Awareness is the key to transformation. And what is the key to awareness? Your presence.
Focusing our attention on the need to protect the world of nature – whether it’s the oceans – or the air – or the forests where we live – a great deal of energy and a vast amount of time is spent by very committed and very dedicated people trying to explain to public officials, government agencies, and others – what they should do and how they should do it. Pass this law. Stop this harmful practice. Ban the hunting and trapping of endangered species – or any species. Do this or don’t do that. Sometimes this can be effective. Often it just falls on deaf ears.
What tends to be missing is that we do not comprehend the genuine lack of awareness of these public officials. If we are focused on preserving the beauty and majesty of the natural world which we care about intensely, and the public official or the businessperson who we are addressing is focused on the inner drive that he feels to be successful, to uphold the expectations of his family and his community, or to create a thriving downtown where he lives or to bring a lot of industry and economic prosperity to his local area – his world and yours are just two separate worlds. And there is hardly a bridge between them.
In this situation, it won’t do much good to explain that the highway that he wants to construct or the mining that he wants to do is going to disrupt the herds of deer or the birds and the other life of the forest – because your effort will only be seen as the very annoying interference of some kind of “environmentalist” (probably, he thinks, from somewhere else) who is pretty much evil and who only wants to harm his business, his community, and maybe his chance to run for local office too.
So, the more energetically, the “environmentalist” pursues his vision of protecting the natural world, the more dangerous, threatening, and irritating he or she seems to be.
What is missing here? Awareness. I remember a chance conversation I had with a man many years ago. He told me a story – that he had always rather disliked dogs – he felt they were kind of dirty; he’d never grown up with them and was a little afraid of them. Then someone unexpectedly gave him a dog. (I’m absolutely not recommending giving a dog to anyone who doesn’t care for dogs. That is the wrong thing to do and can lead to tragedy.) But in this particular case, the man became enchanted with the dog — he fed him, he took him for walks, he found that the dog was his closest companion, and he loved him dearly. What brought about this change?
Awareness – simply awareness. For the first time in his life, he allowed himself to be around and be with a dog. The dog was no longer an alien being, possibly dangerous, but instead became a close friend. He became aware of the true nature of a dog.
All animals can bring us closer to nature – and, of course, especially the wild ones.
A significant percentage of the people around us really do not focus on wildlife, trees, and the natural world at all. They may, just possibly, care about a tree in their own yard.
But purely human concerns reign supreme in their consciousness nearly all the time. Yes, they do feel that clean air is a good idea, and maybe a lot of electric cars might help bring that about. But what is missing is a deep connection with the great mystery and profound beauty of the world of nature. And so, we need to, with our presence and our voice, speak up for the natural world — not simply berate people because they want to build a lot of condos on top of the leks of endangered sage grouse. Instead, we need to show them a sage grouse – out in the wilderness, or on TV, or in a video, or a painting, a song, or a newspaper article. It’s like introducing a friend. Introducing a sage grouse is similar. Here is a living being – enchanting, amazing, beautiful, spectacular, living his life and caring for his flock and his family. Because that awareness is just not there unless we, through our presence and our voice, bring it there.
Our task is first to be present – often this means simply physically present – at a town meeting or at the site of a proposed mine or wherever we need to be. But sometimes being physically present isn’t the best idea – if it ignites violence during these troubled times, that’s not effective – and, too, there’s the pandemic, at least for the time being. But, especially these days, we have so many different ways of being present – online, on zoom, through videos, artwork, through song or music, poetry, letters to the editor, standing by our backyard fence talking with our neighbor. We each have a voice. And so many ways to use it.
The key is to be present and to start with one other person — just one.
This doesn’t mean being blaming or condescending – and sometimes we may need to stay away from a situation, if we know for an absolute fact that we’re going to lose our temper, because that will only do harm to the cause we represent. But whenever we can and as much as we can – we need to be present for other human beings – not as a judgmental tormentor – but as a friend – a friend who can be present, in kindness, who can show others how their dog would rather not be tied up on a chain, how it’s possible to build a fence instead – or how to look out over the distant hills and feel grateful for the gentle green peace they bring and the spectacular sunset.
We need really to start, not with instructions, certainly not with recriminations, but instead simply by being a presence, a friend, a neighbor — a presence who carries an awareness of the living spirit of the earth and who communicates the mystical beauty of nature all around us. To open the heart and the awareness of one person – and others too, one by one — is one of the most life-giving things we can do.
It may be the quickest way to change the world.
© Copyright, Sharon St Joan, 2021