5 Lessons We Can Learn From Nature
I love nature. Always have and always will. And since it is Earth Day Month I wanted to write something related to nature. I thought for a bit about writing about why social workers should care about environmental issues or how to reduce your own environmental footprint, but ultimately in thinking about nature, I thought about the lessons we can learn from it. So today I’m sharing a few lessons that nature can teach us, social workers.
- Blooming doesn’t happen all the time and generally requires the right environment/season. This is both in regards to ourselves and those we work with. And that’s okay and beautiful in itself. We are all in a constant state of change and development…sometimes we will be seeking inward solace and other times we will be able to share our strengths with the world. Blooming also doesn’t happen overnight and it requires the right ingredients. The ingredients are different for each flower (the right kind of soil, water, and the sunshine), and that can certainly apply to human beings as well. What do you need to bloom? What does the client you are working with need to bloom? Are there things that need to change in the environment to make blooming possible? There is comfort in knowing it is a process and we can’t expect anyone to bloom all the time. And there is also hope in knowing that blooming is possible if we can get the environmental ingredients right.
- You can’t have a rainbow without the rain. I know it’s cliché, but it’s also true. And when we accept this concept it makes whatever “the rain” is feel a little less heavy. Now, I know there are some life thunderstorms that have no rainbow, and if you are in one of those thunderstorms thinking about a rainbow is just not possible (so if that’s you, feel free to roll your eyes and move on to the next lesson). But I do believe that even those difficult life circumstances can lead to something impactful and positive. When I think about my own greatest life loss (my sister), I would never wish that kind of grief/loss on anyone. Yet, I do know that from that experience I have been able to relate to others who are experiencing grief/loss in a different way. To me, that’s the faint rainbow. The ability to connect with others in a way that would not have been possible if I had not experienced such a deep and sad life loss. There is something beautiful in that connection.
- Even things that seem purposeless generally do have a purpose. Don’t get me going on the purposelessness of mosquitos. Truly, those things are so annoying and I wish them gone on a regular basis. But even though they might seem like their only purpose is to annoy, the truth is that they play an important function in the ecosystem (even if it’s just to feed certain animals). This concept can apply to social work in many different ways. Perhaps it’s the paperwork that you hate doing and sometimes struggle to understand the purpose (but truly documentation DOES have a very important purpose). Or it’s the behaviors of a child that are so extremely frustrating to their caregiver. When we take a step back perhaps we can see that those behaviors have served an important protective purpose for the child. Often times we forget to peel back the layers to see and understand the purpose. Once we do understand the purpose, whatever it is that is feeling annoying becomes much less so. (although mosquitos might be an exception to that! still annoying!)
- Trying to force something to grow/change unnaturally usually has unintended consequences. I see this one fitting in with the concept of meeting people where they are at. You can’t force someone to change. And if you do, it probably won’t last or might have a negative impact that was not intended. Likewise, once something new has been introduced to an environment (or the community), you cannot easily go back. In some circumstances, this can be positive (such as the recent shift in understanding trauma-informed care), but in others not-so-much. I also see this sometimes playing out in policy implementation. Well-intended laws and policies will often have unintended consequences because of how each part impacts the whole. (Is it just me, or is this sounding a lot like systems theory?!?!)
- Adaptation/change is possible. Insects and animals have been adapting to environmental changes for hundreds of years. One great example of adaptation is the honey bee. My dad started bee-keeping a year or two ago so I’ve heard and learned a lot about bees recently (Thank you Dad!). Did you know that bees can adapt to a new environment naturally? It may take a few years and the loss of many of the colony, but those that do survive then continue to produce offspring that are more likely to survive the next year, and so on and so forth. With time those new colonies are fully adapted and thrive in the new environment. Of course, humans like to try and force changes/adaptations to meet our own needs, but when nature is left to its own devices it can generally figure it out on its own. So how does this relate to social work? It’s that the most effective change will come from within. Which is true at all levels–on a person level and community level. We often want to push our own thoughts and feelings on others or give them advice. Or to force a community program that will help (but doesn’t come from the community so shockingly the buy-in is minimum). In both these scenarios, for true change to occur, something within needs to be the driver.
There you have it—my somewhat random thoughts regarding 5 lessons we can all learn from nature. Any additional lessons you can think of?
I’m also curious, how are you planning on spending your Earth Day? What role do you see us social workers playing in regards to the environment? I would love to hear from you!!