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by Isabelle Baugé

This is the first blog in a series of four blogs that Isabelle wrote for her final project for the Self-Reg Foundations program.

Why do I need/want to reflect on… Being Human? 

Because of the World News…

2022:The cumulative scientific evidence is unequivocal: climate change is a threat to human well-being and planetary health. Any further delay in concerted anticipatory global action on adaptation and mitigation will miss a brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all.”(Source: IPCC, Summary for policymakers. In H.-O. Pörtner, D. C. Roberts, M. M. B. Tignor, E. Poloczanska, K. Mintenbeck, A. Alegría, B. Rama (Eds.), Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Working Group II Contribution to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Cambridge University Press, p.35. 

Why do I need/want to reflect on… Being Human NOW?

Because meanwhile, in my personal life…

… My 27 year-old son is studying and doing research on permafrost for his Master of Science. He works at a center for Polar and Marine Research in Europe that is partnering with national and international scientific organizations all over the globe. 

One evening, I was talking to him shortly after watching the film Don’t Look Up

Here is an excerpt of our conversation :

– (me) By the way, we watched Don’t Look Up last night, it’s interesting. A bit depressing, but it was worth our time. Have you seen it?

– (him) Nope. And I’m not planning to.

– Oh! Why? What’s going on?

– Mum. I don’t need to go see a film about this kind of topic. I have enough of it at work.

– What do you mean?

– Well… My colleagues and I are sick and tired of seeing over and over again how politicians and/or journalists dismiss or pervert scientific evidence, refusing to hear what we are trying to warn them about and just pretending to take action. We human beings are crazy. We’re destroying the planet. Actually, I don’t want to be labeled as ‘being human’ anymore. And I don’t wish to become a father in this world.

Our perception of ‘being human’ is shifting. Many feel like ‘human’ is getting so close to ‘evil’. Some people believe that the best thing we can do to help the Earth is to stop having children, like Les Knight, founder of the Voluntary Human Extinction movement, who has advocated one message since the late 1980s: “May we live long and die out.”

My son, and I at times, are stuck in guilt, frustration, bitterness, helplessness, anger, with the risk of becoming paralyzed. But we cannot afford to feel this way. We cannot give up. Not now. We have so much to do and give. Let’s look up.

Reframing “Being Human”

➟ etymology: the verb BE comes from the Old English beon, beom, bion = be, exist, come to be, become, happen, from the Greek phu- = become, blossom, from the Proto-Indo-European root bheue- = to be, exist, grow. 

The suffix -ING attached to the verb BE implies action, result, product.

Beingness = quality, state, or condition of having existence. 

HUMAN  comes from Old French humain = of or belonging to man (12c.), from the Latin humanus = of man, human, humane, philanthropic, kind, gentle, polite; learned, refined, civilized, and in part from Proto-Indo-European (dh)ghomon- = literally earthling, earthly being, as opposed to the gods. 

So… based on the etymology, being human: embodying the dynamic quality of living as an inhabitant of the Earth, owning the fact that I am not a god, actively learning and growing through my innate aptitude of being rational, kind, connected to my environment, embracing my peers as being human and promoting the welfare of others. 

We are not an end product. We are being human in a process that we actively, consciously nurture. Step by step. One person at a time, starting with ourselves. Because the etymology of ‘human’ reminds me that I am an Earthling, I need to rephrase the above-mentioned quote: from “climate change is a threat to human well-being” to…

…“climate change is a threat to being human.

➟ Self-Reg: In Reframed, Stuart Shanker explains that 1) “What makes humans biologically unique is the long time in which our infants remain dependent, in some cases, a very long time” and 2) “Our species has an extraordinary ability to adapt to hostile environments that would overstrain our thermoregulatory mechanism. We do so with socially learned behaviours.”(Stuart Shanker, op. cit. p.21)

Being human implies secondary altriciality, dyad, interbrain. But climate change is disrupting our trajectories, through climate-induced health risks for pregnant women and newborns. Pregnant women, the developing fetus, and young children are the most vulnerable members of our species, already marginalized in many countries. Therefore, they have increased sensitivity to the effects of climate change.

Being Human also implies resilience through adaptation. Climate change is a global burden that requires strong and concerted willingness to mitigate future impacts. But instead of collaboration, we have entered an era of polarization

How can we restore the homeostasis necessary if we want to adapt through “socially learned behaviours”? How can I get my power back?

Recognizing the stressors related to Being Human

The stressors requiring my brain to burn energy are:

1) the awareness of the impact of climate change on nature and populations (lack of food and safe drinking water, poor sanitation, population migration, changing disease patterns and morbidity, more frequent extreme weather events, lack of shelter)

2) the awareness that so many of us ‘do not want to look up’

3) seeing my son suffering from this in a professional and existential way. Even if he is 27 in Europe and I am 54 in Canada, we are a dyad.

