I’ve been a student of healthy relationships my whole life, maybe on the remedial education side. Much of this learning initially was on my own by way of reading and experimenting with the support of therapists over the years. I really stepped up my learning nearly 10 years ago when I decided I wanted to support others’ career, professional, and personal development full time and invested in formal education in positive psychology and by obtaining coaching credentials.
One particularly impactful program in which I became certified is the Arbinger Institute, who offers a series of books including Leadership and Self Deception and The Outward Mindset: Seeing Beyond Ourselves, exploring how we create problems for each other without realizing it. Most people who go through the program or read the books get this, “oh sh**” feeling as we start to understand how we unintentionally contribute to relationship discord and conflict.
According to the Arbinger Institute, our immediate and natural tendency is to be helpful and kind to others. This sense may remain in our subconscious as we instead sometimes decide to betray that sense and act in a way that is unkind or counterproductive. We then have to justify or rationalize our choice and, in so doing, we cast blame or make that person undeserving in our minds: we will now view them as a problem, irrelevant, or a means to an end. Once we’ve shifted our way of being, to seeing them as an object instead of a person, we create a cascade of problems in our relationship that creates and reinforces dysfunction and discord.
I can’t help but notice the parallels of the Arbinger Institute’s teachings with our relationship with Earth. Regardless of what we think of as the cause of climate change, or whether we believe we are in a climate crisis, I feel that we sense in our hearts that we are not treating Earth and our environment with kindness and consideration. By polluting our waters and air, and tearing down our forests, we are harming Earth and ourselves as well. We sense this on a deep level. To justify our actions, we have to view Earth as undeserving or blameworthy in our minds. In so doing, we create a cycle of relationship dysfunction, neglect, and – in my opinion – even abuse which perpetuates our mistreatment of Earth and ourselves.
To break the cycle, the Arbinger Institute teaches us that we must first recognize that we are having this inward mindset – attending to our own needs first – before we can create the more healthy outward mindset – caring for others.
Are we having an inward mindset? Do we treat Earth as a means to an end, irrelevant, or a problem?
She’s a means to an end because we believe she should endlessly provide our food, shelter, and economic resources regardless of how we treat her.
She’s irrelevant because we go outside and are more concerned with our phones, tasks, or worries than with noticing how beautiful and spectacular she is, or that she needs our help right now.
She’s a problem because she is experiencing wildfires, floods, droughts, and storms, and inconveniencing us and costing us money. She also has insects, invasive species, and dangerous creatures, which feel like problems in our modern world.
After we recognize that we have an inward mindset, we can try to adopt an outward mindset by spending time with others who have an outward mindset with regard to Earth. Who do you know who is caring for Earth physically, emotionally, and/or spiritually? Spend time with that person talking about Earth and nature. Spend time with us as we explore this idea and possible solutions. Feel your resistance to caring for Earth melt away. If this recurs in the future, observe your resistance and take steps once again to promote an outward mindset.
Finally, our natural tendency to do the right thing is still in place, even though me may also need to consider that we must repair our damaged relationship. What is your heart telling you to do for Earth now? Honor it in the way that feels right to you and can get your personal relationship back on track with Earth.
Remember, we’re more powerful than we know. We just have to decide to use that power to create love and healing for Earth, and for all of us.
Written by Susanna Wu-Pong Calvert