You are walking around the city at night and see your best friend who looks disheveled and is sleeping on the street. You haven’t seen him in six months. There is probably a first shock: “Oh my God, what happened?!!”You know that instinctively. Before you know it, your arm is resting on his shoulder: “Come home with me. Let me take care of you.”
One more night. This time you see a random stranger who looks disheveled and sleeps rough on the street. Be honest. What is it you do? Is this someone else’s problem? If your heart is big enough, you can give him money or buy him a Sandwich, but does he come home to sleep on your couch? Perhaps you rationalize your inaction by remembering that you are donating to local unsheltered aid. You might remember to vote for a politician who seems determined to do something. But most of the time, most of us don’t do anything at all.
Why the Difference? It’s obvious, isn’t it… in the first scenario, you don’t even think. You have a deep emotional connection with your best friend and you need to take action. In the second scenario, you might be sad and realize the disaster of the Situation, but there is no emotional connection between the two of you, so most of the time you don’t act.
John Steinbeck expressed it very well when he wrote (at a time when there was a famine in China): “It means very little to know that a Million Chinese are hungry, unless you know a Chinese who is hungry.”There has to be an emotional connection for the thing to make sense.
The same applies to the environmental crisis. At the moment, there is a wave of support for measures to prevent climate change. The reality that there is a problem seems to have finally stood up to many people. But most people still don’t “do” anything meaningful, do they? I’m not being self-centered or judgmental here. I know it’s my fault. Why are we all so passive? Why are we waiting for someone else to do something?
There are a number of reasons and it’s not easy (and I certainly don’t have an answer). However, I have been thinking about it a lot and I have some ideas:
- The scale of the problem is so frightening that most of us do not feel able to do anything meaningful. The tree is going to fall and I’m just a little ant!
- Society as it is currently built must make us passive and docile. We lead incredibly busy lives… getting around, working, eating, playing sports, shopping, taking care of the kids, more work, Netflix, bed. Most of us only sleep on autopilot through life, waiting for the next short window of pleasure. One Day merges with the other. We barely have time to think, let alone act.
- Many in society feel socially isolated. Community sentiment has collapsed. Loneliness is an epidemic right now. If you feel lonely, it is much less likely that you will have the courage to do something. The Titanic is sinking and you are just a person with a bucket. Everyone else on the boat is a stranger to you. What to do?
- Perhaps the main reason why we do nothing is that most of us have lost the feeling of deep connection with the natural world that our ancestors took for granted. If you don’t feel deeply connected to nature, you obviously don’t care so much and it is much less likely that you will do something immediate and meaningful. It’s the same reason they ignore the unsheltered person they don’t know.
I don’t have an answer. However, it seems to me that the adoption of various laws, the ban on single-use plastics and the collection of carbon taxes are essentially dealing with the symptom and not the ailment. Like an obese person with type 2 diabetes who goes to the doctor because she has high blood pressure and takes a tablet every day without fundamentally changing her life and, above all, changing her relationship with herself. I am not saying that strong legislative measures are not essential. It’s obvious, but the root goes much deeper.
It’s probably a good Idea for You to start small. You can do something and maybe others will follow. It’s also great if you don’t feel alone. Can you find a community of other people and connect with those who think the same way you do? Here is a small example to show you what I’m talking about…
I live in an apartment complex in the suburbs of Dublin. One day I saw one of the gardeners spraying the lawn with pesticides. He was wearing a mask because he didn’t want to absorb these chemicals himself. I talked to him. He was a nice man who was just doing his job. I could have left it there, but I didn’t because I felt something… Anger, sadness, spite, a little strength. Why is this happening to me?! I filed a petition, which was immediately accepted by the management company. But it has always been seen And lo And behold, other people living here have agreed that we should stop spraying the gardens in which we live. Suddenly there is a community. I am not a person on a sinking boat with a bucket. There is a certain strength in the numbers and there is a possibility that something positive will happen. It’s a drop in the ocean, but it counts.
To get to the bottom of this problem, we must first of all rediscover the deeper connection with nature that we have lost. Mindfulness is one way to maintain this connection. It takes time and patience. Two things in life that are very rare.
The Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh expressed it beautifully: “To fully know a field or a country is an experience of a lifetime. In the world of poetic experience, it is the depth that counts, not the width. A gap in a hedge, a smooth rocky surface covering a narrow alley, a view of the wooded meadows, the stream at the junction of four small fields – this is as much as everyone can live to the fullest.”
Most of us have neither the time nor the desire to live a deeper experience of nature… for the Mass, it is the width that counts, not the depth. We are addicted to new experiences. Consuming new places in a very flat and meaningless way. A nice photo for Instagram and another place ticked off the List.