These stressors are negative because… The Earth, my natural environment, doesn’t feel safe. I feel threatened and paralyzed by events that seem to be out of my reach. This creates anxiety and frustration, giving me the feeling of not being able to grow and blossom. I am sad and worried about my son because what he’s telling me is that he, too, doesn’t feel safe. 

These stressors are positive because… The need for growth is triggered, the ability to learn from my/our mistakes as well as the process of adaptation and change make me burn energy in a constructive way. As a mother, I feel even more motivated to look for solutions and new ways to share with my son, and I want to learn more from his personal and professional experience.

Reducing the stress (domains: biological, emotion & cognitive ) 

Biological domain:

Maladaptive way to reduce the stressor: When I try to be more informed and get stuck in a loop by watching/reading/listening to reports, documentaries or films about climate change, it has an impact on my body (stiff neck, irritated eyes, lack of sleep, headache, tinitus).

Beneficial ways to reduce the stressor: I increase my physical activities outdoors, in nature; enhance my awareness of nature and take it home through creative activities such as drawing what I have seen, felt or experienced outdoors (it is calming and allows a better sleep); bring more natural light at home (candles); adjust my daily routine to make space for more quiet time and/or silence.

Growth-promoting ways to reduce the stressor: On a large scale, after living in big cities (Paris, Berlin) for 30 years, I made the conscious choice of living in a rural area in Newfoundland. It’s a new life, it’s tough at times but my levels of biological stress are lower, because I am very sensitive to the noises and bad air quality in big cities. On a smaller, daily life scale, I look for simple things to adjust that are in my reach, such as making conscious choices related to my food and beverage habits (taking time to read the labels and check the origin of the food, the ingredients, looking at the packaging, etc.).

Emotion domain:

Maladaptive ways to reduce the stressor: Giving in to 1) the idea that I am helpless, both about climate change related issues and about my son’s mindset, and feeling guilty about it; 2) the idea that I am selfish when I make time to step out from the news/reports/documentaries etc., to take care of myself.

Beneficial way to reduce the stressor: Not giving in to nor fighting, but embracing and allowing space for my emotions (bitterness, frustration, sadness, helplessness) by seeing them with soft eyes and recognizing that they are 1) what makes me… human… and 2) the root of my curiosity, creativity and drive to know more and find solutions. 

Growth-promoting way to reduce the stressor: Sharing with my close circle, with my son, helps me not feel alone and see my emotions from a different perspective. I also look for my personal patterns: what exactly triggers my emotions?

Cognitive domain:

Maladaptive ways to reduce the stressor: Being overflowed by the information coming to me and at the same time, not knowing enough because I’m not a scientist: a kind of… ‘too much of too superficial’. Or doing the opposite by binge watching mind-numbing TV series (with a bar of chocolate at hand). 

Beneficial way to reduce the stressor: One step at a time… I implement a system of ‘drip irrigation’ based on reliable, carefully selected resources, instead of letting myself get inundated.

Growth-promoting ways to reduce the stressor: Planning ahead of time for the kind of car (hybrid? electrical?) my partner and I will need to buy soon, because our old car is giving up on us. Being proactive. We also wish to buy a house and are learning about topography and risks of flooding in our areas of interest.

Reflecting: Enhancing the stress-awareness 

I feel calm when I have a road map instead of being in the fog. So journaling helps me focus, keep track of my biological and emotional patterns (sad, upset, worried, tired, back pain, neck pain, headaches, not feeling hungry vs rested and healthy) and recognize whether my body sends me more signals when my sense of Being Human is disrupted.

I feel calm when I recognize how I can transition from worries to ideas. Instead of feeling stuck, my energy flows.

I feel calm when the interbrain with my son works. Because there is an ocean between us, we communicate through words, images and perhaps most importantly, music. I noticed that our choices of music are a way to let each other know how we feel: we co-regulate.

Restoring the energy: Getting back to homeostasis

I allow room for me to feel that I am an Earthling through time dedicated to walks in nature. When I cannot spend time outdoors, just opening the window and consciously listening to the birds or the wind, or contemplating the moonlight, helps me reconnect with nature. 

I honor my time in nature by being creative at home, through arts or rituals. I bring the magic home. 

My son and his girlfriend (both of them have no siblings) adopted a lovely dog last year. It is growth-promoting for them, and also a way to restore their energy in many ways (spending time outdoors, meeting with fellow dog-owners, learning how to take care of and be responsible for someone else).

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