Robin Wall Kimmerer: We say that humans have the least experience with how to live and thus the most to learn

In the Western tradition there is a recognized hierarchy of beings, with, of course, the human being on top—the pinnacle of evolution, the darling of Creation—and the plants at the bottom. But in Native ways of knowing, human people are often referred to as “the younger brothers of Creation.” We say that humans have the least experience with how to live and thus the most to learn—we must look to our teachers among the other species for guidance. Their wisdom is apparent in the way that they live. They teach us by example. They’ve been on the earth far longer than we have been, and have had time to figure things out.

– Robin Wall Kimmerer

That’s how I see it too.

THE WAYS WE ARE THE SAME

In some essential ways, we are all the same. We all share ancestors going back to the first living Earth being. We are all parts of the same evolving living planet and the same evolving universe. We are all part of the same larger seamless whole. We are all the expression of the universe, just like any being and anything else.

A YOUNG SPECIES

And yet, as a species, we are very young.

We are especially young when it comes to dealing with civilization and advanced technology. We have a lot to learn from how ecosystems work and other species, especially since most of them have been around far longer than we have. Mainly, we urgently need to learn to take ecological realities into account in how we organize ourselves and how we see the world.

HOW WE RELATE TO MENTAL REPRESENTATIONS

As a species learning to use mental representations in a complex manner, we are also young. We are still in the early phase of learning to relate to these mental representations intentionally and consciously.

It’s a new(ish) tool, and it takes time for us to figure out how to use it effectively. As it is now, we partially put it to good use, and we partially misuse it.

How do we misuse it? Mainly by not recognizing our mental representations for what they are, and taking them as more true than they can ever be.

And how can we learn to use this tool better? The essence is simple. By learning to recognize our mental representations for what they are: They are mental representations. They are not inherent in what we project them onto. They are questions about the world. They are provisional. They are here to help us orient and navigate. They cannot hold any full, final, or absolute truth.

Although the essence of this is simple, actually doing it sometimes requires a lot of examination and untangling, individually in our own lives and collectively as a culture and civilization.

And that is something we, as a species, largely have to figure out on our own.

OUR CHALLENGES FROM BEING A YOUNG SPECIES

Many of the challenges we collectively (and individually) face today come from being a young species. There are many things we haven’t figured out yet.

We have an economic system – and a civilization – built on the assumption that nature is limitless. That’s understandable considering our history with far fewer humans and far less efficient technology. Today, with billions of us and efficient technology, it’s clearly suicidal.

And we tend to hold some of our mental representations as truth, which creates a lot of distress and conflict – with ourselves, with others, and even with the rest of this living planet.

Image: Midjourney scene of a jungle

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