Loving the Environment, Loving Mankind?
The Environment and Mankind
Merriam Webster dictionary gives a few definitions on “environment,” and two of them are: (1) the circumstances, objects, or conditions by which one is surrounded (2a) the complex of physical, chemical, and biotic factors (as climate, soil, and living things) that act upon an organism or an ecological community and ultimately determine its form and survival (2b) the aggregate of social and cultural conditions that influence the life of an individual or community.
By this definition, when one man or one woman’s life impacts the lives of others, then he or she becomes a part of the ‘environment’ that surrounds other human beings. Thus, ‘loving the environment’ includes loving mankind, the ‘others.’ Unfortunately, most of the in vogue discussions on ‘loving the environment’ disregard the fact that ‘loving mankind’ is an important essence of ‘loving the environment.’ The number of men and women, including children that were killed over the centuries due to negligence over these treasured component of environment evidences that ‘loving others’ requires as much attention as loving flora and fauna.
The ‘Polluted’ Hopes and Faith of Mankind
In 1992 United Nation summit, the 12 year old Ms. Suzuki said:
“I am only a child, but I know that we need to strive as one single world..”
“I am only a child yet I know if all the money spent on war is spent on finding environmental answers, ending poverty and fighting treaties, what a wonderful world this place would be.”
Her message was simply simple. It reminded me of similar messages from the book,”All I Really Need to Know I learned in Kindergarten,” a book of short essays by Robert Fulghum, published in 1988. In this book, American Minister Fulghum explained that the world can be a better place if adults learned the foundational lessons in life taught at kindergartens, i.e. sharing, being kind to one another, cleaning up after themselves, and living “a balanced life” of work, play, and learning.
I reflected my childhood time and wondered what have I learned from my kindergarten time? Then, I realized that I actually did not attend any kindergarten. Surely, not all children are as fortunate as Ms. Suzuki. Many as she voiced, ended up living along the streets or in refuge camps. Unicef reported that in 2005, more than half the world’s children (about 1 billion) suffered from extreme effects of poverty, war and HIV/Aids, and were denied from healthy and safe childhood.
Indeed, only a small percentage of children are born into environmentalist activists families and experienced formative age like Cullis-Suzuki’s. In 1992, at age 12, Cullis-Suzuki and her contemporaries, members of ECO, Michelle Quigg, Vanessa Suttil, and Morgan Geisler raised money to present their voices to the Earth Summit in Rio de Genero where she gave this wonderful speech.
In 2002, before graduating from college, Ms.Suzuki worked with the Yale Student Environmental Coalition and campaigned on ‘Recognition of Responsibility,’ a pledge to commit her generation to be accountable and to challenge the elders to support their campaign goal and to lead by example on simple but fundamental things, such as reducing household garbage, consuming less, eating locally grown food, and getting out into nature. While this part of her stays, Ms. Suzuki was a changed person. She spoke to the media what most adults, perhaps including those who listened to her in 1992 UN summit, often thought of life:
“When I was little, the world was simple. But as a young adult, I’m learning that as we have to make choices – education, career, lifestyle – life gets more and more complicated. We are beginning to feel pressure to produce and be successful. We are learning a shortsighted way of looking at the future, focusing on four-year government terms and quarterly business reports. We are taught that economic growth is progress, but we aren’t taught how to pursue a happy, healthy or sustainable way of living. And we are learning that what we wanted for our future when we were 12 was idealistic and naive.”
Have we ‘polluted our environment’ as we grew older? When we were young, we proudly spoke of faith and hope. When we become adults, we doubt. We no longer dream that changes are possible, small ones or big ones. The environment changes us and we change the environment. We preach of sustainable development, but our own dreams, faith, and hopes get polluted. They are not sustained.
Lessons on Sustainable Living at Formative Age
My friend lent me twelve books authored by Irfan Ama Lee and Erik Lincoln of Peace Generation, a non-profitable organization from Indonesia, and asked me to share what I think about them. Reading children’s books. What an interesting homework.
On my study table are a few stacks of books from Yale University library, mostly about loving others, wars, conflict resolutions, and reconciliation. I have not finished reading most of them yet. Now I add more to my reading task. What can I learn and become after reading these children books?
Reminded by the Chinese proverb, ‘ren lau xin bu lau’ or ‘older person, young heart,’ I began flipping through the colorful pages. The books were hand-gripping, filled with simplicity and truth. If only we can learn about loving ourselves and others during our formative age as what taught by these books, the world would have been a better place. Perhaps, Ms. Suzuki too will not mourn missing lessons on how to pursue a happy, healthy or sustainable way of living during her early adulthood.
Sustaining Mankind by Developing Peaceful Generation
Reanalyzing Fulghum’s theory on the impact of early age education, endorsing lessons on loving ourselves and others in this 21st century’s primary schools education, e.g. as what taught by the Peace Generation curriculum, is not only timely, but a must.
