Easter didn’t turn out as I’d expected. Instead of heading off with Debby to visit family at my favourite seaside writing retreat in Bermagui, I found myself at the Intensive Care Unit where Norm, my father in law, had been rushed by ambulance in a critical condition. By the time he had been stabilised and moved to a ward five days later, I had had many long conversations with him and he had given me another valuable insight into how we might be able to transcend perhaps the biggest barrier to sustainability which confronts us.
I like to think I’m a positive, upbeat kind of person, someone who, like my namesake Mr Badger, just gets up in the morning and goes about business without too much concern for what others might say. However, there are moments when I find myself puzzled by the determination with which people reject well established science to cling to a status quo which no longer makes sense. I’ve noticed that the way people often respond is by ignoring new information they don’t like and simply becoming angry with the messenger……….. me!
I’m accused of everything from hubris to hypocrisy for talking about ideas which are a contradiction to the way I’ve lived for most of my life. Now I may not have Mr Badger’s furry hide, but I am quite thick-skinned and have become accustomed to these attacks. Of course, as I gradually acquire a new understanding of what sustainability means and try to change my lifestyle, I realise there is always an opportunity to do more. However, I doubt it will ever be enough to convince some of my friends that I am worthy and that my rantings are therefore sound. However, what I would love to be able to explain to them is that the changes I’ve made to my life are not a hardship, but quite the reverse, they’ve made life far more fun and rewarding.
Of course, it’s only natural that people’s first feeling as the status quo unravels is one of fear. No matter how indefensible our existing way of life becomes, our gut reaction is to look for ways to defend it. We now well understand that our ever more greedy lifestyles are damaging the Earth and rapidly killing off the other life forms with which we inhabit it. Already 98% of all life on the planet comprises humans and our farmed and pet animals. Yet once we are called on to accept the scientific evidence that it is us and our consumer lifestyles which are so destructive and unsustainable then the imperious power and dominance we have grown up to believe is our due as human beings is lost. To contemplate this threatens our self esteem and the pride we have in the legacy we feel our lives have been creating. As we desperately try to defend against that, somewhere deep inside we can feel the inevitable stirrings of grief over the story with which we make sense of the world coming to an end.
So, if our defensiveness is an example of a controlled response to new knowledge which is confronting, what’s to be done? How can we come together to embrace more productive action than seeking to ignore, hide from or argue against the facts, or demeaning the messenger while pressing ahead with the futile confidence of lemmings rushing towards the end of civilisation as we’ve known it? When I look at my own story of change I know humility has something to do with overcoming defensiveness. It took a twenty week immersion in the raw world of nature to rediscover my own humility. Somehow my body got the message before my brain as I was buffeted by the incredible power of nature and had to acknowledge its total supremacy over me. Eventually my brain understood that my super-sized ego was nothing more than the piffling irrelevance of a tiny deluded creature leading a small life in the midst of an enormity not of my making and certainly not under my control.
The fascinating thing was though, by the time I learned that lesson I had fallen in love with Mother Nature. The uncertainty of living under the power of her mysterious moods had captivated me and enriched my life in far greater ways than I had ever experienced in the mundane manmade world of certainty which I had thought I inhabited. Returning home I had gradually come to understand that I had been shoring up fixed beliefs rather than holding ideas lightly. It takes an open and flexible mind to make the most of our lives and grow to our full potential.
And that has been the thought rattling around inside my head and trying to find a way out like Mr Badger scuttling around after a cave in at his burrow. Until that is I visited dad this week in his hospital bed. As a missionary, dad has dedicated his life to supporting people from all walks of life in all types of countries. He knows the strongest human emotion is love and through loving relationships we create the potential for flexibility and change. In him hope springs eternal that our understanding of this will grow such that we can create a better society. After all as he said when I was getting up to leave, “You can’t go back and make a new past, but you can begin today to make a new future.” Thank you, Norm.