We Humans Must Include Nature In Our Sense of Self

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Those of you who are regular readers of my essays might have sensed a series of themes that regularly underlie my writing:


  • Everything in Nature is interconnected and interdependent.
  • Nature is our home. We humans need Nature to live, but Nature does not need we humans.
  • Humans are consuming Nature’s resources and polluting the atmosphere at unsustainable rates that might result in  the end of the human race by 2100.
  • We senior adults are leaving an ecological mess for our youth.
  • The environmental education of our youth is an essential activity that can aid our youth in reversing the destruction caused by we adults.


The Great Turning


These themes, and other themes about how humans are affecting Nature, have evolved into extensive rhetoric from many sources about how we humans can save ourselves.  The passion of our modern youth and the ideas of numerous thought leaders and conservation organizations has led to extensive discourse on the web and in many fine books. One popular theme that has emerged is  The Great Turning. Joanna Macy defines the “Great Turning” as :


“a name for the essential adventure of our time: the shift from the Industrial Growth Society to a life-sustaining civilization.

The ecological and social crises we face are caused by an economic system dependent on accelerating growth. This self-destructing political economy sets its goals and measures its performance in terms of ever-increasing corporate profits—in other words by how fast materials can be extracted from Earth and turned into consumer products, weapons, and waste.

A revolution is under way because people are realizing that our needs can be met without destroying our world. We have the technical knowledge, the communication tools, and material resources to grow enough food, ensure clean air and water, and meet rational energy needs. Future generations, if there is a livable world for them, will look back at the epochal transition we are making to a life-sustaining society. And they may well call this the time of the Great Turning. It is happening now.”


From my perspective and life experiences as a biologist, a teacher. and a conservationist, I do not see a “Great Turning” taking place. I say this because I see strong evidence that a sufficient number of influential people and organisations view themselves as “entitled” to live their lives by ignoring Nature’s warning signs. This group also refuses to accept the acquired knowledge of humans, both indigenous wisdom and our scientists, who have carefully studied the negative impacts that we humans have imposed upon Nature The harmful attitudes of those who view themselves as “entitled” have emerged from an erroneous worldview of how Nature and our world operates. I have written about my hope that all humans will somehow return to Nature. But, this can only come about if we, as individuals, embrace a wider sense of self within our beings.


Our needs can be met without destroying our world


Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone have written a wonderful book entitled “Active Hope“. Amazon describes the book as  :


“Drawing on decades of teaching an empowerment approach known as the Work That Reconnects, the authors guide us through a transformational process informed by mythic journeys, modern psychology, spirituality, and holistic science. This process equips us with tools to face the mess we’re in and play our role in the collective transition, or Great Turning, to a life-sustaining society.”


Human Wisdom can become a plan of action


While this book describes a task that might be too difficult or too big for many humans to swallow, the book has a wonderful chapter (called “A Wider Sense of Self”) that asks us to call upon one’s inner self to make a transformation. This chapter also contains guiding wisdom that can be presented by environmental educators to their students. In turn, this wisdom can become a plan of action that our youth can use to guide them toward protecting our Mother Earth.  What follows is a series of quotes from Chapter 5 of “Active Hope” entitled “A Wider Sense Of Self”. This chapter suggests that each human can experience a transformation in which the emergence of a wider sense of self powerfully enhances our ability to contribute to the stability of our interdependent and interconnected world.


“There is so much more to us than just a separate self; our connected self is based on recognizing that we are part of many larger circles. Our sense of rootedness comes from experiencing these more encompassing circles of our identity. When the definition of self changes, the meaning of self-interest and self-serving motivations changes accordingly.


The Indian culture has developed such a richly satisfying life of connectedness that they can’t be bought off. Preserving the beauty and vitality of their world is more important to them than anything a materialistic society can offer.


