Researchers are finding that a nurturing relationship with animals is important in early and middle childhood development (Myers and Saunders in Children and Nature: Psychological, Sociocultural, and Evolutionary Investigations, 2002). Richard Louv finds that modern urban living is producing children with “nature-deficit disorder.” Attention disorders, obesity, depression, and dampened creativity, he argues, result from children spending more hours indoors and fewer hours in unstructured, solitary contact with the natural world (Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, 2005).
We are built to love life, to be drawn to it and want diversity of life around us. Through the centuries, however, we have slowly built up ways of life that separate us from it. We twenty-first century humans have grown accustomed to disconnection, and it won’t be easy to reconnect. It will be even harder for our kids.
Julia Whitty reports:
“Children who play unsupervised in the wild before the age of 11 develop strong environmental ethics. Children exposed only to structured hierarchical play in the wild – through, for example, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, or by hunting or fishing alongside supervising adults – do not. To interact humbly with nature we need to be free and undomesticated in it. Otherwise, we succumb to hubris in maturity.” (Mother Jones, "The Thirteenth Tipping Point," 2006)
Unsupervised in the wild before age 11. I had that. When I was 9 we lived next to woods that went on as far as I could walk in a day. There was one time I got lost back there and was pretty scared for a while, but I did find my own way home eventually. I now look back on that experience as an important part of the development of my capacity for awe – full-scale awe that does have a tinge of fear in it – and wonder and ultimately love for the natural habitats of this planet. And I learned I could trust myself in it.
Not many kids today are so lucky. Today, kids simply left alone in a park for a few hours might get the parent arrested (for example, SEE HERE). Wow.
So it’s going to be hard to find ways to connect with the Earth, with nature, with all the variety of life forms on it – harder than it was for previous generations. It’s hard for us to get out into the wildness and abundance of life of natural habitats. Most of us have gradually developed habits that keep us cut off.
Connecting with life – as with exercising; as with eating well; as with going to bed at a sensible hour so we can get enough sleep; as with maintaining a discipline of journaling, spiritual study, and meditation – feels good. It is a joy. But the inertia of habit sometimes prevents us from doing the things that bring us joy.
Drawn by love, toward love, acts of caring for all beings become as natural as a mother caring for her infant. And just as mothering styles differ, we will have different degrees of caring for all life. Which is just fine, as long as, wherever you are, you’re attuned to the world’s invitation to go just a little further -- in love.
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This is part 4 of 4 of "Instead of Guilt"
Click for other parts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3