“The world interacts with itself. The sky, the spirits, the
earth, the physical world, the living, and the deceased all
act, interact, and react in consort. One works on the other
and one part cannot exist nor be explained without the other.”
– The Trinity of Sin by Yusfu Turaki
The notion that everyone and everything is interconnected, interdependent and interrelated is echoed in religions and cultures across the world. Identity, in the Māori culture, is based upon whakapapa, a set of relationships with the living and the departed, the individual and their environment. Whakapapa suggests that everything in the natural world shares a common ancestry. In acknowledging this interconnection, one becomes more aware of this interdependence, which in turn fosters an appreciation that our very survival is dependent upon nurturing relationships not only with one another, but with the world around us.
This concept is not dissimilar to the dynamic balance of the Taoist concepts of Yin and Yang, all living beings are dependent on the health and survival of the earth that we inhabit. Wellbeing is indicative of having a healthy relationship to yourself and your environment, particularly the cycles of nature within and without. Life reaches its ultimate meaning in the context of this relatedness and interdependence.
Similarly, interconnectedness is emphasised in other Eastern religions such as Buddhism that claim that the boundaries between self and others, as well as self and environment, are blurred or even non-existent. Likewise, the basic ideals of Hinduism, is that we are all interconnected, we are all made of the same stuff, atman.
Ukama, an African philosophy or ethic of holism and realtionality, stems from the Shona word, ukama, meaning relatedness – relatedness to the whole universe. The concept of ukama advocates that our relatedness cannot be simply reduced to our human belongingness, but rather that human wellbeing is inextricably bound with all that exists. Ukama expresses the idea of what is means to be a person in relation to other human beings and the universe; that humans, the spirit world and the biophysical world are all part of the same fabric, each needing the other to activate it. We are both dependent on, and interdependent with, one another and with the environment on which all humanity depends.
We are all part of a natural and social web of life that supports and sustains us. A sense of belonging and connectedness is a requirement to experience an overarching meaning in life. To belong implies experiencing relatedness and connections with people, society, and nature. Ubuntu, derived from the African principle: ‘umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu’, which translates as ‘one is a person through others’, helps us to appreciate that to be human means to care for self, the other and nature—that the self is inextricably bound up in relations with the other and the biophysical world. When we acknowledge this common humanity and interconnectedness, the “I” and “me” becomes more “we” and “us”.
Human beings are inherently social creatures. For millions of years we have evolved to survive and thrive through our dependence on social groups. Whether extrovert, introvert of ambivert, our humanity depends on our relationships with others. We depend upon and need others in a number of ways as they too, depend on and need us.
Amazingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, the connectedness we experience in our relationships affects the way our brain develops and performs. Daniel Goleman, in his book, Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships, investigates the latest research in biology and neuroscience that confirms that humans are hardwired for connection and that our relationships shape not only our biology, but also our experiences. This innate need for connection makes the consequences of disconnection all the more concerning.
And how disconnected we have become! Our disconnect from other humans is visible daily on news reports of conflict, war, discrimination and abuse. And even without Sir David Attenborough, we can see the consequences of our disconnect from nature, not only damaging to our environment, but also to our own wellbeing.
Our disconnect from other humans
Modern communication and technology have certainly altered the landscape of our human interaction. Sometimes we only think we are connected. Technology has become a kind of ‘imposter’ for connection, allowing us to believe we’re connected when actually we’re really not—at least not in the ways we need to be. In our technologically advanced world, we seem to confuse being communicative with feeling connected: just because we’re plugged in, it doesn’t mean we feel seen and heard. We may have the most advanced methods of real time communication and the ability to stay connected to everyone and everything, not matter where we are in the world, and yet, more than ever, people seem to be feeling more disconnected from the world and from others. There are those who suggest that the more technologically connected we are, the more disconnected we become. All this technology and information processing does appear to come at a cost. American psychiatrist, Edward Hallowell maintains that never in human history have our brains needed work with so much much information as they do today. He argues that this generation are so busy processing the information that is coming in from all directions, that they seem to be losing the ability to think and feel.
