I am overwhelmed by a sense of helplessness when I consider the task humanity faces of adapting the complexities of our current ‘civilization’ to a more sustainable & equitable path. It is starting to look as if the politicians cannot save us, as evidenced by the disappointing results of COP17.
Both developed & emerging nations (including our own country) remain doggedly committed to the belief that the model of ever expanding economic growth and consumerism is the only way to maintain the current high living standards of the privileged minority (1) while at the same time uplifting the marginalised majority.
The current socio-economic models continually ignore the so called “externalised costs” of resource depletion, environmental pollution & social impact. It will take nothing short of an earth-shattering technological breakthrough for us to continue along the current economic path of “business as usual,” while at the same time sufficiently curtailing our emissions to reduce atmospheric CO2 concentrations back below 350ppm (2).
Shift or perish
There is strong evidence that our very survival is threatened. Either we rise above the limitations of our condition through a revolutionary shift or risk likely catastrophic consequences (3). Often the most effective solutions are also the simplest. Simple does not necessarily mean easy.
Since the end of the 2nd World War there have been 250 wars (4). Clearly the way we interact with one another isn’t working. At the root of our dilemma lies the state of “separateness” that permeates almost every human activity on earth. Unlike traditional people, the members of our modern, industrial societies seem to have become pathologically disconnected from the world and all its living creatures.
Look at some of the evidence:
- If we were truly connected, would we allow 18 people to die of starvation every minute (5) while nearly 30% of food production is lost through wastage(6)?
- Would we tolerate the extinction of around 200 species(7) or the destruction of more than 80,000 acres(8) of rain forest every single day?
- Would we ignore the plight of approximately 58 billion land animals(9) that are processed through factory farms every year to satisfy our desire for cheap meat?
If you still don’t resonate with the full extent of our disconnection, try personalising it. Would you care if your child or sibling was one of the million+ children entering the global sex trade(10) every year or your cherished family pet one of the 50 million animals (perhaps as many as 1 billion if rabbits are included) inhumanely killed by the fur industry(11) after being housed in tiny cages from birth?
Know in your gut
We would never allow any of this to happen to people, animals or land with which we have a personal connection. Why? This is a glimpse of what it means to be genuinely connected. It is not something you need to think about. You know in your gut what you would do if it was your child or your dog. This personalised sense of connection must evolve beyond our immediate circle to include ‘the whole of life on earth’.
The vast majority of us have the capability to reclaim this lost state of ‘connectedness,’ but first we must confront what we have become. Without this realisation, at a visceral level, we cannot regain what we have lost. Facing this ‘intellectually’ won’t work – it was our thinking that got us here in the first place.
We cannot think our way back into a state of connection. Before we were old enough to think, we were fully connected. The addition to this ‘fully connected being’ of cultural, social & environmental conditioning, as well as a lifetime of experiences, led us to believe that we are who we ‘think’ we are. As we reach adulthood, we acquire a strong emotional investment in this mental concept of ourselves. We also come to identify with all the groups to which we are told we ‘belong’ – human, male, female, white, black, Christian, Muslim, South African etc. This causes us to perceive those forming part of ‘our group’ as ‘more special’ than those who do not.
Those who are ‘less special’ are often seen as ‘resources’, making them vulnerable to exploitation & abuse. Everything in nature is unique. Consider that no two leaves on a tree are identical. We are all unique, but none of us are ‘special’. Until we have the courage & humility to face this fully and come to this realisation at a feeling level, a shift to a saner, more sustainable way of life cannot happen.
Investigate sources of your life
So how do we reconnect? There is no handbook for this because none of us have the same trigger for breaking down the barriers of ‘separateness’. It may take more than one thing. I started by authentically examining the impact of my presence here on earth. It took honesty and resolve to get past my blind spots. I took nothing for granted. I tried to investigate the source of everything in ‘my’ world. I came to realise any product or service I purchased linked me to that industry and some of my ‘consumerism’ connected me to inhumane practices or earth polluting activities.
The majority of us avoid going there. We don’t want to see or know what our lifestyle is creating, so we basically live in denial. This seems to be how most of us go through life. We try to avoid personal pain, but in the process unconsciously cause unspeakable harm to ‘others’ (both human & non-human) as well as the environment. I used the internet extensively to marinate myself in the parts of the world that are directly linked to me and I lost count of the times I put my head down on the desk and sobbed my heart out.
The most significant events behind my personal shift came from some unexpected quarters. One of them was the experience of hand rearing a 10 day old kitten and the hollow shock of holding him in my arms as his life slipped away 14 years later after being hit by a car. I cannot hope to adequately describe those amazing years with words. He (12) taught me how to love fully and I somehow connected with the essence of who he was. I find I now recognise this same essence in all animals.
Seeing factory farming changes you
Then there was the trauma of movies like Earthlings (13) and online video material of the horrors of factory farming (14), which made it impossible for me to continue consuming anything produced by this utterly barbaric practice.
This deep sense of connection was expanded in the last few years to include humanity thanks to the dedication of the people involved in organisations like The Mankind Project (15) where I learnt how to feel and trust again and World Alive (16), where I realised we are all basically wrestling with largely the same challenges. More recently my experiences with True Point (17) awoke me to the realisation that the mental concept I have of myself (and everyone else) is not who I or they truly are. This set me free from one of the greatest challenges in relationships and enabled me to recognise the essence of other humans beneath the persona they project into the world.
I now feel that all of life on earth is interconnected and interdependent in some way.
Eternal work in progress
All of this has been reinforced by books like Eckhart Tolle’s ‘A New Earth’ (18). His use (of the limited medium) of words as ‘signposts’ have helped to keep me out of my head and in that place of awareness that prevents me from being dragged back into our socio-economic system of separation and self-interest. Often I lose myself. It is an eternal work in progress.
None of this can be achieved in isolation. It takes at least TWO to create a connection. Connection grows exponentially when it happens in communities, provided those communities themselves do not promote a sense of ‘special’ or ‘separateness’ in its members as so many of our institutions seem to do. Truly connected people naturally facilitate connection in others.
When we recognise at an instinctive level that “I am because you are” as the foundation of true connection for all, then our choices shift from ‘self-interest’ to the benefit of ‘the whole’. We can no longer tolerate activities that damage ‘the whole’ because we recognise intuitively we are in effect damaging ‘ourselves’. Until we can FEEL that connection and see the essence of who we are in everything else, we will not make the shift and the world will continue on its current trajectory.
Connection is our natural state
We were born connected. The connection was so complete we were virtually “one with everything”. It is our default position. It is still there, just below the layers of who we ‘think’ we are (and who we ‘think’ everyone and everything else is).
It is an exciting time to be alive. We no longer need to sit around ‘waiting’ with a sense of helplessness for the politicians (or the technologists) to solve the problems. If you are reading this, you are probably part of the 20% of humanity responsible for nearly 80% of global private consumption. It is this sector of the population that has the greatest influence on our so-called ‘civilization’.
I am convinced all we need is enough networks of connected communities striving, through action, for the ‘benefit of the whole’ to create a tidal wave of influence. The earth will survive; it is humanity that must decide what role it wishes to play – that of plunderer or guardian. The next human revolution could take place in our lifetimes.
I have surrendered my anger at the state of the world, which has allowed me to embrace opportunities to connect wherever I can, at a completely new level. I have replaced my sense of inadequacy with a plan of action – to contribute as authentically as I can, wherever I can, to co-creating a better world.
By Bradley Bergh
Illustrations by Adam Carnegie of Adam Design
1. Ratio of global private consumption
13. Earthlings movie
15. Mankind project
16. World Alive
17. True Point
18. A New Earth