The integration of these twelve lessons into the formative age education will surely support the development of a peaceful generation and help to facilitate sustainability of mankind. It can also function as the preventive measure against mankind’s tendency to ‘pollute the environment’ and some adults’ irresponsible acts in influencing the youths to stereotype others. These books are like antidotes to many books that are merely written to fan bigotry, e.g. “Are you Muslim” written by Muhammad Qutb which I recently discovered from my father’s book shelf. The time invested on these twelve books as compared to the hours spent on Qutb’s writing was surely worth spending.
Twelve fundamental lessons from the Peace Generation books are (1):
Book 1: Accepting Myself – “Proud to be me.”
The selected Quranic passage for this theme is Surah Al-Tiin 95:4, “We created man in the best form.” (man meanings mankind). On page 2, point 3 says, “We need to know that God never makes mistakes when He creates something. We are created for a purpose, and for that reason we must rejoice.”
Key concept: Everyone is valuable creation of God with strengths and weaknesses.
Book 2: Prejudice – “No Suspicion No Prejudice”
Key concept: Do not judge a person by the group that they are in. Judge people by their own personal character.
Book 3: Ethnic Diversity – “Different Cultures but Still Friends.”
On the first page, words of wisdom from Sunan Ibnu Majah, from the Hadith say, “People are like the teeth of a comb – we are equally tall and equally small. Arabs are no more important than non-Arabs and no non-Arabs are no more noble than Arabs.”
Key concept: Avoid the tendency to be prejudiced towards other ethnic groups, and try hard to get to know and enjoy differences.
Book 4: Religious Diversity – “Different Faiths but Not Enemies.”
Key concept: Differences in religion should be addressed peacefully and without force. Share your ideas respectfully and be a good example through life.
Book 5: Roles of Males and Females – “Male and Female – both are Human.”
Key concept: Respect and appreciate people of the opposite sex and build healthy and appropriate friendship.”
Book 6: Economic Status – “Rich but not Proud, Poor but not Embarrassed”
Words of wisdom quoted from the Prophet Solomon, “A good name is better than wealth. Favor is better than silver or gold. Both the rich and the poor stand equal before Allah, because Allah is the creator to all.”
Key concept: Wealth or poverty don’t determine the value of a person. We must treat everyone with the same respect and beware the temptations we all face.”
Book 7: Exclusive Groups and Gangs – ” Gentlemen don’t need to be Gangsters”
Key concept: Gangs and exclusive groups hurt our friendships and lead to many harmful results.
Book 8: Understanding Diversity – “The Beauty of Differences”
The passage quoted came from Surah Al-Hujuraat 49:13, “People we created you from a male and a female and made you peoples and tribes, so that you could know each other. The godliest among you to Allah is the most honorable. Allah is omniscient and aware.”
Key concept: God is the creator. We should celebrate and enjoy diversity. He has made this world.
Book 9: Understanding Conflict – “Conflict can help you grow”
Key concept: Conflict is unavoidable. Our response to conflict determines the outcome. Will we allow conflict to destroy our relationship or will we allow it to make us more mature?”
Book 10: Rejecting Violence – “Use your Brain not your Brawn”
Key concept: Violence cannot resolve conflict. Instead, it only produces rotten fruit.
Book 11: Admitting Mistakes – “Not too Proud to Admit Mistakes”
Quoted Hadith, “Happy is the man who concerns himself with his own mistakes rather than the mistakes of others.”
Key concept: Admitting wrong is the key to solving problems.
Book 12: Giving Forgiveness – “Don’t be Stingy when Forgiving Others.”
Key concept: Forgiveness is both the beginning and the end of the road to peace.
Severn Suzuki quoted Ghandi as saying, “We must become the change we want to see.” Therefore, adults not only have the responsibilities to ensure the young ones are taught on foundational values in loving others, but also to live by examples. Adults are challenged to love themselves and others, who are parts of the environment, for their sake and for the sake of the future generation. Men and women of all generations are challenged to sustain their dreams, faith, and hopes as they develop. These are the foundational philosophy and acts towards preserving healthy mankind. Thriving towards sustainability of mankind, as constituent of the environment, can only continue healthily through a serene emotional and mental stage; changing what we can and accepting what we cannot.
Our prayer for the world:
“God, grant me the understanding to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.” (Serenity Prayer Peace Generation Book1)
1. These 12 series books were authored by Irfan AmaLee & Erik Lincoln (Bandung, Indonesia: Pelangi Mizan), in cooperation with Islamic Center for Education Development, Australia. Also in conjunction with Pusat Studi Agama and Peradaban Muhamadiyah and Lembaga Transformasi Masyarakat, Indonesia.