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18 July 2021
Allowing differences to unite, and not divide us.
Words Bryce Davies
I recently watched a fascinating film on Netflix called My Octopus Teacher. The film’s maker, Craig Foster, had been experiencing some burnout in his life and felt disconnected from his true self and the natural world.
When he was a child he used to ocean dive in the kelp forests near his home in South Africa, and he loved it. So, when he returned there sad and feeling lost, he started diving again in an attempt to rediscover himself and his love for nature.
Every day he dived in the kelp forest and documented his experience. In time he met a curious young octopus and started watching it. He became fascinated with this unusual creature. He marvelled at its ability to change colour, defend itself from predators and catch prey with surprising creativity and skill. His octopus friend was quite clearly able to learn and adapt.
Over time, the octopus trusted Craig and would sit on his chest or allow Craig into her world to see how she lived, ate and slept. Craig also saw the octopus recover from a shark bite that nearly killed her.
Later, after mating with a male octopus and producing a large number of eggs, Craig witnessed her die naturally while she was tending to her eggs. He then saw a shark takes her body away. He was very emotional as he shared about her death and the lessons about the fragility of life and humanity’s connection with nature she had taught him.
You can’t get more unlikely friends than a human and an octopus. Yet, with some dedication and curiosity, it became a beautiful relationship. The wonders and brilliance of the common octopus are now being appreciated across the world through this fabulous documentary.
This relationship prompted me to think about the relationships we humans have with each other. Our family and friends. Our work colleagues. The people we just don’t understand. Do we notice them and try to understand their intricate beauty and complexity? Do we pass off differences as right or wrong when maybe they are just like an octopus and experiencing life in another world to us?
My friend Robbo is a very different sort of fellow to me, with a vastly different experience of family life, work life and social life. His body and mind are in very different places to mine in terms of health, education and cognition. To be with Robbo is to experience humanity in a different way.
Recently, though, we experienced again our one common trait. We sang songs in the car with the radio up full blast. We are both terrible singers but we are enthusiastic, and in a car there is very little damage done.
It has taken some time, but I love Robbo and care about what happens to him. It hurts me when he is sad and I love to laugh with him and share a joke.
People can be very different can’t they? Different cultures and upbringings. Different religions and beliefs. Different diets and taste in music and fashion. Different experiences of pain and suffering
The art of friendship is a critical skill for any functional society to develop, and key to this in my view is to not be so afraid of difference. Diversity adds colour and variety to life, and I am all for it.
I am not sure I am ready to plunge into cold water every day to pal up with an octopus any time soon, but I’m open to making new friends and experiencing life with them.
Major Bryce Davies is a Salvation Army officer (pastor) in Queensland.