Have you learnt about any animals or other creatures lately? Or is that just a distant memory of school days? Do you remember learning about bees? What if, instead of learning about bees, you learnt bees?
I’d best explain. It’s easy to learn about bees. You can hear about their life cycle, how they dance to communicate, how and why they make the honey we love so much and so forth. However, there is a small problem with that little word, “about”. Yes, it’s true we use the word to gather up a collection of features concerning the subject. However, it also means “in the area around”, which seems to imply never quite getting to the thing, itself.
Here’s another illustration: I am currently a nurse by profession. Another nurse may hand over a patient to me, and tell me about the patient. I will learn what the patient’s name and birthdate are, as identifiers. I will be told what procedure the patient might be having in the event of surgery, what allergies the patient has and any other important medical details. Now I know all about my patient, but I do not know my patient. I do not know my patient’s character, life experiences, fears, passions or dreams. The reality is until a nurse knows his or her patient as a fellow human being, (barring the exceptional few) the nurse-patient relationship will be rather impersonal. We tend to equate “impersonal” with “lacking warmth”, “uncaring”.
As long as traditional teaching methods keep us focussing on the “about” that we are required to regurgitate in exams and essays, we will never care very much for our subject. Imagine if we were taught “bee-ness” or “tree-ness” or “eagle-ness” instead, learning to use our imaginations to delve deeply into what it might feel like to be that bee buzzing from flower to flower. Imagine sensing what a bee might sense – the large, looming shadow of a human nearby, creating distortions in the air, sounds experienced at different vibrations and awareness of potential danger in the possibility of a spider lurking under the petals.
Development of this sort of imaginative awareness of other creatures is the beginning of broadening empathy and creating a network of caring. If we can teach ourselves, our friends and our children, to use their imaginations in this way, I believe we can strengthen our network of care for our planet immeasurably. This will inevitably include care of our fellow human beings, as we strengthen our ability to imagine walking in another’s shoes and thus learn people, as well as bees, trees and other animals.