What I Learned in Kindergarten

I just read an interesting article from a dear colleague of mine which will be published as one of the discussion papers under my Canada Research Chair. The title of the paper is “Everything I ever needed to Know About Ecosystem Based Management and Living I learnt in Kindergarten, based on a book by Robert Fulghrum (1988). What are his lessons, simply, share everything, play fair, don’t hit people, put things back from where you found them, clean up your own mess, don’t take things that aren’t yours, say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody, wash your hands before you eat, flush, warm cookies and cold milk are good for you, live a balanced life–learn some, think some, draw some and paint, sing and dance, play and work every day, take a nap in the afternoon, when you go out into the world, watch for traffic, hold hands and stick together, be aware of wonder, goldfish, hamsters, mice, the little seed in the Styrofoam cup all die. So do we, and remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned–LOOK.

I started this BLOG by asking why we aren’t acting now on stuff like climate change and biodiversity. I have always felt that people innately want to ‘do good’ and it just didn’t make any sense to me, the fundamental denial of climate change science. One could also go back to the vicious reaction to the 1970s book, Limits to Growth. Just read a fascinating journal article by Wilkinson (2009, Ecology and Society) on the “people paradox”. She says that Beck’s ideas on our denial of death and our need to seek meaning makes us deny the risks of climate change, as we need to deny our mortality to reduce our anxiety.  Thus, we minimize the severity of the problem and miminize the need for an immediate response, and so, we comfort ourselves with increased consumerism and status-seeking through material wealth. I know there is nothing more frightening for me than a feeling of helplessness and powerlessness.

Now, this isn’t going to endear me to all the folks who say we just need more education, but I have always thought what an unfair burden to place on the young, they aren’t the decision-makers making the decisions today or in some cases, not making any, that will reduce their future options. She states that “the inability of environmental education projects to promote behavioral change may rest with their failure to provide a social context for self esteem.” I guess there is a link between self esteem and feeling powerful and able to act?

What to do? Link self-esteem, with the creation of communities of action and link to people’s sense of  justice. In my work with people regarded as  leaders, people with agency, the all exhibit the one characteristic  they all exhibit is a very strong sense of social justice and many have started initiatives because of wanting to right a wrong. If she is right that “human beings are universal seekers of meaning who require unique opportunities for heroism”, then we need to find ways in which ‘moral axes’ will interact with our striving for self-esteem, identify with heroes with alternative world views, and mobilize social capital so that everyone has the capacity to engage in those behaviours necessary to not only adapt and mitigate climate change impacts, but to avoid the consequences in the first place. So, the answer lies in understanding  how our fears of mortality and our denial affects our perceptions of what is risk, and realizing that we need to change “our immortality-striving hero systems”, within and outside?

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