Do you feel guilty?

The other day I flew from our little Outback town Meekatharra to Perth. As the little propellor plane took off and climbed higher into the sky I watched the native mulga trees get smaller and smaller, looking like little shrubs dotting the landscape, then merging into lines filling the dry creeks, forming big river patterns that looked like veins on a big heart. The late afternoon sun gave the red dirt a deep crimson glow, a perfect contrast to the dark green veins running through the landscape.

I’m not sure if I was just in a calm, loving and appreciative mood that day, or if something has shifted in me ever since attending the Permaculture course in Margaret River. Probably a mixture of both. I just looked at the landscape in a different way and felt different about it. Where previously I would think “oh those fence lines. I know they’re important to the pastoralists for managing livestock but they just cut through the landscape in such a typical ‘human’ way – just straight, with no consideration for the natural flow of the landscape, making it harder for native animals to go about their way. Ugly.”, or “oh those roads. Who do we humans think we are that we just push away all the bush and just cut this road through everything and anything that might stand in our way? It looks so ugly” I now somehow felt about it differently. As we were flying over the area where the Outback bush ends and the farming country begins I wasn’t thinking “damn humans, making and shaping and using this country below” but instead thought “that edge down there would make for some interesting biodiversity!” Instead of feeling guilty for being a human and for making these changes to our landscape, and somehow feeling like we humans don’t belong and shouldn’t be doing any of this, I now felt connected. I felt connected to the pastoralist building the fence across the landscape to keep cows in and dingos out, putting our meat on the table. I felt connected to the truckie driving along in a big rig, kicking up dust on the long remote gravel road, managing to drive safely and deliver things where they need to go. I felt connected to the red dirt landscape, to the mulga trees and to the kangaroos that live down there in the bush. I felt connected to all the other people on the plane, to the passengers, the crew and the plane itself. “Feeling connected to the plane..? To the trees and the roos? Weirdo.” Yeah I know. Just think of it like in the movie Avatar. What if there actually is something? Something that somehow connects everyone and everything? Something that we can’t see, can’t hear, can’t taste or measure, but that we just get a ‘sense’ of? Who knows. I don’t. I just know that it felt good. I just felt OK and connected, like I belonged. I felt that we were all in it together. It was a good feeling, to belong.

I think a couple of other people had a similar experience and insight whilst at the course in Margaret River. “I can stop hating people now and stop feeling guilty for being a human – ‘the species that ‘wrecked’ the planet'” one of the girls said at the course.

Guilt doesn’t do anything. Yes, we humans as a species have caused and are still causing a lot of pollution and general havoc around the planet. Yes, we take more than is our fair share. Yes, we rip up the earth, take what we want and then leave, not bothering to give back. And yes, we need to reflect on this and decide if it’s something that we want to continue to do. We might then realise that we’ve done something wrong, that we’ve been making mistakes that harm the planet.

I feel that a lot of people are stuck at this point. We realise there’s a lot of ‘wrong’ things going on. We then feel bad and go “I do worry about that. It’s not good.” and we put on a really concerned face and feel a bit weak in the stomach.

But then what? Just carrying around that worry and the guilt for being human doesn’t fix anything? Feeling small and sorry and guilty for being part of this species doesn’t help the planet. Guilt doesn’t repair the environment.

It’s okay! We’ve made a mistake! What do you do when you realise you’ve made a mistake? You feel bad for a bit, you think about how to fix it, you say sorry, you figure out how to avoid that same mistake in future and then you move on and do it right from now on.

We shouldn’t have dug up all that coal and pumped up all that oil because now it’s biting us in the bum with increased atmospheric CO2 converting our planet into a big sauna. Now that we know – let’s change it! Renewable energy, here we come.

We shouldn’t have created all this disposable plastic that is now choking our marine life, making its way up the food chain back into our own body. Now that we know – biodegradable packaging woohoo!

We shouldn’t have invented all these fertilisers and sprayed them all around the place and then  – oopsie daisy – spilled them into our waterways, then complaining about eutrophication and dead rivers, whilst at the same time battling with dead soil devoid of life.  Now that we know – compost, yippee!

We shouldn’t have made all these chemicals that nature doesn’t yet know what to do with that build up in the environment, get into our food chain, damage ecosystems and our bodies and cause havoc and diseases.  Now that we know – natural living, good idea.

Of course we make mistakes. Everyone does. To err is human. (Though I don’t think making mistakes is only reserved for humans. I’m pretty sure other animals make mistakes too. Rex the dog dug up the veggie patch the other day. That was a mistake. He learnt. He hasn’t done it again.)

Get over it. Get on with it. Feeling bad and feeling guilty ain’t gonna do a damn thing apart from teaching you what was right and what was wrong. Good! Learn, change, get on with life, have a good time!

As I was sitting in the airplane, pondering about our human influence on the world and feeling part of the whole system it was nice not feeling guilty, but feeling connected and integrated with the planet. I’m part of this, I belong here, I am allowed to live and prosper and experience this planet and I’m committed to making my life a good one.

I am grateful for Permaculture having taught me to feel this way, to feel connected. It has taught me to view the world with new eyes. Instead of sitting on the plane thinking “I’ve flown this way plenty of times, I know what it looks like down there. Boring.” I pressed my nose up against the little window like a little kid at a lolly shop, marvelling at the beautiful patterns that nature created, imagining walking through the mulga shrubs, discovering the animals that might live there and just taking it all in.

There’s more out there than we think. I am a human and I am proud.  I am no more or no less than anyone or anything else out there. I am different in some ways and I’m the same in some ways. I have made mistakes as a human and I’ve learnt from them and that’s OK. I’m OK.

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