The Environmental Consequences of Openness


Photo credits: Pixabay

When we plant seeds in a perfect habitat – the right amount of water at the right times, appropriate amount of sunlight, most suitable soil type and tilth – they flourish, coming alive in front of our eyes. What does flourishing mean for people and what “habitat” fosters it? Can we learn something from this for how the environment might flourish when humans interact with it?

Recently I’ve been reflecting on how I respond when people totally accept me for who I am, when I don’t have to try to be anything in particular, feeling totally at home and at ease. I’ve found that I come alive. Parts of my personality that long have been suppressed start to re-emerge. It’s a bit awkward sometimes to navigate the process, trying to figure out if it’s okay to act this way or that. But at some point joy bursts out because even amidst this awkwardness these special people, if they notice it at all, take it in stride. I thrive in the freedom, the habitat, they create for me.

We sometimes forget that granting others freedom to be who they are is an intrinsic part of love. Love not only concerns the things we do to and with others, the things we give them, but also involves our allowing others to give us whatever they choose. When we give up trying to make others conform to what we would like them to be, we grant them freedom to be whoever they are. We create an environment perfect for them to flourish. Love involves wholehearted receptivity or openness to the “other,” a perfect willingness to give up one’s own agenda to instead receive whatever the other person would offer.

joyful-leapBoth parties experience joy in this exchange. King David evidently experienced this in his relationship with God. He learned to be receptive to God in all things, trusting in God’s total openness to him. As a result he danced with abandon before the ark as he brought it into Jerusalem (much to the dismay of his far less open wife).¹ And, according to the Bible, God found David to be “a man after his own heart.”² God evidently delighted in David, too.

We’re told that God is Love. This would seem to imply that God, too, rejoices in granting humans and nonhumans total freedom and delights in all of us. It also would seem to imply that God wants us to interact with all creation like God does, thereby bringing joy and exuberance into the world in which we live.

Is this the way we relate to our world? We all are aware of repressive social structures that hem people in, impoverishing them and suppressing their creativity. Elites use these structures to extract benefits from unwilling members of their community. We similarly use repressive structures that impoverish and suppress nonhuman members of our community to extract benefits from them. All we need do to see the effects of these structures (whether industrial, housing, transportation or manufacturing systems) is to look about with open eyes. If we do, we see rampant species extinctions, degradation of water systems, toxification of soils and air. We use these systems to force our nonhuman neighbors to give us what we want with little regard for our neighbors’ well-being.

What would our world look like if instead we approached all of creation, human and nonhuman, with total receptivity, with a radical willingness to listen to what it would have to tell us? If we acted this way, would creation join King David and dance for joy? Might this cause the mountains to burst into song and the trees of the field to clap their hands? What a world that would be…

[1] 2 Samuel 6: 5, 16

[2] 1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13: 22

Certificate in Contemplation and Creation Care
Center for Religion and Environment at Sewanee: The University of the South


Author: Robert "Robin" Gottfried

Director, Center for Religion and Environment at Sewanee: The University of the South, and Professor Emeritus of Economics at Sewanee. Contemplative Christian, musician, blogger for the Huffington Post on religion and environment, and hiker living on the Cumberland Plateau of Tennessee.

3 thoughts on “The Environmental Consequences of Openness”

  1. A fine example of this is the innovations in bee-keeping that design hives by what is best for the bees, rather than what is most convenient for humans. The people I learned about bees from also use such gentle and bee-friendly methods for working with the hives (for instance not using smoke, which basically controls the bees by causing them to panic,) that they can work with the hives without wearing traditional protective gear, because they are not threatening. Their most recent beehive design, called the Cathedral Hive, was developed by making different variations and observing carefully how the bees reacted to the changes; essentially allowing the bees to have a say in what worked best for them. (The bees might not be singing, but they are dancing and humming happily!)
    Check it out at


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