In 2002 a talk show for Fernie’s Channel Ten was being filmed in my kitchen following repeated requests from Ken Odland, Manager of Monarch Cable. Ken and his volunteer, Helmut Emmert, had two cameras shooting from different angles.
Helmut is originally from Germany, has a background in banking and has a published biography written for his grandsons. “I hope that some of my experiences will help you, at least sometimes, to recognize all your options and to make the right choices,” states the inscription in the book. Helmut says “read it and you will know all about us”.
The book provided insight and a fascinating glimpse of the family tree and their experiences with war, peace, politics religion, love, work and aging. Beginning life in Germany and ending in Canada, Helmut and wife Renate lived life as fully as possible, enjoying new places and new people “rejuvenated in the challenge of newness”.
They met at age twelve. Helmut says “After the war, it was a new idea to send kids to summer camp, mostly to get kids away from the ruins and also to make sure they were fed”. Of that first meeting, “I really didn’t notice the spindly girl with the braids’. This co-ed group was led by a couple who took the kids on hikes, conventions and campouts.
By the time they were seventeen Renate and Helmut were in love. Renate attended physiotherapy school, Helmut apprenticed in an office; by November 1957 they were engaged. When daughter Marion arrived Helmut says he was so “in love with the little bundle he didn’t even want to go to work, two years later son Andreas arrived and it was the same excitement all over again”.
They spent weekends camping in the mountains taking long holidays in Austria, Italy and Greece. In 1969 he was sent to Vienna where they remained for nine years. Helmut said, “Austria was the best part of our family life”. They had a large home, garden and two cars. They went horseback riding, had dogs, enjoyed a social life and even bought property outside Vienna to build a house and business that incorporated Renate’s physiotherapist education.
In 1978 the family transferred to Vancouver when Helmut was made vice president of finance for Nabob. They liked British Columbia so much that after retirement they chose to stay. While in Vancouver they opened a toy and hobby store, becoming importers and wholesalers going to trade shows to sell their products. The family suffered “culture shock, but Canada is a good country” he says.
Helmut’s hobbies include photography, filming and writing. His poems and articles were published by a magazine called “Das Dach”. “Too little time and too little talent” contributed to not taking this work seriously. When Personal Computers arrived he began writing in English.
After retirement Renate and Helmut they looked for a recreation destination for skiing, trails, and restaurants to fulfill a lifelong desire to live in the mountains. Several places were checked however, Second Avenue and Fernie Snow Valley hooked them. They also appreciated the friendliness of the community, the leisurely pace and most of all the mountains.
For 12 years in Fernie the couple pursued outdoor interests, enjoying the Aquatic Center and gardening at their Cokato property. Helmut’s volunteer collaboration with Don Barnet produced 150 videos on a variety of topics that were viewed on Monarch Cable’s Channel 10 for years.
The couple moved to be closer to their son Renate when he became ill and unfortunately passed away last year. Now living in a senior’s complex in Kamloops, Helmut is writing to pass the time away. Below is a short essay he wrote recently that I would like to share.
Our Brain is Killing Us
By Helmut Emmert
This is not a medical report about tumors or cancer. On the contrary, it’s about healthy brains. The better they function, the sooner they will kill us.
Let’s go back a million years or so in human development when humans lived in caves and other places depending on the climate. In addition to shelter, food was required and the men needed women. They got both by having more power than their rivals. The brain’s function was to think of ways to acquire this power.
Humans learned to manage fire and that provided better nourishment because now food could be cooked as raw must have been hard on teeth and stomach. Fire also gave warmth, light and a better chance of survival. As a result they multiplied. Next they learned to talk. Other animals talked but humans refined the technique to where they could express themselves better. More importantly was the way of working as a team. They could plan the hunt in advance and in more detail than wolves or lions. Then came speech, learning to write down what they wanted to say, particularly when the matter was complicated and the person, they wanted to inform wasn’t present. That was a major step in acquiring new skills because then communication was not only from father to son or mother to daughter but over generations and also over great distances.
Thomas Newcomen invented the steam engine in England. Gottlieb Daimler developed the gas engine in Germany with the same principle of pistons moving up and down in cylinders. Verbal communication would not have been possible because they lived about a thousand miles and a century apart. Inventors couldn’t have known there would be climate change from burning fossil fuels, but now everyone knows and still we can’t give it up because clean replacements are more expensive. As a matter of fact there are still coal fired power plants built today. Plastic in all forms, invented just a hundred years ago, is already converting much land and sea to garbage dumps and its accepted because its cheaper than recycling.
After the industrial revolution we humans were way ahead of our fellow creatures as we still are, inventing one material and one device after the other in quick succession.
The entire world is now one laboratory or research center. Our brain, our global intelligence makes big jumps forward every day. A good and positive example is the development of a vaccine against the Covid 19 virus, worldwide and in record time. However, in all these thousands of years, our advancements mostly benefitted the brain.
Our emotions are still in the stone age. Improvements did not accumulate from generation to generations as in our brain. We still want power because with that power comes everything else we wish for. Wealth and power are even synonymous. It does not matter which comes first, one automatically creates the other. And that is how the brain is killing us. It develops complicated things like nuclear power and uses it for overpowering the neighbors.
There are many situations like climate change, where our wealth-oriented thinking realizes we would lose wealth if we dealt with them. We could for instance not use fossil energy anymore and would have to replace it with something more expensive.
There are so many other examples where our brain does not allow us to think of a behavior where we do not benefit or would even have to give up something financially. Some of our unexpected deficiencies have serious negative consequences for which we have no solution yet.
Organizing a worldwide and fair migration because of climate change is one of those activities where most of the so-called developed world would have to give up something rather than to profit. Our reluctance to provide the whole world with vaccine against Covid 19 and any mutation or further virus, independently of whether the people can pay for it, shows how our brain does not allow us to do the right thing.
If you take all of this together, global warming, migration, uncontrolled population growth, food and water shortages, nuclear power … to name just a few, our brain has manouvered us into an almost hopeless situation that sooner or later our brain will kill us. That’s not to say all advancement offers should stop instead a complete set of new values need to be put in place. Our human emotions need to catch up with our brain. We must end the power struggle between nations, ethnic groups and religions that are now seen as normal just as raiding the village in the neighboring valley was normal in the stone age.
When after a successful landing on mars the scientific reason is to look for water and early life instead the industrial world speculates already, how to find rare metals and similarly rare earth on other planets.
We can see humanity has a long way to go.