Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Toddlers with matches

What a difference a tense makes.
I am . . . I was . . . or I will be? We were . . . we are . . . or we might be?
Let me explain.

Those of us brought up in a Christian culture have absorbed a concept into our genes. Forget the Big Bang. Forget all that scientists have recently discovered. Somewhere inside us a voice is saying: "God created the world and it is good."

Note the tense of that sentence, for that is where the problem lies. Subconsciously we believe that the world 'was created', not that it's an ongoing process. We believe that this world we inhabit is the finished article, not a continuous, highly volatile work-in-progress.

Just for a moment, let's put aside that concept and think in terms of ongoing evolution.
What a difference it makes. All at once, man is not the pinnacle of creation (which, looking around at our current floundering, seems highly unlikely anyway) the species homo sapiens is a phase in the divine creative process. Not only that, having been here for a mere two hundred thousand years, we are new arrivals on the planet. New arrivals who, it sometimes seems, don't yet know their own strength. As Janine Benyus put it recently, 'we are like toddlers with matches'.

Toddlers with matches can be dangerously unpredictable. So, what are our chances of adapting to survive in this period of volatile instability? Janine Benyus is President of The BioMimicry Institute, a scientific body that offers guidance on how humanity can benefit from studying and imitating the skills of the natural world. In her view, whilst we have an infinite potential to adapt, we need to change our viewpoint . . . to recognise our vulnerability, becoming students of nature, rather than conquerers.

So . . . we'd be wise to descend from our pinnacle of self-importance. We are not the ultimate, the 'be all and end all', we are a stage in a cycle. And even that isn't the full story. We are not a static stage. We are an evolving stage in an evolving universe.

I don't know about you, but, when faced with this reality, I find myself tempted to behave like Nero: to turn my back on the flames and to pick up my fiddle. But, to a large extent, we are the toddlers who lit those flames.

Might it not be the time for us to put aside our matches and, guided by the advice of BioMimicry, look to the caterpillars for inspiration?
If caterpillars can evolve from a life of rapacious greed, surely it's possible for us to follow their example . . . a time, perhaps, to start thinking and living as butterflies?