First: the video link for ocean0that0merges0into0the0drop that I promised. By now everyone probably already knows that predators are keystone species affecting all the members of their local web of life. The idea that they even have an impact on geography was news to me …
As fragile as the environment is, people’s feelings are even easier to damage making writing about the environment a treacherous endeavour. With each sentence multiple possibilities for offending people appear — magically — the way aphids always show up on milkweed. Yet, is this not the issue of our times?
I know preaching is a deal breaker. And anyway I have my own house to get into order.
Bad news is too depressing. Even mentioning some topics will fill people with intense shame. We all have too much pain already that I feel it is probably a terrible thing to dump more onto someone. The endless series of bad news we all hear just paralyses our will anyway.
Speaking from the heart offers a different peril. I’ve come to realize that there has been an important shift in this culture within my lifetime. Strong emotions have become so suspect that people find them repellent. Trolls and people like Rush Limbaugh who make a living from hate-speak have not only capitalized on the power of anger’s addictive properties but turned topics for rational discourse into a hellish cacophony. No sane person walks into that roaring fire willingly. Yet, there was a time when anger was seen as a battery or fuel for change.
Opposition in general has become pathologized and so polite people turn away from its expression. The psychiatrist’s bible, the DSM (go ahead and pick any version) even has a term for it. They call it Oppositional Defiance Disorder and I can’t help but wonder how many would be Malcolm Xs and Martin Luther King juniors of the world have been prevented from acting out because they have been medicated with powerful antipsychotic drugs. Record numbers of children, some even in elementary school, have been placed on scary psychiatric drugs in the past two decades. And it probably won’t come as a surprise to hear that a lot of them happen to be impoverished children of colour — the people who are probably most aware of injustice and have the most to lose.
So suggestions and strong emotions are out. But, simple facts tend to put people to sleep. That might be even worse than accidentally provoking someone because it completely shuts down the possibility of a conversation.
So where can one go?
I think maybe the work of Joanna Macy and Molly Young Brown might offer a guide out of the tangle. They suggest using a multidisciplinary approach drawing on systems theory, deep ecology and spiritual practices. They use four steps and those steps look a lot to me like the way people work through other forms of grief:
- Begin with gratitude
- Honour our pain for the world
- See with new eyes
- Go forth
Reading about the first practice immediately reminded me of Donna Donatella’s blog where she has chosen the word ‘soar’ to use as a mantra for 2015. I know from my own experience that if I start a day with the intention of feeling gratitude I am much less likely to be sucked into despair. There is still much in this world to love.
The last two suggestions are the ones that I probably could work on. And I don’t see them as chores but opportunities. If I understand correctly, seeing with new eyes is an invitation to be creative and to think divergently. Going forth implies volition and I know from my own life experience that taking action (even when it fails) is the best prescription for overcoming grief and solving problems.
So moving to the issue of climate change denial …
i read recently that if we can see climate change deniers as people who are suffering, their denial looks a bit like a misguided attempt to relieve pain. People in distress reach for any lifeline they see to help them cope: some people binge on tv while others may turn to alcohol or impulse buying. Actually, humans can be amazingly creative when it comes to finding ways to dull pain. Climate change deniers look to me to be reaching out to cultural icons that have always looked powerful in the past: religion, capitalism, the power of technology to create solutions etc.
This shift in perspective could really change the conversation. instead of seeing climate change deniers as evil bastards ruining the party maybe I can begin to see them as people in need of compassion.