They say the best things in life are free. The truth is there is very little in life that doesn’t come without some sort of cost. The sentiment of this phrase is true though; what we need most of all as social animals is friendship and access to wild places. Quality communication with each other, and with wildlife at large, is massive when it comes to personal happiness.
This week a friend hired a youth hostel in Shropshire and invited us to join her. It was a wonderful experience, reconnecting with friends I’d not seen for thirty years and making new connections. There was no phone signal or wifi, so the two evenings were spent making music and playing games. There was heating and lighting, but in all other ways we could have been in a different millennia. It was refreshing and life-affirming to be taken away from the trappings of day to day life.
It struck me that our normal lives leave us isolated. We don’t tend to talk. We message because we don’t want to disturb people, and dialogue is becoming replaced by emails that, without eye contact or tone of voice, can easily be misinterpreted. Social media tends to be an ego-centric activity, that often leaves us feeling deflated and even depressed. We think we are connecting with people, but yet we are more disconnected than ever. A hug, a game, a conversation, communal singing, a beach clean, a dance to live music; these feed the soul, yet we increasingly eschew them because more insular activities such as watching TV and computer work have eaten up our precious time.
To be strong enough to face the future we are going to need to draw on the resilience that social contact provides. This may seem easier said than done. It takes time to make friends and courage to start conversations. A good route in is to volunteer. Find something you enjoy. If you are out of practice at socialising, remember no-one expects perfection. Take time to listen. Have fun.
When it comes to understanding climate change, we are all at different stages of their journey. It can be hard to retain connections when friends behave selfishly. But the problem is that many of our modern lifestyle privileges are incompatible with a long term future. I love the American-Indian concept of the children’s fire, where every action takes into account the impact upon seven generations of children.
The Western World has long encouraged a culture of instant gratification, with slogans like “go on, you’re worth it” and blinkered political policies. This was illustrated last week when tax on carbon-costly internal flights was slashed, while elsewhere in the country the £2 bus cap, which promoted public transport and benefited a far greater number of people, particularly those in the lower income groups, was removed. It therefore can be a dilemma when close friends are inconsiderate in their actions, but it’s important to remember that the fault is less with our friends as with social conditioning. Leading by example and avoiding confrontation is the best way of exerting an influence.
Over the years I have made a circle of green-minded friends who understand the climate and with whom I can talk frankly. The group Extinction Rebellion has been brilliant, because they have created a green social-network system. It has never been so easy to find other people who are climate concerned on a local and national level and they are friendly, sympathetic and inclusive. On the weekend of the 21st of April Extinction Rebellion are organising a big weekend’s gathering in London around the Houses of Parliament. This will be an opportunity to celebrate life and friendship while also giving a strong message that we need our government to act in passing meaningful laws to protect wildlife, the environment and our children’s future. For those interested in coming highlights include Unite to Survive on Friday 21st, when Westminster will be filled with flags, banners and people and EarthDay on Saturday 22nd, an enormous celebration and family friendly march for biodiversity.
“No man is an island,””two minds are better than one,” “many hands make light work.” History has shown us over and over the power of comradeship and collaboration. Friendships require commitment and work, but the rewards are more than worth it in the end.