We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.
–Martin Luther King
Policies concerning climate change and ecology at the federal level are likely to be highly contentious over the next few years. During the controversies ahead, it will be easy, tempting even, to objectify those who don’t “get” the facts of climate change, to see them as “enemies,” and direct anger and frustration at them.
Yet religious and spiritual teachers remind us that we are all profoundly interconnected, or as Thich Nhat Hanh says, we “interbe.” The Buddha taught that “Holding onto anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”
Leaders such as Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandala, and Gandhi, also advised against anger and resentment. They knew that those with whom they had profound disagreements were still human beings, driven by fears and weakness, but not “evil.” They counseled firmness and determination, overcame their own fears and resentments, and listened carefully to their allies and their adversaries. They were willing to sacrifice for their beliefs but did not demonize their opponents.
It can help to step back and consider a larger view. Many strands are coming together to create a new awareness of the simple fact that humans are an integral part of nature, not its dominant masters; that we owe respect and care to the earth and life on it. Eastern wisdom traditions, major religious leaders of all faiths, ancient indigenous teachings, and even postmodern science are challenging today’s secular, paternalistic, materialistic worldview.
This emerging shift in consciousness is seldom covered by the daily news media, yet it will continue regardless of today’s current events. It is arising from the grassroots, from people of all backgrounds, education levels, religious, and political beliefs. It is not a political movement but a maturing of our relationship with life on the planet. Changes in human consciousness, however, have always evolved along a spiral path; there have been, and will be setbacks, just as there have been and will be times of blossoming.
Paul Hawkin, founder of Project Drawdown, wrote in a recent update, “My sense is that local governments and citizens here, and government and citizens abroad will push back with an intensity and fierceness that will surprise even itself.” The true leadership of the climate movement has always been at the local and international levels, and in the private sector. For instance, the growth in renewable energy production in the U.S. and the world will continue to accelerate, as much for economic reasons as any other. (The New York Times reported recently, “On a global scale, more than half the investment in new electricity generation [over $300 billion] is going into renewable energy.”)
Current circumstances are challenging, to be sure, yet it is impossible to predict what the next few years may bring. The great leaders of the past did not stop their efforts on even their darkest days. Nor did they act out of anger, for it is not as effective or skillful a force as is love for life, the earth, and our fellow beings. The work to change the disastrous course we are on also will not stop despite current setbacks, and while the times may not look propitious, remember that Nelson Mandela said, “It’s always impossible until it’s done.”
John McIlwain is the director of the Garrison Institute’s Climate, Mind and Behavior program.
Photo courtesy of unsplash.com