I like to look to the natural world for answers to human problems. In college, I enthusiastically committed myself to ecology, the study of the relationships among and between organisms and their environment. This concept that all living creatures, regardless of their size, function, chemical makeup, etc., have the ability to have a profound effect on everything else around it, was a beautiful mind-f*** for me.
Excuse me while I nerd out for a second. So, in ecological terms, a community is an association of multiple populations within a shared geographical area. Community ecologists study the health of these systems, carefully observing how each facet of the ecosystem is faring. They can usually tell pretty quickly when something is off, as when one or multiple parts are not getting their needs met in order to thrive, this usually affects the entire ecosystem. After identifying that, okay, something is not working here, these scientists get to work – which populations are being affected the most? What needs are not getting met? How can we fix and adjust these systems to not only get this community back into equilibrium, but keep it that way? Answering these questions requires a ton of patience and attention to detail. You have to both zoom in and zoom out. Remember, everything affects everything else!
Why am I talking about this? Take a second and think about who in our community is not being understood, connected with, getting their needs met. The pandemic has cost many their jobs, security, mental and physical health. The call for social justice in all its forms is the loudest it's been in a long time. The need to escape through alcohol, drugs, social media, literally anything to help numb the pain, has been a rampant problem in our community for a long time. People are hurting all over, and when one part of the population suffers, we’re all affected by it. Our ecological community of human beings will only be able to heal and re-enter equilibrium when everybody gets what they need to thrive. Except there are no community ecologists to do this for us – we have to do this work ourselves.
So then, what’s the answer? How do we begin to fix these systems? I think the short answer is love. Bear with me, I don’t think we can simply throw thoughts and prayers into the universe and expect anything to actually happen. But it’s going to require a lot of willingness to understand where other people are at before we can make effective change, which can only happen if we’re coming from a place of love. This is where it gets complicated. If you don’t love and respect your own self, it’s going to be extremely difficult to love and respect another.
Think of our inner worlds as their own ecosystems! Everything is ecosystems with me, it’s like inception. Humor me for a second and think of your inner world as a forest. Let’s take oak trees, for example, which provide food for deer, housing for birds, and shade for undergrowth. If the oak tree population represents your self-esteem, and the population is in decline, then it’s going to greatly reduce the amount of deer (making positive decisions for yourself), birds (healthy relationships), and new foliage (learning and enjoying new hobbies) that thrive in the forest. Everything is connected. We have to do our own work and be our own ecologists and get to the bottom of where our own needs lie. We have to get our own internal ecosystems into equilibrium to help heal what’s outside of us.
It takes a courageous soul to look inward and accept the parts of themselves that try to hide from the world, while daring to like the parts they had been led to believe were inferior. It takes a lot of vulnerability, humility, and a willingness to be honest with ourselves and accept that some of the things we’ve been led to believe about ourselves and others around us may not be true. But I believe every single one of us deserves to find that light within, to see our value, and in turn, see the value in others. If we want to see our community thrive, we owe it to each other to do this work. Much like an ecosystem, real, lasting change comes from the inside out.