Empathy and the Environmental Crises

We know that if we are to make an impact on the Environmental Crises, patterns of consumption have to shift substantially. We need a tidal wave of change towards ecological choices, so that we all feel like citizens of the world when we make decisions about buying products and services. And this would require a major shift in the conscience of the majority. Yes, recycling our waste is a great contribution to the crises, but it is our ability to reduce what we consume that is the most powerful lever we need to pull.

In short, we all need to care more about the impact we create through the choices we make.

And of course many of us do already care. But to avert the crises we are heading towards we all need to care about our own individual impact much more. And we need to care about that impact whether or not it effects us or the people in our life. Barack Obama identified one of the most serious problems of our age is a crises of empathy.

Until we can all begin to care about the hardship of others we may never meet or lands we may never visit, the problem may be averted, but never truly solved. Yes, we need legislation and international agreements, but we also need to help future generations genuinely care, and not just follow new rules. We need to add in much greater amounts than presently of the quality of compassion and empathy to our human experience, and spread that as universally as possible so this crises does not happen again.

The impasse in Copenhagen was partly caused because politicians know they will find it very difficult to sell any agreement to their citizens back home that translate into higher taxes or costlier products. Even China, who doesn't need a mandate of its people to act – is worried that their goods will become more expensive, loosing their competitive edge – in selling to who? The very same citizens in the very same democracies that the other main leaders are accountable to.

So that brings us back to how it is possible to enable more people in both developed and developing countries to care more about the impact their lifestyle choices have on others in distant lands, and to care more for nature itself.

Levels of Empathy and compassion are not things you can change through internationally binding agreements or even home-grown media campaigns – they are qualities that must be authentically awakened from within.

Would this require a religious revival perhaps? Well religion alone does not necessarily lead to greater empathy and being concerned about the well-being of others not connected to us. We can see that some individuals and communities feel driven by their religious dogma to act out violence and hatred to their ideological 'enemies'. And religion does not have a monopoly on caring and empathy - there are many atheists who live extremely humanitarian and ethical lives.

But there is a practice that people of any faith or no faith seem comfortable with that can awaken empathy. And that it the practice of meditation – provided, of course, that that meditation practice fits comfortably within each persons belief system.

Meditation is an ancient practice, found in nearly all cultures and can be adapted to suit nearly all personal dispositions.

Why could meditation help here? Because regular periods of meditation or reflection on universal human values such as love, compassion and peace, for as little as 10 minutes a day help us to become more aware of other people's perspectives and are more open and concerned about issues affecting those outside our circle of friends and family.

And just as importantly, when we learn how to experience peace and compassion on a daily basis, there is less desire to get temporary bursts of artificial happiness through consuming things - whether that's buying the latest must-have model or consuming just plain too much .

For those of us in developed nations, if we buy less, we can afford to buy quality – quality food, ecologically grown and transported. Quality household items that are manufactured to last longer and pollute less.

And it's the developed nations that have the addiction to consuming too much as a lifestyle choice – a choice that we can change and by doing so change the example we set for less developed nations who see our lifestyle as one to follow.

If more people spend 10 minutes in reflection or meditation each day, not only would stress levels reduce, improving our health and emotional well-being but we would be more likely to be more mindful of the way we use resources, doing so out of care and concern for the environment, and others living on the edge of survival in vulnerable regions.

And so one of the main contributions the Brahma Kumaris could make to assist this shift is to make a wide range of meditations available through different media that work for different kinds of people – those with different faiths and those with none. Meditations that help us to experience well-being through peace of mind and compassionate attitudes. Meditations that are attractive for the many not just for the few because they are enjoyable to practice and simple to do.

To do this we would need to work alongside other organisations and faiths to help introduce daily meditations or reflections on peace and compassion to a wider number of people - helping to increase empathy and understanding for one another and peace and well-being for ourselves. And in the process help awaken the love for our mother earth and for our family of humanity that is natural to all of us.

Wendy Marshall, Wales

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