By Roland

             I believe everything we do is driven from our values, by what we believe. The quality of respect, like responsibility, is not a major part of our value system in this culture. My purpose is to suggest why respect for Earth, and all life on Earth, is neglected; and how having respect will improve our lives once it becomes a part of us again.
            Our values are subtly defined by our religion because religion is the warp and the weave of our social fabric. With this in mind, there are three important historical events that have contributed to the devaluation of respect in our values. The first is a declaration from the Bible. Genesis, chapter 1, verse 28:
“And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be Fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.”
            In general our society seems to have adapted that proclamation. When people are told to conquer, or subdue, everything on Earth, there is not much room for respect.
            Ancient cultures have always made reference to a non-material essence of life. Christians call it the Soul. Native societies who lived in harmony with Earth felt this Life-Energy or Soul existed in all things and therefore respected all of Nature. The second significant event to erode respect took place in the sixteenth century. The scientist, Descartes, educated by the Jesuits, established the mechanistic model of the universe, and declared animals didn’t have Souls. This declaration set a precedent, making it easier for animals to be used as tools for our pleasure. (As an aside, Native Africans were once considered Soulless and therefore used as slaves without guilt.) Modern science reinforced this mechanistic theory, and went even further by telling us the Soul, being by definition a scientifically unquantifiable concept, could not exist. Therefore we are all just biological beings, with no Soul, further diminishing any sacred respect.
The third major detriment to respect took place in the 1920’s and set the tone for our modern day view of Nature. Gifford Pinchot, the founder of the US Forestry Service, declared, “There are two things on the earth, humans and natural resources.” With an attitude that Nature has no purpose but to serve man, it is easy to see why we tend to abuse Earth and everything living on it.
            While we are taught to mouth the words and declare respect is important, there isn’t much evidence that societies always guide their actions with respect in mind. It does not appear to be a guiding principle in our own lives either. If we had respect for people we would never criticize. We would know all people are equal and experiencing life in their own way. When we begin to respect a person’s beliefs, race color, sexual orientation, age, and the right to live and experience, we will create harmony in our world. If we had respect for all aspects of Nature, including animals, fish, birds, insects, plants, trees, and Earth herself, then we would not destroy life. So, how do we change our attitudes from one of apathy and destruction to one of love and respect?
            We can start by being opened to the Earth philosophies of traditional Native people. Early peoples noticed Earth was the direct provider of all their basic needs; food, water and shelter. They realized Nature deserves respect. As a wilderness survival teacher, I have also learned that complete dependency on the raw materials of Nature teaches one to have great respect for Earth. The indigenous natives of North America had many formal customs, or ceremonies, which expressed their gratitude and respect for Nature, including offering their sacred tobacco back to Earth as a way to thank her.
             As science matured it has begun to rethink old attitudes. Through the study of Quantum Physics, some modern researchers are discovering every living thing, indeed, has a Life-Energy. Researcher, Brian Swimme, the author of The Universe Story, feels everything on Earth is interrelated and conscious. What they are saying is, in other words, all of Nature possesses a Soul, even Earth.
Providing support that plants also possess Life-Energy, Cleve Backster, a lie-detector examiner in the mid-sixties, contributed to the discovery of the sacred nature of life. He connected his polygraph machine to plants and discovered the instruments indicated plants reacted to pain and were aware of their environment. Recently, organic farmer and author, Michael Roads discovered he could communicate with most of Nature, including plants. On one occasion Michael offered his respect to a willow, and the tree replied,
            “Respect? Rare indeed is the quality of respect in mankind. To respect each other, to respect Nature – Life – requires a respect of the Self. So few, so few indeed, respect their own Selves.”
            This is the real crutch of the problem. Many people do not respect themselves. They do not understand the sacred nature of life. Until they do, will they ever respect other people, let alone the rest of Nature?
            To develop self-respect we need to start with our own self-esteem, with our own self-worth. We need to know we are valuable in this world; we have a purpose. By acknowledging the law of reincarnation, as I have asserted many times, we begin to understand that purpose. We are not born sinners as the Christians try to each us, nor are we a biological jumble of cells, taught to us by science; but sentient beings wanting to experience and learn. We deserve respect and know all life deserves it.
            As we begin to realize why we need to respect all of life, we’ll see people helping each other. We’ll witness citizens respecting animals and plants. We’ll witness open-mindedness and regard for Nature. We will realize we have no right to criticize another person. Ultimately there is no right or wrong, only learning experiences. We need to respect all life, and know everything in Nature is as alive as we are.