Connecting with nature improves health.
One of my most memorable childhood lessons about kindness toward nature came from a television commercial advertising a decidedly unnatural product. If you’re as old as I am, you might remember the Chiffon margarine commercial with the catchy, infinitely repeatable phrase, “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature!”
For those of you who’ve never seen this classic glimpse of the ‘70’s, the ad compares a popular brand of margarine to real butter by tricking Mother Nature into thinking that the margarine simply must be butter. Mother Nature becomes angry when she learns otherwise, and summons a storm, complete with thunder and lightning, to show her displeasure.
Today, some four decades post commercial, the phrase, “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature,” still echoes in my mind. Ever since the 1970’s, and even way before then, human beings have been trying to fool Mother Nature. Not just with our margarine, but with virtually all of our commercially grown food… and our soil… and our air… and our water… and our fossil fuels… and the list goes on. We’ve formed such a habit of ignoring nature’s displeasure, that now, we humans as a species, are thoroughly disconnected from the natural world.
As a nurse, I am constantly confronted with evidence of how our society’s disconnection from the natural world affects our health. Exaggerated fears and anxieties about natural phenomena and wild animals add to the already-heavy stress burden of daily life. These fears are often driven by misinformation and media sensationalism. Of course, common sense and caution is always recommended. Yet, it is painful for me to observe families with young children in which the parents feel they cannot let their kids go outside to play by themselves “because outside just simply isn’t safe.” Instead, the kids (and parents, too) stay indoors and watch TV or play video games. From eye strain, to text neck, to vitamin D deficiency, to obesity, and all the other chronic diseases that stem from a sedentary lifestyle, I see how a life lived solely indoors is a serious threat to health.
This epidemic of human disconnection from nature actually has a name: Nature Deficit Disorder (NDD). NDD is a term coined by author Richard Louv to describe “a loss of communion with other living things.” Louv introduced the term in his 2005 book, Last Child in the Woods, which started a in important conversation worth continuing. Everyday. Preferably outside. NDD is not an official medical diagnosis, but maybe it should be.
People who have not had direct experiences with nature, may get the idea from watching nature shows (or TV commercials, for that matter) that nature is inherently unkind. Nature is not unkind, it simply is. Nature is a delicately balanced web, of which we are all a vital part.
When I was a child, I was fortunate enough to be able to spend long days outside, by myself, safely. It’s how I cultivated a love for the outdoors. And my unstructured interactions with the natural world naturally led me to a place of deep love, respect, and kindness toward nature. But how do kids today get that chance to learn these lessons? What does being nice to Mother Nature mean?
We who advocate kindness much teach by example. Practicing kindness toward nature begins with a sincere commitment to connect with nature. Once committed, we must face our fears and go outside, taking our kids with us. Once we’re there, we can begin to treat nature as we would a new friend: Shake hands and introduce ourselves. Sit down for a visit. Spend time together. Enjoy each other’s company. All this while remembering that kindness toward nature is kindness to self.
My three-year-old niece has grown up liking bugs – in part, because her parents take her outside regularly. I was so proud of her this summer when we visited the Bug Zoo in Victoria, BC, this summer because she enthusiastically, yet gently and even reverently, held the insect specimens the docent passed around. She was one of the only children in the public group that didn’t shy away or say “Eeeew,” when the larger, more interesting-looking specimens appeared.
To further guide the practical aspects of building a connection with nature, the writers at Education.com have compiled a very useful list of things we can all do to prevent Nature Deficit Disorder in children. Amazingly enough, I’m finding that these ideas apply to people of all ages:
- Understand what drives creativity. Studies show that time in nature fosters creativity and calms the mind, especially a mind struggling with overload. Water, trees, bushes, flowers and rocks all make great playthings because, unlike action figures, they can represent ANYTHING.
- Allow for controlled risk. Remember that we live in a fear-driven culture. Turn off the news. Try going outside with your kids, and work toward letting them experience nature on their own. Remember to consider the risk of what will happen to a child’s imagination and inner being if she stays inside all the time because the adults are afraid.
- Focus on nature-oriented destinations. Plan travel and family activities around nature-oriented destinations. And when choosing a summer camp or extra-curricular activity, be sure to consider places that allow unstructured time in the environment, where children are free to use all their senses and play creatively.
- Schedule outdoor time, and honor it. Busy parents often feel they simply cannot add one more thing to the calendar. But if you believed that spending time outdoors is just as important to your health as brushing your teeth, would you be willing to add it to your schedule?
Today is the day to connect with nature. Start with something simple. Make it fun and easy. Before this day is over, go outside and touch a tree.
Send tweets to Lane Therrell@LaneTherrell.
Here are some relevant links for those who are interested…
70s Mother Nature *Chiffon* Margarine Commercial
National Geographic-Connecting With Nature Boosts Creativity and Health
Education.com (Is My Child Spending an Unhealthy Amount of Time in Front of the Screen?)
Education.com (What is Environmental Education?)