Year of Living the Community: Week 44


posting by Jana

Coral off Jarvis Island, in the central Pacific, which has been given wildlife refuge status by the US. Photograph: Jim Maragos/AP

Coral off Jarvis Island, in the central Pacific, which has been given wildlife refuge status by the US. Photograph: Jim Maragos/AP

This opinion piece in the Guardian by George Monbiot confirms something that's been on my mind throughout the development of the Community of the Cosmic Person: the role of language in empowering or discouraging engagement on behalf of the natural world.
(Thanks to Cosmic Person Mandy for putting me onto the article.)

Even the term “reserve” is cold and alienating – think of what we mean when we use that word about a person.
— George Monbiot

What Monbiot contends is that the terms we use to discuss the environment (including saying 'the environment') 'estrange people from the living world.' 


Monbiot mentions studies from 'cognitive linguists and social scientists' that indicate the impact words and frameworks have on behaviour and mindset.  

Words possess a remarkable power to shape our perceptions. The organisation Common Cause discusses a research project in which participants were asked to play a game. One group was told it was called the “Wall Street Game”, while another was asked to play the “Community Game”. It was the same game. But when it was called the Wall Street Game, the participants were consistently more selfish and more likely to betray the other players. There were similar differences between people performing a “consumer reaction study” and a “citizen reaction study”: the questions were the same, but when people saw themselves as consumers, they were more likely to associate materialistic values with positive emotions.
— George Monbiot

A large part of what I'm doing with the Community of the Cosmic Person and the Ecozoic Living framework is trying to change the language of engagement for those who love the earth in order to recover fresh energy and insight for these commitments.

To my mind, earth activism is full of unhelpful terminology: fighting to save the planet; working to find a solution to climate change (Monbiot suggests using the term 'climate breakdown' as a way to avoid confusing 'natural variation with the catastrophic disruption we cause'); fixing the planet.

Personally, I find these terms disempowering because they invoke a cognitive dissonance that obliterates my energy and dims my mental capacities: I know that I will not fix or save anything...and, anyway, I'm a lover not a fighter. 

My language for staying actively engaged with the 'living planet' and 'places of natural wonder' and the 'natural world' (ideas for fresh wording from Monbiot) is all about participating in the flourishing of the whole community of life on earth. There are no hard edges, nothing to get my back up, and I am not given over to despair about the impossibility of 'making change' happen.

Changing the name helps me stay in the game.
(Yes, I know: 'game' isn't the right word. But it does rhyme...)

As always, your comments are welcome. What is your language for engaging in earth activism? Do you think it's all just semantics and doesn't matter or are you searching for greater empowerment and a better way to think and speak about who you and and what you do in relation to the earth?