Schilderij van twee mensen liggend naast een waterval
Schilderij van twee mensen liggend naast een waterval

Nature: Our Hope in Harsh Times, writes Noelle Aarts

Nature is in trouble, people say. Well, no, others respond, nature will take care of itself. As a bulb grower indicated: "Vulnerable? You wouldn't believe what I have to spray to keep nature at bay."

The bulb grower is right: nature will continue. Wild and indifferent as it is, it will survive despite all attacks and setbacks. If not nature itself, then at least biodiversity is under pressure. We have red lists of animals and plants that we need to protect extra because they are on the brink of extinction. In fact, humans should also be on that list: because the climate is changing, because biodiversity is decreasing, because our oceans are full of plastic, and because we can no longer dispose of the rest of our waste, we are busy destroying our own habitat.

For our food, our shelter, and thereby our existence, we are completely dependent on nature. Not least because we live in symbiosis with millions of bacteria that successfully tackle most of our diseases without the need for a doctor. Nature is also necessary for our mental well-being. Walking in nature is one of the most effective ways to combat stress. Experiencing that we are part of nature means that our own 'big ego' – the result of the excessive individualism of our time – is put into perspective in a pleasant way: we belong and we matter, even when we do nothing special.

Contrary to common belief, nature is not the problem; it actually offers solutions. The problem is that we have become quite estranged from nature and, thereby, from each other. In our complex world, people seek a safe haven in an obsessive focus on the self, which jeopardizes the connection with others, as critical philosophers of the Frankfurt School observed decades ago. Such self-centeredness leads to the erosion of civilization and a lack of love for life, for fellow human beings, and for the world around us.

As a counterbalance to alienation, German sociologist Hartmut Rosa introduces the concept of resonance. We resonate with the world around us when we are able to engage in responsive, transformative, non-instrumental relationships. This can be with people, with nature, with art, and with our work: a philosopher with text, a gardener with plants, a baker with dough. It's about engaging in a relationship with the other where the focus is on undivided attention, on listening, and on responding. When we resonate with another being or thing, we are touched, attracted, and it will also speak back to us. This creates a dialogic relationship, according to Rosa.

We must learn to resonate, resonate with each other and with nature. To solve the problems in our environment, we must learn to listen to each other, with attention and patience, even when we disagree. We must have the courage to say the things that need to be said. We must practice caution and purity in our thinking and speaking to come to just solutions together.

Here lies a necessary ambition for education. Inspired by the idea of 'wild pedagogy', which is focused on learning to live with nature, the Nature College develops tools in the form of principles and hopeful practices for the development of educational curricula. In this way, we create a necessary foundation to ensure that, collectively, nature will become the solution to the many problems that people are currently almost succumbing to.

This article previously appeared on Natuurcollege.nl (in Dutch)

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