The 4 challenges impacting our alignment with nature, according to Ian McCallum

Ian McCallum takes to the TEDxCapeTown Intersections of Change stage.

During the global lockdown, as people shut themselves indoors, social media was flooded with incredible images of nature reclaiming its natural space. This incredible display by nature has prompted many to consider the impact that humans have on the environment, and the repercussions of that. 

As the world suffers through a global pandemic, many are looking to the environment and how human actions have influenced the incubation of COVID-19. 

During our 10-part digital series, Intersections of Change, we’ve had some incredible conversations. But as the earth slowly becomes warmer and natural habitats seem to be disappearing, the conversation around how we as humans can better serve nature has become a hot topic. 

Our fifth conversation entitled: Humanity Aligning Closer to Nature, saw two incredible speakers take our digital stage to help facilitate a conversation around how we can gain a deeper understanding of the human position in the biosphere. One of these speakers is Ian McCallum, an analytical psychologist, writer, specialist wilderness guide, and award-winning creative. 

During this insightful talk, Ian discussed four key challenges that we are facing as a species that are preventing our alignment with nature: 

  1. Conscious Ignorance 

“How many times must a man turn his head and pretend he doesn’t see?” - Bob Dylan

According to Ian, we tend to minimise the things that are currently happening to our environment, by using phrases such as: “it’s not as bad as it’s being painted.” As a species, we’re being asked to change. But unfortunately, this is simply too inconvenient for some. 

“This conscious ignorance is a challenge, and we’ve got to look at it in ourselves.”

  1. Human Entitlement 

Thanks to our sense of entitlement, our “contract with ignorance now becomes justified.”
“[Our behaviour] becomes systematic and ultimately systemic.”  Through our  belief that we are the apex creation, we believe that we are more important than anything around us, including the landscape, rivers, and animals - all the conditions that support human life.

According to Ian, we need to learn to understand the difference between a sense of self-worth and self-importance. This manifests as a sense of individualism, “rather than the values of individuals as part of a whole.”

“The behaviour that we do becomes systematic and ultimately systemic.” 

  1. Human Indifference 

One of the most toxic behaviours is indifference. As Ian puts it, “When you simply don’t give a damn anymore.” Ian uses the example of relationships to illustrate his point:

“The opposite of love is indifference. You don’t give a damn. You don’t care.”

This is how many of us have begun to view our relationship with the Earth, and this can be detrimental. 

  1. Defeatism 

This is the belief that it’s too late to do anything about what we have done to the environment, so why not enjoy what time we have left? Ian uses the Greek myth of Sisyphus to illustrate his point: 

“The Greek hero was condemned to push a heavy boulder up an ever-increasing gradient until, inches short of the summit, it became too heavy, overpowering him, only to roll back to where he had started and to where he would have to start all over again … and again. Instead of giving up, as the gods expected him to, he turned once more to that rock.
Embracing it, he recommenced his impossible task. In that act, he scorned once more, the punishing gods.
In that act, he showed that he was bigger than that rock, bigger than his fate … that within the rock itself lay hidden possibilities.
This is the challenge of human defeatism. Don’t fall for the trap of hopelessness.

The challenge becomes saying no to the voices of entitlement, conscious ignorance, indifference and defeatism. 

“Are you willing to be an advocate of hope, to refuse to be overwhelmed by the weight of the environmental tasks that we all, in our own way, have to face?” 

We need to be careful about distinguishing between two words: optimism and hope. While optimism gives us permission to “forget about the challenges we are faced with,” hope is a word that talks about our values. Hope encompasses a deep sense that “what you are doing makes sense, irrespective of how things are going to turn out.” 

“… a reminder that in our diversity is strength, but in unity there is power."

Ian McCullum: it's easy to feel overwhelmed by the environmental crisis, but we can all make a difference.