Discovering hidden depths to our identity


But elsewhere, beautiful forests are being torn down to make way for open-cast mines, while corporate-backed mercenaries crush opposition from the local population. “Who am I to take on the problems of the world?” we might ask. Yet our view of what we’re capable of is linked to our sense of who and what we are. Discovering hidden depths to our identity opens up a whole new set of possibilities.


Can we transform our expression of selfishness by widening and deepening the self for whom we act?


Unhappily, the extensive moralizing within the ecological movement has given the public the false impression that they are being asked to make a sacrifice — to show more responsibility, more concern and a nicer moral standard. But all of that would flow naturally and easily if the self were widened and deepened so that protection of nature was felt and perceived as protection of our very selves. By inviting in experiences of interconnectedness we can enhance our sense of belonging to our world. This mode of being widens and deepens our sense of who we are.


It is from our connected selves that much of what people most value in life emerges, including love, friendship, loyalty, trust, relationship, belonging, purpose, gratitude, spirituality, mutual aid, and meaning. When people lose their sense of belonging to larger circles, they lose not only the motivation to act for their communities and environment but also valuable sources of support and resilience.


We humans live in the web of life. Life did not take over the globe by combat, but by networking


We live in the web of life in reciprocity with people, other creatures, and the earth, recognizing that they are part of us and we are part of them. When we include the natural world, we are brought into a much larger story of who and what we are. Recognizing ourselves as part of the living body of Earth opens us to a great source of strength. Life has a powerful creative energy and manifests a powerful desire to continue. When we align ourselves with the well-being of our world, we allow that desire and creative energy to act through us. When I try to protect the rainforest, I become part of the rainforest protecting itself. I am that part of the rainforest recently emerged into human thinking.


Important steps in our evolution have occurred through cooperation between species, even to the point of separate organisms joining together to create entirely new forms. According to Margulis and Sagan (1996), “Life did not take over the globe by combat, but by networking” (i.e., by cooperation, interaction, and mutual dependence between living organisms).


Our passions need to be compassion and an insight into the radical interdependence of all phenomena. We need compassion because it provides the fuel to move us out to where we need to be and to do what we need to do.  You also need the insight into the radical interconnectivity of all that is. We are so interwoven in the web of life that even our smallest acts have repercussions that ripple through the whole web, beyond our capacity to see.


When we see with new eyes, we discover a different way of perceiving and experiencing power.”


One of my essays entitled “Compassionate Consciousness” suggests a pathway toward the ideas expressed in these quotes from the “Active Hope” book.


Our plan of action must include developing connections through our young people


The secret to resolving our environmental crises is to develop a consciousness for the idea of Nature’s interdependent connections. through our young people. Young people have fresh minds. They are unhampered by the biases we develop as we get older. And, they learn and associate through awe and wonder. Many environmental organizations are beginning to realize that sustainability education within our schools is a powerful means to correct the ecological mistakes of the past. Instead of offering the common doomsday approach, environmental education uses stewardship to build a basic consciousness toward interdependence in Nature that will serve as a foundation for sound ecological decisions in the future.”


For Your Further Consideration


This essay, and other essays in this web site, present ideas to environmental educators and all stewards of Nature about ecoliteracy and legacy.   The emphasis is on two key ideas:


· Our earth is a living system that transports and transforms energy. The key to an active ecoliteracy that results in a healthy environment for all life on earth is the building of a systems view of life into the minds and hearts of humanity, This worldview includes the fact that all of Nature is interconnected and interdependent.

· Environmental education is not simply offering facts. Environmental education must be hands-on and place-based if ideas, facts, and effective conservation strategies are to become a consciousness in the minds and hearts of our youth. Environmental education must include the the passing of this consciousness to future generation.


Please Comment


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My name is Bill Graham. As a Marine Biologist who has worked in the US and Mexico for 30 years, I am a student of Nature, a teacher, a researcher, and a nature photographer. Through my work, I have acquired an ever growing passion for how everything in Nature is connected. Today, I travel extensively contemplating about, writing about, and photographing Nature’s connections. I also work with conservation projects in the USA and Mexico and mentor talented youth.

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