By Jeremiah Eaton
I want to preface this blog post by categorizing it into one of the three pillars of sustainability. I will be focusing on the social pillar. Social sustainability encompasses a broad spectrum of topics related to how our society functions. I want to emphasize what I believe to be a vital aspect of social sustainability, something utterly paramount in our success as a community, state, nation, and planet. I want to focus on mental health and, more specifically, perspective.
West Glacier is quiet these days, more so than usual. I often find myself with the sole companionship of the wildlife that shares my backyard. Each of us looking at the other, puzzled with our current situation. Fortunately, the mountain lions only move into the housing area at night, leaving fresh prints in the driveway as little presents. During that time, I am usually cozied up with some hot tea and a good book. The mountain lions are content with living a solitary life. Apparently so am I, at least for the time being. My roommate and I have been social distancing ourselves during the last few weeks. Our only social contact is limited to tiny, outdoor gatherings with those in the national park housing area. The only time we venture toward civilization is to stock up on groceries and supplies for another two weeks. Life has slowed to a crawl. Life is different, but life is good.
We have all made adaptions to adjust to our current situation. Routines have been disrupted, events have been canceled, jobs have been lost, and worries have been generated. I often find myself buried beneath the landslide of bad news. It is easy to mentally succumb to the pressures of life, even without global pandemic or economic strife. Yet somehow, I remain optimistic. I believe this is a result of my perspective on life. As the saying goes, “your perception defines your reality”, and I can hardly agree more. This is especially pertinent in these times. I do not plan to lecture you on how you should think, that is why we have psychiatrists and therapists, of which I am neither. I simply aim to provide insight into what keeps me going through dark times, the times where challenges seem too overwhelming to face, too large to overcome. I can only offer my perspective, one of billions, so take it with a grain of salt. That said, my perspective has worked wonders in helping me lead my life without unnecessary worry. Without further ado, here we go.
My perspective is best represented by my favorite quote, “Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.” I want to start by defining what each sentence means to me, and how it applies to my outlook on our situation. The first sentence represents a path to obtaining a clear visual of what the world is. I want my perspective of the world to be based upon fact and knowledge. The best way I can obtain this perspective is by listening to experts in their respective fields. This applies to all scenarios. Currently, my outlook on the global pandemic is based on information given to us by the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As information develops, so does my perspective. Find out what your ideal outlook on the world is, and seek information that helps build that outlook.
Once an accurate picture of the world is developed, we can move to the second sentence; “Beautiful and terrible things will happen.” Life is an adventure, but not without its highs and lows. I believe we are going through an interesting low because it is occurring all over the planet, a globally collective experience. This gives us an equally interesting opportunity to learn how to cope with it. I look at the situation through a lens of cautious optimism, and find the beauty where I can. There are beautiful and terrible things happening every day. This is not new, but an inevitable result of life. It is vital that we all understand that life operates on a continuum. Along that continuum lies extraordinary high points and extraordinary low points, and everything in between. As a global society, we are currently somewhere in between. The highs do not cause the lows, just as the lows do not cause the highs. They simply put each other in perspective. More importantly, the sprinkles of beauty and despair are apparent throughout the continuum, as ubiquitous as time itself. Focus on the beauty. It is important to note that this doesn’t mean ignore the despair. If something can be done to limit the despair, then take that action. If not, then there is no use in focusing on it. In practice, this means occasionally turning off the news channel and seeking out what you find beautiful. It may be the Italians, collectively singing songs from their balconies to show solidarity. It may be the joy of a good book or new recipe. It may be extra time spent with children and loved ones. It may even be time by yourself to explore your passions. Beauty can be found wherever you look, you just have to seek it out. If available, take action against despair, but always focus on the beauty. This is completely under your control.
That brings me to the last sentence; “Don’t be afraid.” To my understanding, fear is a biological mechanism meant to increase our ability to propagate our genetics. Put simply, to not die as quickly and increase mating opportunity. However, we have evolved past the point to which fear is always relevant, but quickly enough that it is still ubiquitous. In today’s society, fear only serves its initial purpose when it is used to make a wise decision. For example, my fear kicked in when I heard information stating that COVID-19 was present in the United States. This meant I had to make a decision. Should I change my lifestyle, or should I operate business as usual? My fear told me to worry about the health and safety of myself, the people I love, and the people around me. This led me to make my decision to stay at home, to reduce the spread of the virus, to do my part. I changed my lifestyle to help fight the virus based on my fear of spreading it. My fear served no purpose beyond that decision to change my lifestyle. It is counter intuitive to constantly be afraid if I have already taken action to control what I can. Everything out of my control is also of out my fear’s jurisdiction, so that is where I abandon it. Use fear as a tool, one that serves a purpose and is put away when the purpose is served. Soon, fear becomes an ally, not an adversary. So I may need to edit the sentence to say “do not be afraid unnecessarily.”
West Glacier is quiet these days, but that is how it should be. Our lifestyles have changed, but not to the detriment of our spirit. I will be here for several more months. That means I will make more animal friends, read more good books, go on more good hikes, and work on more sustainability projects. As always, I will continue to adapt and adjust as new information becomes available. But for now, I have made the decision to change my lifestyle to the extent that I can. Now I will be focusing on the beauty in the world. Life is different, but life is still good.
“Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid”
– Frederick Buechner