An Ecological Self – Part 2 (for the children)


Photo Credit: Dominik Schröder

…I look out
at everything
growing so wild
and faithfully beneath
the sky
and wonder
why we are the one
part of creation
to refuse our flowering…. ~David Whyte, from “The Sun”

In the first post of this series, I introduced the concept of the ecological self and argued that its formation is critical to a number of facets of a child’s development. In this second post, I first briefly reiterate the importance of nature for healthy human development, and then go on to suggest two ways that we can help our young ones foster identities that are more ecologically minded.

The first work that I know of that brought to consciousness the negative developmental effects of nature deficit was Paul Shepard’s (1982) radical book, Nature and Madness. In it, Shepard suggested that most ‘westerners’ are stunted developmentally due to our culture’s detachment from the natural world and its rhythms.

In Nature and the Human Soul, ecopsychologist Bill Plotkin echoes Shepard, arguing that due to this collective disconnection from nature, most adults raised in western culture(s) are arrested in an adolescent, ego-centred, stage of development.

The devastating effects of this stunted growth can be witnessed in many realms of our industrial growth society. For example, much of western culture prizes ego-gratification (think: comfort, security, and social acceptance) above all else— rather than prioritizing soulcentric values such as gender equality, social justice, and planetary well-being.

Ultimately both Plotkin and Shepard argue that our collective detachment from ‘mother earth’ is the root cause behind the rise of both social fragmentation and many mental health disorders–as well as our apparently insatiable propensity for ecological destruction.

While the picture painted in the above paragraphs is surely not pretty, there are things that we can do to remedy the situation. As noted by Shepard,

In some ways the situation is far more hopeful [that it at first might seem]. An ecologically harmonious sense of self….is the inherent possession of everyone; it is latent in the organism, in the interaction of the genome and early experiences.

So what can I do, you might ask?

Well, first, all of us adults should make connecting with nature a personal priority. We must reconcile with our earth mother and foster a meaningful relationship with her. While this takes intention and may not be easy–especially in the context of our busy, urbanized lives–let’s not forget the wise words of John Muir,

In every walk with nature one receives far more than s/he seeks.

Second, we can model this (new-found) love of nature to our children (or other young people in our care) and share meaningful nature experiences with them. In The Sense of Wonder, environmentalist Rachel Carson argued that every child needs the companionship of at least one adult to share with them the “joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in” (p. 56).

Along similar lines, Louise Chawla (2006) reminds us that,

People around a child foster a bond with nature not only by giving the child freedom to move about and engage autonomously with natural areas, but also by their own example….By the direction and quality of their attention, they communicate nature’s value and promote the child’s interest in this world too (p. 70).

I believe that through these two actions–personally (re)connecting with nature and then sharing this relationship with our children–beautiful results will ensue. Each one of us will begin to flower in our own unique way (as was originally intended).

And, so too will our children.