is email@example.com.