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Just One Shift

Posted May 05 2009 6:02pm

Over breakfast,I was watching a woodpecker on the peanut feeder and thinking about some writing I have to do on sustainability. And that set me pondering on perception.

If you are looking through your binoculars and the images you see are fuzzy, you don’t just keep searching for non-fuzzy images. You adjust your binoculars. The way we look determines what we see – and how clearly we see it. That applies metaphorically too. Perception and attitude influence each other and both determine behaviour. When things look fuzzy, and we can’t see clearly where we are going, it is WE who must make the perceptual shift.

It must have been tremendously discombobulating, back in the 16th century, if you had spent your whole life believing what you were taught about the sun going round the Earth, to be told that no, actually it is the Earth that moves. But in the fullness of time, people came to believe the scientists and adjusted their mental binoculars accordingly.

Sadly, although it became accepted that the Earth revolved around the sun, billions of people believed – and still do – that everything on Earth revolves around human beings and that human beings are the most important creatures on the planet. But important to whom? Well … the plain truth is that humans are important to other humans and to very little else.

There are creatures – bacteria, earthworms, insect pollinators for example – without whom entire ecosystems would totally collapse. If any of those groups went missing, we would all be in dire trouble. But if humans went missing, our absence would have almost no negative effects on anything and a huge number of positive effects, world-wide. So who are the ‘important’ ones?

The truth is that anthropocentrism – the belief that everything revolves around humans and that the planet is just a big pile (a shrinking pile, now) of ‘resources’ for our use – is our death warrant.

The perceptual shift that we all urgently need to make is every bit as significant as the one about the Earth circling the sun. We need to shift from anthropocentric way of seeing to an ecocentric way of seeing. What is really important is not people but ecosystems. So the first step in moving to a sane, sensible and sustainable way of life on this planet is to adjust our mental binoculars from an anthropocentric focus to an ecocentric focus. Just one shift, that’s all it takes. One shift in our way of seeing things. Putting the planet’s needs first, instead of our own.

When we do that, every single thing we look at comes into a sharper focus. And once you can see clearly, it is easy to know the way forward.
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