by M. Doretta Cornell, RDC
Mystics in all ages and from many religious traditions have been teaching that we are all one, and have often been dismissed by skeptics as imaginative metaphor.
Over the past few decades, however, scientists have been demonstrating the same principle: no entity is truly discrete; we are all one – not just humans but every bit of anything that exists in the universe.
Our breath takes in the exhalation of trees and plants; the decay of plants gradually form the soil in which our food grows. These interactions create the continuously evolving universe that we live in.
Recent studies are now revealing that the way evolution proceeds has also been evolving, particularly in our tiny region of the universe, Earth.
Whereas for millennia evolution worked through biological, chemical, and physical interactions, the appearance of human consciousness introduced a new factor, and the sheer number of humans has increased the impact of our choices as a factor in the way Earth is evolving.
Human creativity and destructivity now play a large part in the development of both human society and Earth itself. As our ability to measure such things becomes more sophisticated, we will probably learn that our influence on Earth has much wider consequences in our solar system, and perhaps even beyond. (What effects might our current Mars rovers be having on that planet? Or space probe Clementine on the regions it is sailing through?)
So, what does all of this have to do with compassion?
Because of our consciousness, we can choose some of the ways we influence what is evolving. Compassion can help us with these choices.
For one very concrete example, our water is no longer dependent only on rain and snow-fall. Our actions make huge differences in whether we will continue to have potable water or continue to pollute the sources of water we need each day. Common sense tells us we cannot survive without water, so we have begun to clean up and protect our own supplies, as well as take measures to prevent future contamination.
Compassion takes us further, to look at conditions all around the world, especially in the poorest countries – or even, closer to hand, at the poorest counties in our country.
Mountaintop-removal mining in the Appalachians, for instance, has little immediate effect on White Plains water, but for the people of those small mountain towns, disastrous leaks of poisoned water and indiscriminate dumping of crushed mountain debris are already taking a toll – people’s homes have been flooded, roads and fields rendered useless, and some towns have had to be totally abandoned. The health problems, ranging from asthma through cancer, resulting from the particles released are enormous and expensive.
Although it looks as though we may not be directly affected by this, our choices help determine whether mountaintop-removal mining will continue its destruction.
Our voting for legislators and support or opposition for such projects also determine what will occur.
Our demand for cheap fuel is a major factor: extracting coal this way costs less than other methods. However, this is only true because the “costs” for which the mining industry is responsible do not include the wider costs of the process. Many companies refuse to restore any of the terrain, even in the few areas where such restoration is required by law.
Human suffering and declining health are not considered at all. The costs of the health problems are more easily calculated: all of us pay higher health premiums because of the health problems, and Medicare and Medicaid costs are also affected. The anguish of losing family, community, home and livelihood are incalculable but still very real.
Finally, though not least importantly, the transformation of the beautiful mountains and of all their habitats for plants and animals into slag and desert is not reflected in the costs these companies bear. All of us are deprived of the beauty, as well as the air and water filtering, that wilderness regions lend to our lives. Very little research has been done about the impact of the destruction of huge physical structures like mountains on the rotation of Earth, or on the larger weather patterns and our climate.
Too often we are blissfully unaware of how our choices are afflicting other people and Earth itself. Cultivating an attitude of compassion can attune us to the true costs of our choices, as well as determine how our earth will evolve. Our own human development is also affected – do we choose to live on, ignorantly destroying the platform for all life on Earth?
Or will we become an Earth community working for the greater good of all our neighbors, human and non-human?