If you read this, you are very likely a person greatly concerned about the negative impact of humankind on the Earth and its human and non-human inhabitants. You might even admit to being afraid...afraid of losing the struggle for preservation of fragile ecosystems, species, air, water and soil...afraid that there will be no future.
There is so much negative news that only reinforces your fears. You read environmentalist publications that consist of long lists of toxic contaminants, depleted resources, species near vanishing, acres of forest lost, mass die-offs of unknown cause... The political news is no better: abandonment of protective laws and regulations, new chemical and biological industries deliberately ignorant of disasters they might cause, wars spilling into nature preserves...
You are moved by your concern, either further into despair since no amount of effort is enough to preserve all that is being lost, or to action, dedicating yourself to preserving at least a small part...maybe first by meeting with others similarly concerned, or by writing, then by training yourself in the tactics of environmentalism. You know that you are opposed by almost unstoppable forces: population pressure, capitalistic economics, governments suborned by greed, corporations fat with profits and lawyers. You vow to do whatever you can to arouse the public's consciousness, to awaken people to the magnitude of the crisis...to instill in them the same fear you feel.
And therein we arrive at the greatest risk we face: ourselves, and our overriding drive to be effective agents of change. We know of no greater or more effective motivation than fear; it is the tool of choice for both reactionaries and revolutionaries in our century. We are accustomed to the use of fear as a motivator, having lived in a culture of fear in World War and Cold War. Perhaps we see fear as a good, like a fever: fear and anger are deemed necessary to burn out the contagion that infects us.
We are so acclimatized to fear that we fail to see that a heightened common level of fear, even in a good cause, is a sickness in itself. Fear pre-empts response except in kind. Fear polarizes: those who fear the same things we do are our comrades, those who are unafraid are either complacent or part of the problem. Our fear blinds us to the fact that our adversaries are also afraid; like you, they foresee irrevocable loss, but of opportunity, personal security, longstanding tradition. If not so blinded, we would see that they hold values not completely incompatible with ours: home, family, self-respect.
We will do "whatever we can". We feel powerless against the unshakable inertia of the populace and the enormous resources of destructive economics. To compensate, we may - just a little, and always with good intention - cast blame on marginally involved perpetrators, or magnify the current extent of the loss, or publicize the worst-case prediction. When we set ourselves to unyieldingly oppose those forces of destruction; to yield on even a small point seems to portend yielding all.
Just as fear is corrosive to both giver and receiver, so is untruth. If we yield the truth to the ultimate goodness of our cause, we have also yielded the standard by which we would know the cause is won. If we give our lives to a cause that is falsely inflated, then we have wasted effort and dedication needed for more desperate causes. We are in the same position as a prosecutor who builds a case on false evidence: not only is an innocent man accused, but the real criminal remains unapprehended and free to continue his crimes.
To counterbalance our tendencies to fear and to lie, we have at our disposal the same disciplines we employ to nurture our spiritual selves. We dispel fear as we dispel ambition and self-righteousness, by recognizing that these emotions are the fabrications of ego, impediments to spiritual growth. Such excesses resume their proper size as we learn our true relationship to God. Spiritual maturity is a consequence of our diligent search for truth within and outside ourselves; we grow as we acknowledge our ignorance. As we truly come to understand ourselves, we will also come to love the Earth that we are trying to save, and the Spirit that permeates and vitalizes the world.
Eric Sabelman, 16 Dec, 1996
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