Ed. Note: We are happy to share this reader response, which is part of a series developed by environmental science students at Loyola University Chicago from the course ENVS 390: Integrative Environmental Seminar.
When I go to answer this question, I immediately draw upon my personal relationship with nature. I know that I respect nature, rely on nature, and irrevocably love nature. I feel lucky that all five of my senses can experience nature. I am a part of this genius, crazy unimaginable system that is my source of life, happiness, and stability. As I reflect upon this, and conclude that I perceive myself as part of nature, I realize that this question is not about me. Nor is it about how individuals feel about their personal relation toward nature.
As humans we are too focused on personal experiences. We do not see past our immediate circle or ourselves. So to answer what happens when we perceive ourselves as separate from or as part of nature, one has to remove individual experience and take on a broader perspective. When families, communities, societies, countries, and the human race perceive themselves as part of nature, we are coming to a general consensus regarding our roles in nature. First, we agree that we have a role and secondly, we agree that this web of interdependence is larger than any socially constructed relationship known to man.
This is because nature doesn’t twist and turn according to beliefs, desires, and emotions. Nature is and does as it is supposed to; it is wise and ancient. If we were to respect nature, and perceive ourselves as part of nature, we would welcome its instruction. Operating instinctually, without impulse and distractions.
So this is where we distinguish ourselves from nature.
It is clear to me where the tendency to separate from nature arises. Due to humans being individualistic and competitive, we are unable to perceive a world where we actually are a part of nature; we identify ourselves as superior. It is the way we are programmed to function. Throughout history, it is within human nature to compete, beat, and challenge. We have run out of societies to overthrow, and people to enslave. We are unable to live as part of nature because we want to dominate it. It is as though we have forgotten the fact that our advanced position in the hierarchy of species is a result of millennia of natural evolution. Due to this detachment, we fabricate our own personal realities. We lose touch with reality to such a devastating degree that empathy toward the environment diminishes.
Then again, humans are in some aspects unnatural. We have become dependent on modern science and technology to support our existence. Perhaps the separation from nature occurs due to technological advancements. As a race, humans have outgrown nature; we are too advanced for it.
But what actually happens when we separate ourselves from nature? We disengage ourselves from the natural process of things. We rely on shortcuts, easy solutions, and tools. We also forget about the symbiotic relationship all living things have with nature. Because of this, we are able to devastate our environments, pollute the air we need to breathe, and contaminate the water we need to drink. Sadly, we don’t realize how absurd this error is and how simple the solution could be. We are breaking up with nature and as a result, we are unsure of our future on this Earth.
While we are defenseless to the wrath of nature, nature is just as vulnerable. It is just as intricate as it is simple, just as autonomous as it is reliant. Nature is naturally dichotomous, just like humans. Commonalities arise between human communication and organization with nature’s and its way of being. Recognizing ourselves as part of it all signifies that we must stop finding differences and similarities because there are none among things that are part of each other.