By Pamela Noel
Special to Plumas News
“We are in the middle of an extinction event,” I heard as I walked past her door. “The last white rhino has just passed from our world, and many thousands of animals are dying daily, and will soon be lost to the planet.” “Most of the determinants for life—temperature, climate, melting of polar ice caps, CO2 and oxygen levels, are all accelerating faster or degrading so that, unless a huge and immediate shift happens, we are toast”.
Looking at the students’ faces I wondered what they were thinking. They seemed to have stopped breathing… staring into space. Disbelief became anxiety as they listened to what their professor was saying. After these statements, she continued by saying,
“We have been looking at these statistics all semester, and this is the bottom line. I want you to spend the rest of the hour in small groups discussing how you are going to navigate this time in our history. How are you going to walk forward into the future with this knowledge? What are you going to do? How do you want to be with this knowledge?”
As I stood outside the door of her university classroom, I wondered how I should hold and absorb this information. Should I just “dance ‘til the end?” As one person, I have often wondered what I could do to help the shift towards the direction of sustainability. What do I tell my children as they are entering their thirties, asking me if they should themselves, produce children?
We don’t know how much time we have left on this planet. Extinction event or opportunity to do things very differently, none of us knows how much time we have to spend on this planet. So, how can we spend our time? When much of life as we know it seems to be receding into the sunset, how can we find comfort and meaning in this time of uncertainty?
My mother once said that when everything seems lost or hopeless, the way to find meaning is to reach out and help someone else. Do something that makes someone else’s life better. Help others to find the smile that can span their faces.
I once read a book titled Man’s Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl. In it he details his time spent in Nazi concentration camps. In order to survive the horrors of this experience he learned to focus on love, hope, responsibility, and inner freedom. He also detailed how the beauty found in nature and art can help a person survive the most horrendous circumstances. His philosophy and ultimately his therapeutic approach as a psychologist, revolved around the thesis that “we are strongly motivated to live purposefully and meaningfully, and that we find meaning in life as a result of responding authentically and humanely to life’s challenges.”
With our lives seemingly hanging by a collective existential thread, it appears that the time for any other life, that is not an authentic one, is both ridiculous and useless. And how do we express our authenticity in a humane manner? What is a humane act? In my way of thinking, a humane act is one characterized by tenderness, kindness, and compassion; one that reminds us that we are not defined by our worst tendencies, but by our intrinsic goodness.
So, in addition to supporting what can ultimately help the shift to a sustainable planet, I am considering that the only way we can truly go forward is working with the shift in ourselves—creating more ethical, authentic, kind, and compassionate relationship with ourselves. This will then extend to others, making whatever future outcome more easily entered, endured, or celebrated…together.