We haven’t finished evolving

By Trish Anderson, MPH

The idealist in me wants to believe that the challenges from this pandemic, however unequal, may be a collective wake-up call bringing us closer together in solving not just our individual and public health problems, but more importantly our planet’s. Time will tell what we do with what we’re learning today…
As I write this, the ground beneath us is shifting. It is shifting for everyone, one way or another. I’m not going to be Pollyanna saying it’ll all be for the better. Because, really, we don’t know. But things will be different.
We will be different.
We’ll forever wonder what invisible threats are looming that are going to upend our lives. We’ll forever know that whatever safety nets we have, including our health and institutions, too, are tenuous. 
Maybe, we’ll also have a newfound appreciation for some of the simpler things. A walk. The way the sun feels on our skin. Sleep. A good conversation. A home cooked meal. Play. Extra time. 
Perhaps there’s another benefit to this forced foray into simpler living…
This week we celebrate Earth Day—we take a moment to say thank you, I see you, I respect you. A Hallmark holiday for the planet. Nothing wrong with that, except, it’s kind of empty. Do we really know what it means to respect our planet? Are we willing to do what this requires?
The only thing that will truly help our planet is if we accept responsibility for the harm that has befallen our home, and vow to do better. Because our leaders and their agreements and action summits may not solve anything. 
But we can. 
We are extraordinary creaturesWe possess an amazing ability to learn, to adapt, to grow—through struggle, through challenge, through discomfort.  We didn’t evolve because life was easy, rather because life was hard. 
We may no longer be evolving much in the biological sense, but I hope we are still evolving. Environmental pressures over millions of years forced us to advance as a species. Perhaps today, it’s a different kind of pressure that can move the needle. 
Between this pandemic, human accelerated global warming, vast inequities, and dangerous public discourse, we have a colossal amount of challenge to work with. What are we going to learn? How are we going to adapt? In what new directions are we going to grow?
We all get a say. 
Our individual choices matter—they matter to our resiliency to this and other health threats, they matter to our loved ones and neighbors, and they definitely matter to our planet. 
We’ve got to wake up to the reality that business as usual is causing our species’ health to decline. It is causing alarming damage to this home that sustains us, and it is perpetuating inhumane cycles of poverty and inequality. Even small changes can not only improve our health and the quality of our individual lives, but also the lives of others, including all of our ecosystems.  
It should go without saying that caring for ourselves means caring for the environment, nature. We breathe its air. Drink its water. Eat its food. We depend on its stability.
We can start caring for our planet better by reconnecting with ourselves. Reconnecting not just with our ‘human being’ needs, but our ‘creatures of nature’ needs….asking, what do I actually need to protect my health? To be resilient? To live a truly full life? To experience deep joy and satisfaction?  
And what don’t I need?
When we start exploring this, we may just love what we find.

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