Charlie Chan observed that

Insignificant molehill sometimes more important than conspicuous mountain.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? What you don’t see is the terrifying law of life buried deep in the philosopher-detective’s remark.

Its old name is ganying, Chinese for “resonance.” Malcolm X poetically called it “the chickens come home to roost.” You may know it as “what goes around comes around.” Its scientific nickname is the Butterfly Effect.

Years ago I was introduced to ganying-resonance by a Ray Bradbury story (“A Sound of Thunder”) about a time traveler who callously squashed a creature in the Cenozoic or some other well-traveled era of Earth’s past. He thought nothing of his actions until he returned to his own time and found it horrifyingly unlike the era he’d left behind.

This theme also worked for an episode of “The Simpsons” (“Time and Punishment,” which was part of Season 6) where Homer craved cooked Pop-Tarts but somehow rigged his toaster to work as a time machine. Both time travelers searched frantically for the path back to the beginning of their stories, but succeeded only in making matters worse. Homer eventually settled for a Simpson family with snake tongues, because it was the least frightening of his choices.

Resonance is at work in Martin Teitel’s book Rain Forest in Your Kitchen, which links the mass extinction of wilderness, animals, and peoples to our choices at the supermarket. Resonance haunts me when I shop, for I am blessed to share my life with some of Earth’s most endangered rainforest birds. I must be mindful of my shopping selections so that their relatives may simply be allowed to live.

And by extension …

Clients often ask practitioners to manipulate their surroundings for greater wealth or prosperity, two terms serving as metaphors for the bounty of our planet. Accept this responsibility: when you ask a practitioner for wealth or abundance or more disposable income, you are asking someone to manipulate our beleaguered Mother on your behalf.

… each of us 300 million Americans consumes as much as 32 Kenyans. With 10 times the population, the United States consumes 320 times more resources than Kenya does.  — Jared Diamond

The better sort of practitioner has been trained in ethics and knows the appropriate response to these requests. You may or may not have your request fulfilled, based on an appraisal of your ability to do the right thing (according to the practitioner’s training). Get used to this idea and be glad of it. 

Mother Earth is busy enough fighting mass extinctions, global warming, and a growing gap in the ozone — issues we should be helping her fight, rather than whining about our lack of disposable income.

On a moral or spiritual level, at some point you may discover you’re not all that happy having more stuff or more travel. Trying to meet non-material needs by material means is stupid and futile. Every faith tradition that I know decries materialism.  — Amory Lovins

Practitioners with less or no training in the ethics of this ancient craft may indeed manipulate your Mother so you get what you ask for — a nasty little technique I call spiritual strip-mining. According to Daoist ethics, they assume responsibility for these actions. Your request comes with a hefty price tag unlikely to be reflected in the payment to your practitioner.

Two-thirds of the world’s polar bears will be killed off by 2050 — and the entire population gone from Alaska — because of thinning sea ice from global warming in the Arctic …  — Associated Press, 9 Sept 2007

Resonance is at work: that awful law of life that none of us can escape. Our seemingly insignificant choices are veritable chickens coming home to roost. When we manipulate Earth to gain more wealth (that is, more of Earth’s bounty), we detract from Earth’s ability to fight the really important fights, like the fate of the rainforests, the melting of the polar regions, the increasing acidity of the oceans.

The environmental footprint of high-fructose corn syrup is deep and wide. Look no farther than the dead zone in the Gulf [of Mexico], an area the size of New Jersey where virtually nothing will live because it has been starved of oxygen by the fertilizer runoff coming down the Mississippi from the Corn Belt. Then there is the atrazine in the water in farm country — a nasty herbicide that, at concentrations as little as 0.1 part per billion, has been shown to turn male frogs into hermaphrodites.  — Michael Pollan

Try instead to seek ways to live in greater harmony with Earth. Make wise choices in selecting a Feng Shui practitioner, in what you ask of that person, and in what you demand from your Mother.