Imagine being a person who has been imprisoned inside, all of their life.
Consider that on average our children spend 4 hours a week playing outdoors. To put this in perspective, for the 168 hours of a child’s week, just 4 hours are spent out of doors. To look at this another way, less than a quarter of the time spent on screens and devices is spent playing outside. Not an equal amount of time, not even half, but less than a quarter. We know that this is less than prisoners get around their concrete yard. At a time when our infants are growing, developing into their potential, we stunt their exposure to any natural environment.
This of course sets the tenor for our adult lives.
The average American spends 87% of their lives indoors and another 6% in a vehicle. I expect European figures are similar. We live indoors. Most of the world’s population live in cities. Yes that’s right. A figure set to rise to over 70% by 2050.
Picture the person who spends eighty percent of their time within their home. Their experience limited to the four walls of each room, the view down the corridor, the textures of their wallpaper, the smell of their cupboards and the creak of their floorboards.
Close your eyes and share their most common outdoor view: the wall of the building opposite, a squint at the patch of sky racing overhead or a sideways glance to the pavement outside. For many people this is their reality. We know that loneliness is one of western society’s most thorny public health challenges.
Now, we move our perspective to the person who leaves the house to drive to another building to work, to spend most of their adult life in an environment of artificial light and stale air looking at light emitting diodes. Maybe their route takes them to a school drop off, to the supermarket, to sit in stationary traffic in the daily commute, finishing with the local pub to self-medicate…and then home.
It’s not hard to imagine their closest encounter with nature is a desk plant or an open window, a walk across their front lawn to their car or a blurred view from a passenger window.
Imagine now a person who takes the time to exercise and walk to work. Along the same pavement. The same route. Every single day. Their reward? The same sight along the same street. Over the same hedge into the same park. Across to the same hazy hills on the same lazy horizon.
Their view of the natural world will be limited and quite narrow.
Lets add in the pressures of modern life, the job, the money worries, the time stresses, the expectations…all the things that translate to the stress that we carry when we walk, run or drive to work. Now they don’t hardly notice anything at all. They are now in their bubble of life, travelling unaware, even further from the world around them.
Imagine if this view of the world was ingrained over decades of repetition. Deepening the same old sensory rut. Etching the same neural pathways in the brain.
Would you say that with such limited sight they would have largely lost the ability to sense the world at large in any dynamic way?
How can this person sense what is wrong with their own little world because they ceased to understand how it relates to, and is interconnected with, the larger natural system around them?
Their world is seen only in isolation. Dump the plastic bottle in the bin: the rubbish gets removed from their world: out of sight: out of mind. Who cares if it impacts elsewhere. It is outside their world. Their little world. Their little vision. Their little prison.
Many of us in the developed world chose to incarcerate ourselves in such a way due to the expectations and norms of our world. We restrict our view. Each generation narrowing with a corresponding widening into the virtual world. We pass up the priceless gift of nature for something more plastic. More moulded. More welded.
This blindness explains why ‘we’ are capable of destroying our Earth – simply because we are blind to its value. We never walk amongst it. We have no idea of our part in it. Our responsibility for it. The bucolic Attenborough-rich ensemble of blues and greens and diversity of life brought to us on yet more screens inures us to it’s plight. Maybe reality is, well, just a bit too real. A bit too inconvenient. A bit too dull.
By getting out into nature, changing our view and creating new neural pathways based on sensing nature we will build a new set of connections with nature and perceive, naturally, more of it around us. By becoming more sensitive in this way we will value it more highly. We will be able to experience what nature is experiencing. We will remember that we are very much a part of its fecund fabric.
So…step out of yesterday’s footprint, the normal driveways of your life and connect with the greater natural world around you. You will then see the effect of society’s actions, and inactions, on it. You will see how you relate to it. You will then value it.
And then you will be more aware of the imprint you leave upon it – because of the imprint nature leaves on you.