Balance: the environmental malaise of our time

If we learned from experience, we would soon understand that simple prevention is preferable to a complexity of cures, and that a strategy of ordinary care and maintenance is always easier than repairing what is broken by neglect or abuse. Watchful caution and measured avoidance are better strategies than trying to fix situations that have degraded beyond control.

Attend to the little things and the big things will attend to themselves. The time to repair things is at the very beginning of trouble, even before a problem is evident.

These insights espouse balance above imbalance and the ordinary above the extraordinary. Order is preferable to disorder and harmony is better than discord. Efficiency is valued over waste. As a way of thinking, sensing and being in the world and society, the unfolding of circumstances invites us to accept that the ground and reference of our human condition is the ordinary — astutely noting that when we comply with the natural course of things, our lives are contented and fulfilling; when we disturb the natural course of things, we invite imbalance and trouble.

Fundamental to this understanding is the notion that we and nature are expressions of each other, different facets of the same process. It follows, therefore, that our destiny is closely linked to nature’s. When we perceive nature in distress, we can expect to find the same in ourselves. As mirror images of each other, we can be assured that when something is amiss in ourselves, it will manifest as a disturbance in nature. To fix nature, we simply stop disturbing it and let it return to its own rich and dynamic balance; to fix ourselves, we do the same. Then we both benefit. Which brings us to the environmental malaise of our time.

Nature is out of balance with itself because we are out of balance with ourselves. As instruments of craving and consumption, we have become more like cogs in the machinery of economics and finance than social and community beings living and celebrating our humanness and togetherness. We have been induced to want more than we need and to have more than we can use — “stuffed to death and starved to death,” as essayist Randal Jarrell put it in his essay, Sad Heart at the Supermarket. Or, as the old Taoist sages wisely noted, “Those who know when enough is enough will always have enough.”

Our precious humanity, the special ingredient that identifies us, has become an exploitable commodity in a milieu of materialism. Because we have lost the sense of ourselves, so too have we lost our harmonious relationship with nature. We can’t avoid environmental trouble if we don’t come to peace with ourselves. And we can’t take the necessary environmental precautions to avoid sinking into even more trouble if our perception and judgment are overruled by superfluous needs.

We prevent environmental damage by avoiding unnecessary risks. If we are not centred and balanced as individuals and a society, then we can’t gauge those risks. The unavoidable logic here is that we create our own well-being by avoiding trouble. The natural world that contains us is generous and bountiful if we respect its inherent order; it is rich and abundant if we move in compliance with it.