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  • Writer's pictureNate Crew

Olive Branches

Updated: Jan 25

Lebanon is having a rough time right now. Violence and lots of bad stuff.

There’s a mountain village in Lebanon named Bcheale. In that village, a grove of 16 olive trees are estimated to be at least 5,000 years old, maybe even older than 6,000. They still produce good olives.

A lot has happened while those olive trees have stood there. While they’ve looked out over so many human generations, we people have done some very impressive things. But we’ve also found many ways to be very nasty toward each other.

Why is that? Must progress and the evolution of civilization always be accompanied by massive brutality? By an unending cycle of domination and conquest? Of course, we’ve always known how to cooperate with each other, too.

And of course, ancient humans had the same ability to be a-holes as we modern ones do. But it seems that there was a pivotal time in history that set a more brutal tone for our cultures from then on. At the risk of oversimplifying how it went, I’ll explain what I understand as the gist of that pivotal change.

We have an expression, “to extend an olive branch,” which basically means to offer peace. This image originated from an ancient people who used to be heavily concentrated in the coastal areas of Lebanon: the Phoenicians.

For a full 1,000 years, the Phoenicians were the single biggest influencers in forming a Mediterranean civilization. Until the Romans conquered them, the beginnings of what we now know as “Western civilization” were germinated and cultivated by the Phoenicians.

It seems they had a tradition of travelling broadly and taking with them olive branches. They prized, gifted and traded these cuttings from olive trees to propagate new trees, teaching native peoples all over the known world how to grow olives and thus be healthier and more self-sustaining. From Greece to Spain to North Africa, they travelled, explored and developed better ways for humans to thrive together.

The Phoenicians could do war when they had to, but theirs was not at all a culture or a paradigm of conquest and domination. Curiosity, beneficial alliance networks, localism, and free trade reigned supreme under their influence for many centuries.

Not so with the Romans. As their strength grew and projected out of Italy, it was their way or the highway. And so, when Roman culture and civilization crushed and replaced Carthage and the last strongholds of Phoenician influence, a new tone was set for how Western people groups dealt with each other and others. A tone of militarism, of dominance, of endless dog-eat-dog.

And we have that new underlying current in Western culture to this very day.

Details and other related causes and effects can be debated. But the general truth remains: even our innovative American culture still represents brutal ancient Rome much more than it does the olive-planting Phoenician culture.

So, that’s history. Sometimes, history really sucks. Just ask your native American or African American neighbors how they feel reading the past few centuries of local history.

And history leaves marks that shape how we live right here, today. But for better or worse, the past is what it is. We are where we are. Guilt, blame, and resentment don’t germinate a good future.

Sometimes, I lie awake at night thinking about it all. And I have to admit, a light bulb is glowing. My light bulb is this: does the future need to stay locked to history’s vicious cycles? Or can we start opting for another type of civilization?

Personally, I hope the Lebanese work through their problems to find a better future. I hope we all do. I hope we start right here.

In that hope, I’m cultivating olive trees right here in North Carolina, and I’m publishing books as DeepRichDirt Publishing.

And I hope DeepRichDirt books are always the kind of books that the best of the ancient Phoenicians would have appreciated.

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