Our Gift

I was in a natural history museum a while ago. It’s a fascinating place. There are separate rooms devoted to different species of creatures. In one, there’s a display of butterflies, all arranged beautifully in glass cases, pinned through the body, scrupulously labeled, and dead. The museum grouped them by type and size, with the big ones at the top and smaller ones at the bottom. In another room, there are beetles similarly arranged by type and size, and in another, there are spiders.

Organizing these creatures into categories and putting them in separate cabinets is one way of thinking about them, and it’s very instructive. But this is not how they are in the world. When you leave the museum, you do not see all the butterflies flying in formation, with the large ones in the front and the small ones at the back. You don’t see the spiders scuttling along in disciplined columns with the small ones bringing up the rear, while the beetles keep a respectful distance. In their natural state, these creatures are all over each other. They live in complicated, interdependent environments, and their fortunes relate to one another. Human communities are exactly the same, and they are facing the same sorts of crises that are now confronting the ecosystems of the natural environment. The analogy here is strong.

From the beginning of the industrial age, human beings seemed to see nature as an infinite warehouse of useful resources for industrial production an material prosperity. We mined the earth for coal and ore, drilled through the bedrock for gas, and cleared the forests for pasture. All of this seemed relatively straightforward. Now we are facing a major crisis in the use of the earth’s natural resources. We are now entering a new geological age, the Anthropocene age.

But the human crisis isn’t about natural resources. It is crisis of human resources.

I believe that the human crisis is just as urgent as and has implications just as far-reaching as the crisis we’re seeing in the natural world.

The dominant Western worldview is not based on seeing synergies and connections but on making distinctions and seeing differences. This is why we pin butterflies in separate boxes from the beetles – and teach separate subjects in schools. Much of Western thought assumes that the mind is separate from the body and that human beings are somehow separate from the rest of nature. This may be why so many people don’t seem to understand that what they put into their bodies affects how it works and how they think and feel. It may be why so many people don’t seem to understand that the quality of their lives is affected by the quality of the natural environment and what they put into it and what they take out.

The rate of self-inflicted physical illness from bad nutrition and eating disorders is one example of the crisis in human resources. Let me give you a few others. We’re living in times when hundreds of millions of people can only get through their day by relying on prescription drugs to treat depression and other emotional disorders. The profits of pharmaceutical companies are soaring, while the spirits of their consumers continue to dive. Dependence on nonprescription drugs and alcohol, especially among young people, is also rocketing. So too is the rate of suicides. Deaths each year from suicide around the world are greater than deaths from all armed conflicts. According to the World Health Organization, suicide is now the third highest cause of death among people aged fifteen to thirty.

Another factor is the growth of cities. It’s estimated that by 2050 more than 60 percent of the nine billion human beings will be city dwellers. By 2020, there may be more than five hundred cities on Earth with populations above one million, and more than twenty mega-cities, with populations in excess of twenty million. Already, Greater Tokyo has a population of thirty-five million. This is greater than the total population of Canada, a territory four thousand times larger. Some of these massive cities will be in the so-called developed countries. But the real growth isn’t happening in those parts of the world. It’s happening in the so-called developing world. This massive growth in the size and density of human populations across Earth presents enormous challenges. It demands that we tackle the crisis in natural resources with urgency. But it demands too that we tackle the crisis in human resources and that we think differently about the relationships between these two. All of this points to a powerful need for new ways of thinking and new metaphors about human communities and how they flourish or decay.

For more than three hundred years Western thought has been dominated by the images of industrialism and the scientific method. It’s time to recreate metaphors. We have to move beyond linear, mechanistic metaphors to organic metaphors of human growth and development.

A living organism, like a plant, is complex and dynamic. Each of its internal processes affects and depends on the others in sustaining the vitality of the whole organism. This is also true of the habitats in which we live. Most living things can only flourish in certain types of environment, and the relationships between them are often highly specialized. Healthy, successful plants take the nutrients they need from their environment. At the same time, though, their presence helps to sustain the environment on which they depend. There are exceptions, like the Leyland cypresses that just seem to take over everything in their path, but you get the idea. The same is true of all creatures and animals, including us.

“It's interesting to reflect, that if all the insects were to disappear from the earth, within fifty years all other forms of life would end. But, if all human beings were to disappear from the earth, within fifty years all other forms of life would flourish” - Jonas Salk.

Our extraordinary capacity for imagination has given rise to the most far-reaching examples of human achievement and has taken us from caves to cities and from marshes to the moon. But there is a danger now that our imaginations may be failing us. We have seen far, but not far enough. To make the best of our time together on this planet, we have to develop our powers of imagination and creativity within a complete different framework of human purpose. - Sir Ken Robinson, The Element.

We have mined our minds like we mined the earth for coal and ore. We need to create a new way of being in our relation with the earth – and ourselves - and take action! We are the cause of the future, we are the source of our own future. No one else is doing it for us. No hidden agenda’s. No cutting corners.

Now it's time to recreate the context of our imagination, let it swim in an ocean full of compassion and let us use this gift wisely.

About the Author

Joeban Machiel. Life Enthusiast. Possibilizer. Coach.

With today's stand of more than 1 million visitors and tens of thousands subscribers I want to leave you here with an experience, rather than to merely impart new information. Don’t just take it as value what you read, test it out and see if it works for you. In any case, even the truth, when believed, is made up. You must experience the truth, not believe it.

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