A Shift in Perspective 3: COP26

Apologies that it has been a while since my last blog on this theme. However COP 26 has inspired me finally to write something which I had been intending as a conclusion to this series on ‘A shift in perspective’.

In short and in recap, the shift in perspective which we as individuals and we as humanity need, is somehow to get beyond seeing things just from the perspective of me/us at the centre of it all – i.e. from where I am standing and how things affect me. Of course this will be our default – there is a hardwiring in us which drives us to be concerned with our own survival and welfare. And added to this, much of the corporate world is seeking to exploit this particular aspect of how our minds work in order to hook us into their products.

On the other hand, this is not the whole story. First, survival instinct is not all there is to us as humans – we also have a strong sense of empathy and a well-developed capacity for co-operation in groups. But in addition to this we may also even be beginning to wake up to the fact that this narrow, survival (of me) perspective is not even the best way to support my own well-being – or my survival.

And this is not only true in relation to issues of mental health and of racism (see previous blogs) but also in matters of ecology and the climate crisis.

Too many religious and secular philosophies (including Christian) have allowed us to live by the belief that humanity is not really a part of nature but separate from it and even somehow above it. And even if we begin to shift on this one we find it very hard not to continue to see ourselves as still the centre of it all – that all this is here especially ‘for us’- a ‘limitless’ resource for us to exploit for our own flourishing.

But now we are seeing (though only partially) that this attitude is not only hopelessly hubristic but is actually destroying the habitat not only of literally thousands of other species but also our own. 

We are burning our own house down in this blind and frenzied attempt to keep ourselves warm.

And we have been watching this for quite a few years now – but still don’t seem to be able to respond in an effective way. Which is why I am suggesting that we don’t just need to tweak and meddle with the way we have been doing things up to now – which seems to me to be the basis for much political activity at the moment – but what we really need a radical shift in perspective on the whole issue.

And this shift in perspective on nature is very simply this:

  1. Humanity is a part of nature and not separate from it and
  2. Humanity is not the centre or pinnacle of the natural world

Humanity is but a part of an ever flowing symbiotic system where life emerges, flourishes, dies and emerges once again. This has seen the extraordinary flourishing of life for 4 billion years. But the moment we try to dominate and control the process for our own ends, we kill it. And this is what we are seeing now.     

Most of what we are hearing from Glasgow at this time is not catching this fundamental shift in perspective but instead is still trying to keep humanity at the centre and in charge of the whole life-emerging process. There are tweaks, yes, but very little in terms of radical vision. The challenge now is: can we act for the sake of the emergence of life as a whole and not just for the sake of humanity. And the beautiful irony is that if we get this we right we actually have a better chance of saving humanity along with all the rest.

My highest hope, I’m afraid, is that the tweaks will be significant ones which will make things not as bad as they might have been. And this will be good – perhaps very good.

But the real change will only come with this perspective shift which helps us to perceive humanity as part of a living system and to seek to take our place within it.

Such de-centring is a profound work, though. Often it is only desperate tragedy which helps us to make such a shift. But there are other ways and our commitment to the work of meditation, of meeting in groups, of nature connection and of activism will all play a part.

And then, when we make the shift, we may just catch a new and beautiful vision of what it is to be human in this world. And then, hopefully, we will find it much easier to align our lives with the new vision which has emerged for us.

Meditation action outside Barclays Bank in lead up to COP26

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