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Animal Kingdom

Have you been watching David Attenborough's Seven Worlds One Planet? It is extraordinary. Over the last few Sundays we, especially our four year old son, have been gripped by the beauty, the scale, the drama, the photography, the life that is shown on our screens. It is emotional viewing. Here we see the bonds that bind families together, whether they are creatures that live on land or in the sea. Here we see the bonds of love and protection that are universally shared and expressed connecting us to beings with whom we share this incredible planet. Life in nature has a rhythm and despite the complexities of an ecosystem that is, ultimately, the purest and most efficient of machines, it is quite simple to comprehend. It comes down to survival and there is the unmistakable awareness of the fragility of each moment. For me, there are so many moments in this series that grab my heart but perhaps one of the most heart wrenching was watching an orang-utan desperately trying to find his home after large swathes of his forest were razed to cultivate what is perhaps the most widely used ingredient found on our supermarket shelves today--palm oil, derived from rainforests in Indonesia. Deforestation is taking homes away not only from animals like orang-utans and other wildlife, but also from humans, tribes who have lived in the rainforest in the Amazon for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Animals know what is at stake when faced with another species in the wild. They know what to expect. Yet human beings, in our constant desire for more, have thrown natural order into disarray. Some of it is evolutionary: a growing population means a growing need for food and shelter. The rest is greed, an assumption that everything is ours to take. We see it playing out not just in the animal kingdom with poachers and hunters, but with the taking of land and natural resources. As George Monbiot so aptly writes in The Guardian, "At the heart of capitalism is a vast and scarcely examined assumption: you are entitled to as great a share of the world’s resources as your money can buy. You can purchase as much land, as much atmospheric space, as many minerals, as much meat and fish as you can afford, regardless of who might be deprived. If you can pay for them, you can own entire mountain ranges and fertile plains. You can burn as much fuel as you like. Every pound or dollar secures a certain right over the world’s natural wealth." What we are doing to our planet we are doing to each other. We are taking homes and lives as if they mean nothing. In a sad and harrowing article that I read in The New York Times Magazine, journalist Jennifer Percy travelled to northern Iraq to meet with victims of ISIS; the men, women, young boys and girls who were beaten, enslaved, bought and sold, some whose families were murdered in front of them. Percy talks to the psychologists who are helping these people in a region and generation where mental health illnesses have the potential to be catastrophic. It is fascinating and a heartbreaking insight into the desperate need to focus on their minds, hearts, and spirits for their survival. She asks the question "how does the human soul survive atrocity?" Sometimes it isn't even about war, territorial or religious. It is about a subconscious (or even overt) bias against those in different socio-economic classes. The Grenfell tragedy is an example of how the multitude of flaws and faults from design and safety features to the firefighters protocol when arriving at the site of the inferno affected an outcome that shouldn't have happened in the first place. Kenan Malik of The Observer asks us to look deeper into tragedies like Grenfell saying, "do we really want to prevent such tragedies in the future? Or are we happy simply to point the finger, find someone to blame and absolve those in power of responsibility?" Learning from tragedies, really learning from the past and understanding the "why" is the only way we as a species can move forward. Learning from a 360 degree perspective is key, not just a perspective given by a select and privileged group, as Olivette Otele is teaching in her role as Professor of history at Bristol University. Last year, Dr. Otele became the first black female professor of history in the U.K. It was recently announced that she has been commissioned by Bristol University to conduct a two year research project into the city's role in the transatlantic slave trade. Otele, an expert in the history of colonialism in Britain and France, says it is time to "decolonise the curriculum" in schools so that students are made aware of histories that aren't based in a Eurocentric prose. Understanding our diverse histories, our collective and individual stories, enables us to empathise with those whose lives we may not understand. We all share deep seated needs for connections, to be seen and understood, to be loved. By empathising can we truly realise that we are all connected, living on this one planet together. Empathy is a lesson Satya Nadella learned the hard way. It was a lesson that hit home after the Microsoft CEO's first child was born with severe disabilities and yet it would be his son who would teach him the importance and value of recognising our individual strengths and challenges. It is a practice Nadella has successfully translated into his professional world, turning Microsoft into the most valuable company in the world, surpassing Apple. I had spent many many years of selfishly living in my own little bubble, going about my life as if it was the only one for which I was responsible (and not necessarily taking good care of it). I would go about my life as if tomorrow was a guarantee. Of course I was aware of what was going on in the world and to our planet, of course I felt how unfair and unjust this world can be, but it didn't resonate as deeply as it does now because back then it all felt so immense. It was only after my husband brought home a little kitten when I started to look outside of myself and how I lived (incidentally, Gracie turns 6 this month). After having our child and moving to the countryside I became that much more aware of our interconnectedness. I became that much more aware of how much we depend on each other. As a species we have become disconnected from each other. We have become disconnected from ourselves. And in doing so, we have become disconnected from the planet on which we live. When I look out my window and I see the beautiful fall colours, the rabbits and squirrels, the foxes and deer, and the flocks of birds preparing for a season of hibernation, I see the evidence of nature working and adapting to its surroundings. I also see evidence of nature reacting to our unnatural demands in the form of floods, fires, and falling numbers of various species that are crucial to an already fragile ecosystem. David Attenborough once said, "No one will protect what they don't care about; and no one will care about what they have never experienced...The whole of life is coming to terms with yourself and the natural world. Why are you here? How do you fit in? What's it all about?"

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