Ecocentricity Blog: A Humble Species

By: John A. Lanier
May 6, 2020 9:30 AM ET
Summary: 

Maybe, just maybe, we need to slow down and be humbler as a species to solve our environmental problems. What if we could do so on our terms, and not the terms of a virus?

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As I wrap up my mini-series on creation care, I want to share with you all one of my favorite prayers. It’s called the Prayer of Saint Francis, and while I won’t quote it in its entirety, here’s the best part:

O Master, let me not seek as much
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love,
for it is in giving that one receives….

At the heart of this prayer is what I believe is one of the most important human values – humility. The best people I know are folks who are always thinking of the wellbeing of others. It was a part of my family’s value system growing up, and it’s something that I hope my children remember about their upbringing. Moreover, I have found so much truth in that last sentence that I quoted. The richest things in my life are blessings that I only receive because of what I give. My marriage is the best example, followed closely by the joy I experience in raising my children. And I firmly believe that caring for creation is one of those things as well.

In my career, as I have followed my calling into environmental sustainability, I have gained a deep and treasured love for our remarkable planet. Nature is amazing. She is diverse and playful, at times elegant and fierce, and her shades of beauty too numerous to count. Her spirit is generous, offering to all of life the necessities of air, water, food, and soil. She is also resilient, at least when we aren’t overwhelming her.

As this terrible COVID-19 pandemic has ravaged humanity, one side-effect has been to slow us down. While it’s not for a good reason, our species is currently extracting less, making less, consuming less, transporting less, and polluting less. It’s giving nature a little breathing room (pun fully intended, and also…sorry). National Geographic wrote last month about dramatically cleaner air quality most cities are experiencing. COVID-19 will likely cause the largest ever decrease in human carbon emissions. As the pandemic drags on, I would expect that many damaged ecosystems will recover with the global decline in human activity. These are significant benefits, even if they don’t outweigh the costs associated with them.

They reflect what I believe is a deeper secret to unlocking a truly sustainable future for humanity. Maybe, just maybe, we need to slow down and be humbler as a species to solve our environmental problems. What if we could do so on our terms, and not the terms of a virus? What if we could get all of the environmental benefits of COVID-19 without any of the costs? What if we began to ask not how nature can serve humanity, but how humanity can serve all of life on earth?

If humility is an important human value, why haven’t we made it an important value for humanity? I believe that if we do, we can learn as a species to fit within the web of life rather than dominate it, and in doing so receive much more than we give.

Valerie Bennett
Ray C. Anderson Foundation
+1 (770) 317-5858