What I Learned about Punishment from the Silkworm Farmer
by jane arie baldwin
The modern silkworm farmer on the TV screen caught my eye. The simplistic perfection of his black t-shirt and jeans looked nothing like any farmer I knew. He fed mulberry branches to his silkworms with methodical intention explaining in Japanese, “Silkworms aren’t as strong as people. And you can’t give them medicine. We do all we can to give them the best environment so they don’t get weak.”
My head exploded as I thought about his words. The compassion that poured from this man for his silkworms and their care seemed alien in a world where Every Man For Himself (sorry, women!) rules the day. The idea that a healthy environment strengthens the organisms living in that environment is refreshing.
The silkworm farmer reminded me in the most subtle way the importance of a strong and healthy environment as a means of support and protection. Whether it’s the gut microbe that digests our food or the soil microbe that grows it, whether it’s our home environment or our work environment, when the environment is healthy the organism can grow strong. Where there is empathy (understanding) and compassion (feeling sympathy and genuine concern) there is safety, protection and security supporting an organism’s fundamental right to be and to thrive.
There’s an underlying paradigm that seems to work it’s hardest at keeping our caring and care-giving instincts at bay — The Punishment Paradigm.
The Punishment Paradigm focuses on the importance of punishment as a controlling force in environmental changes. The paradigm operates under the system of right and wrong — good is right, bad is wrong — and it is perpetuated by generating feelings of guilt and shame.
Someone famously said a few years ago,“You’re either with us or against us.”
The “Are you with us or against us?” mentality draws a specific and rigid line between You and Me and creates separation. This paradigm pervades every area of society from the micro level (home and school) to macro (national and international).
Here in Texas the environment is very supportive of gun rights and not at all supportive of the rights of women concerning general health care. A study in the September 2016 journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology shows that the maternal mortality rate has nearly doubled in the state since the Texas legislature slashed family planning budgets in recent years. The budget cuts caused many family health care facilities, especially in rural areas to close. Although the journal doesn’t make the correlation between the deaths and the budgets it’s not hard to make that connection when you listen to women’s stories about being denied care.
Texas is a big state. As legendary singer-songwriter Butch Hancock once famously said, “You can drive all day and never leave Texas.” This fact does not bode well for women who live outside of a major city, where most of the family health care facilities in Texas are now located.
Women in south Texas often must drive many hours to their closest facility, so if there is a problem with the pregnancy there is a greater chance of risk and death. They might not have the means to travel such far distances to get the care they need or they might need immediate emergency care and not have the time to get to a facility.
Another example is the college town of Lubbock, located in the panhandle. There, college students who want birth control have to drive five hours to Fort Worth for their prescriptions.
Women’s health is one of many examples of how and where The Punishment Paradigm thrives. Whether it’s a woman in south Texas “guilty” of being an impoverished migrant or a college student “guilty” for having sex out of wedlock there is a general deficit at the fundamental human level for creating a strong environment that supports women.
The guns here have a supportive environment. Why don’t the vaginas?
All of this went through my head in about two seconds as I watched the farmer smiling down into the loving and supportive environment he had cultivated. The silkworms gently digesting the branches, preparing to weave exquisite silk threads enjoyed and valued throughout the world.