The paradigm that governs how we see ourselves in relation to nature can influence and heal our feelings of hopelessness…
Despondency is real.
Feeling hopeless is real.
Feeling ineffectual is real.
As nurses advocating for environmental care for the sake of health, it gets lonely out there, in our places of work and advocacy. We can feel so small against the massive machine that constitutes government and business that forms the framework we operate in. It’s easy to give up, stop fighting for change, go with the flow.
A personal story…
I remember one particular day walking from my car across the bridge to work, when I felt particularly hopeless. It seemed that everything I, and others, did was meaningless. Every attempt to get a hospital to think differently about environmental impact only mattered if it meant saving money. Every person I spoke to had a reason not to try. How could I even think of making a difference when the difference seemed so small?
As I walked, feeling crushingly despondent and powerless, I found myself aware of the breeze behind me, and the trees around me, the incessant chirping of fledgling Noisy Miners in the trees, the call of currawongs and a kookaburra somewhere along the river. In that moment I became deeply aware that I wasn’t alone in my pursuit of survival. All of nature is occupied with the same thing we are – the will to live, thrive, express and be.
I started listing what I knew about the resilience of nature. I have read about some birds becoming resilient to the levels of radiation around Chernobyl; areas of land that have been degraded and poisoned become fertile and healthy again as certain plants absorb and convert toxins. I have heard of bacteria that consume parts of oil spills and fungi that break down plastic. The world around us is constantly adapting and creating, finding new ways to be, to survive, to express. I considered the dandelion – that most persistent little plant, often labelled a weed, which finds a home in any crack or corner and lets its blooms go to seed even if it’s pulled up by the roots. And dandelions are a source of healing, food and tea. We are never alone. All of nature is working with us. The little dandelion has become my symbol of perseverance.
Shifting the paradigm…
This awareness of being part of nature and environment is fundamental to the dramatic shift in thinking we need in order to address the environmental challenges we (humans, animals, plants and all manner of creatures) face.
If we fall into the trap of thinking it’s only up to us to fix and clean the planet, then we are back where we started – thinking of ourselves as the only actors acting on everything else and labelling it “other” – the non-human world.It’s easy to approach sustainability with the same mindset that got us where we are now – one that views humanity as somehow separate from, and above the realm of nature. This view has allowed us to make great scientific leaps as we looked at the world mechanistically – where each thing under scrutiny could be understood as a sum of its parts, with some more intricate than others. It also means that we easily fall into that old habit of looking at sustainability and environmental care as something to be dealt with in a similar way – a series of problems to be solved that we humans – masters of everything? – can surely achieve. Except the world as it is now, is not the same as the world when the industrial era began. The Einstein quote holds true, that we can’t solve a problem with the same kind of thinking that created it.
So, I’d like to offer a challenge to all of us to work with this thought experiment, seeing ourselves as part of the systemic whole of the interrelating biosphere, so that instead of feeling like we need to fix everything ourselves, we start becoming aware of how other parts of the biosphere are also at work, adjusting, adapting, transforming – yes, with losses, but also with innovations. Some of those changes will be challenging as we cope with the rise of threats to our well-being, but some of them will be helpful – like organisms that can transform waste into more useful parts or render toxic substances less toxic. If we see ourselves as deeply part of this biosphere, we can then see our actions as something supported in harmony with what all of life is out to achieve – thriving creatively, being that amazing complex edge of the universe unfolding and expressing in physical form.
“Whether we and our politicians know it or not, Nature is party to all our deals and decisions, and she has more votes, a longer memory, and a sterner sense of justice than we do.”
― Wendell Berry