Our disconnect from the environment
‘The interaction between the humans and the natural world has been constrained, and that is a human loss, but ultimately it could be a loss to the natural world because people won’t understand it any more’. – Sir David Attenborough
Despite the fact that our connection to, and dependence on, nature literally keeps us alive, there appears to be a worrying disconnect between humans and the environment. Typically, it has been urbanisation – the swallowing up of natural areas, cutting people off from their natural environments – that was used to explain this weakening human connection with nature. However, recently it has been suggested that technological changes, particularly the increase in options of indoor and virtual recreation, may offer a different explanation for this disconnect. The rise of television in the 1950s, video games in the 1970s and the internet in the 1990s have been claiming more and more leisure time and in doing so, have substituted social interactions and nature as sources of entertainment and recreation. This not only has a profound effect on fundamental social skills, but also on attitudes to our environment. Aside from the benefits to wellbeing, a connection to nature is strongly correlated with pro-environmental attitudes and behaviours.
Researchers often mention a nature deficit, a disconnect, between humans and their role in nature. This has been referred to as “nature-deficit disorder”— reduced awareness and a diminished ability to find meaning in the life around us. Aside from the urbanistion of natural areas, children’s time is so structured, their lives more protected by parents that they no longer have the opportunity to play freely in nature. Schools also seem to be cutting back on field trips and outdoor adventure education.
And yet, there is plenty of research conducted on the beneficial effects of nature on human flourishing—our social, psychological, and emotional life. These in turn help us to cultivate greater openness, creativity, connection, generosity, and resilience. Nature has been found to have positive effects on children with attention deficit disorder, asthma, and obesity, and being in nature relieves stress and improves physical health. Adults who work in spaces that incorporate nature into their design are reported as being healthier, and more creative and productive. In hospitals, patients with a view of nature from their window are reported to heal faster.
Richard Louv, in his book The Nature Principle: Human Restoration and the End of Nature-Deficit Disorder concluded that “The natural world’s benefits to our condition and health will be irrelevant if we continue to destroy the nature around us. But that destruction is assured without a human reconnection to nature.”
We need to ensure that the next generation is given the opportunity to have meaningful encounter with nature as they cannot grow to love nature without experiencing it. If we want to protect our environment and biodiversity, creating opportunities to reconnect with nature is crucial for both children and adults. We need to spend more time unplugged and find ways to let nature balance our lives.
Programmes that include a strength-based approach to social emotional learning (SEL) and outdoor adventure education (OAE). Programmes will incorporate developing essential social skills, environmental awareness and sustainability. Combining OAE into our programmes provides opportunities for learners to apply the knowledge and skills to real-life situations, thus increasing the level of understanding of the relationship between humans and the environment.
Learning opportunities include:
- Develop an understanding of ourselves, our unique contribution to the world and our interconnectedness to humans and the environment.
- Challenge our misconceptions on separateness and learn to appreciate our interdependence and interrelation to others
- Develop an understanding and appreciation of cultural diversity and the contribution others make to the world.
- Discussion on sustainable development of the biosphere and ecosystems within the biosphere.
- Reflection on how the learners’ action can harm or contribute to the conservation of this natural resource.
- Reflection on how the learners can use their strengths to help sustainable development.
Quotes on Interconnectedness
“We are here to awaken from the illusion of our separateness.”
–Thich Nhat Hahn
“I define connection as the the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.” – Brené Brown
“It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied together into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. We are made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality . . . Before you finish eating breakfast in the morning, you’ve depended on more than half the world. This is the way our universe is structured; this is its interrelated quality. We aren’t going to have peace on Earth until we recognize the basic fact of the interrelated structure of all reality.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Christmas 1967
“This is the highest praise, to say you have ubuntu. This is a person who recognises that he exists only because others exist; a person is a person through other persons. When we say you have ubuntu, we mean that you are gentle, you are compassionate, you are hospitable, you want to share, and you care about the welfare of other. This is because my humanity is caught up with your humanity.” – Bishop Tutu.
“A human being is part of the whole called by us ‘universe’, a part limited in time and space. We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest. A kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from the prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. The true value of a human being is determined by the measure and the sense in which they have obtained liberation from the self [ego]. We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if humanity is to survive”. ― Albert Einstein