First, I think it's important to say that I am not a bleeding liberal and never will be. Nor am I really all that much of a republican. I pick and choose on each issue. Not that it matters. What matters is that we always tend to prescribe any conversation about important social issues to political idealogies and groups, when that does nothing but separate us first from each other, and then from the issue, making us stagnate. Which seems to be the perpetual state of Washington.
I often get myself into stupid and ultimately silly discussions (arguments) about our perception and actions toward the environment. No issue concerns me more than how humans live in the landscape. If this issue doesn't become politicized, it will often slide down to the next level, and become a religious issue--which I think can be a good thing, because so many people believe in some kind of diety, and because so many people feel something larger than themselves when they spend time in a natural setting (wild or created) and call this feeling god.
I get accused of being too emotional about environmental degradation. Yes, ok, fine. It's going to get worse as I get older. But isn't the core problem that we DON'T get emotional? People tell me all the time to not be emotional or irrational about the issue of global warming or pollution or mountain top mining, but shouldn't we be emotional about it? If someone came and blew up your family and home, would you be emotional? If your friends were floating dead on the ocean current because they've eaten nothing but plastic for months, would you be concerned?
The way I see it, we don't care. I'm not saying humans are self centered or egomaniacal, though we can be. I'm saying if it doesn't directly affect us now, it doesn't matter. This is obvious, I suppose. But we lack the metaphor that creates deeper meaning in our lives, that connects us more deeply to ourselves and our loved ones, and as a result, the world we really do depend on. That missing metaphor is, let's say, an endangered milkweed species in only one county of Illinois. How separate is its disappearance from our world than the right for women to have equal pay or for a person to be able to walk down a city street at night and not fear being mugged, raped, or murdered?
Here's author Lisa Knopp from her book The Nature of Home:
A metaphor is more than just a way to decorate a literal statement. Aristotle spoke of a metaphor’s ability to induce insight. That insight comes through a recognition of the similarities and the differences between the two things being compared…. If you doubt the power of a single metaphor, spend the rest of this day considering how different our treatment of each other, our philosophies, the health of our planet would be, if for the past millennia we had personified nature as a father instead of a mother.
Here's another quote I think extends the conversation, from poet Robert Bly:
All through Taoist thought, there is the idea that our disasters come from letting nothing live for itself, from the longing we have to pull everything, even friends, in to ourselves and let nothing alone. If we examine a pine carefully, we see how independent it is of us. When we first sense that a pine tree really doesn’t need us, that it has a physical life and a moral life and a spiritual life that is complete without us, we feel alienated and depressed. The second time we feel it, we feel joyful.
There is no doubt in my mind that we fear ourselves, and for good reason. We are afraid of what we will do when we are angered, stressed out, on the edge. There is the fear of loving something or someone totally and wholly and losing one's self. Maybe that is the greatest fear--losing one's self. It is hard for us to let go of the outline, the rules, social decorum, or to let go of indoctrinated reason.
Many religious thinkers from various religions say we must be made vulnerable in order to know god. The same idea of vulnerability goes for falling in love and being able to, let's say, create a workable healthcare system. There is always much at risk: my sense of myself that is barely pieced together as it is after only a few decades of being alive. And before I know it I'll be dead and gone anyway. I am afraid. We are terribly afraid.
It is not my direct fault that our national symbol, the bald eagle, is again being threatened. As they pick apart the leftover carcasses of a hunter's kill, eagles devour poisonous lead shot. I did not shoot that deer. I did not feed that eagle. I can't do anything about it. And the eagle doesn't affect me. These ideas are very true. But you can decide not to hit your child, not drive your car as much, hold a door for someone, or plant a tree. You can, as Benedictine monks do, find the smallest actions are the greatest praises toward a possible god, or at least realize that in the smallest actions, when we let go, we've overcome our fears and solitude even though we are, by design, alone and wary in our environments--just like every other creature.
Maybe the missing emotional metaphor in our lives is more anthropomorphism. It could be as simple as staring out the window on a windy afternoon, snow slipping from the branches of an elm, and seeing my grandmother taking off her plastic hair net before she came inside to make me potato soup.
* A lot of the above ideas come from my memoir, Morning Glory, as do the quotes.