This concluding (seventh) article of the series on the necessity of knowing one’s true identity in light of who God is and his plan for one’s life, centers on the individual and his/her environment. There is no gain saying that every person comes out and belongs to an environment or environments and the environment has some impact on him/her for good or ill. This article examines in brief the relationship between every person and his/her environment and its consequences. How then does the environment affect every individual and may every individual relate to and affect his/her environment? The sixth article on “the individual and other fellow human beings observed the following points:
And now we turn to the individual and others. John Mbiti quotes an African proverb that says, “I am because we are and, since we are, therefore I am”. This quotation points us to the interconnectedness of all human beings. John Donne wrote: “No man is an island, Entire of itself, Every man is a piece of the continent, A part of the main”, Martin Luther, Jr., puts it vividly when he writes: “In a real sense all life is inter-related. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.” On another occasion Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
All these quotes make the single vital point that every person’s security, progress, health, happiness, and prosperity are dependent on other people’s security, progress, health, health and prosperity. Therefore if I ignore the plight and welfare of others I indirectly jeopardize my own security and peace. This has been proven again and again in history. Every now and then the marginalized, the excluded poor, and the exploited get pushed against the walls and then rise up and overthrow. Then pay day comes. The lives of those secured privileged few and those of their families and all who are closely connected to them are made miserable forever.
Hence, the individual must always seek to improve self in light of helping others improve their lives and living conditions. Self-seeking, self-protecting and self-promoting at the expense of others or ignoring the same needs of others is self-defeating.
Likewise the individual’s identity is somehow connected to his/her environment. The saying, “Man is a child of his environment”, contains some grain of truth. By the environment of the person we mean more than just the physical of his/her physical surroundings of weather/climatic conditions, clean or polluted, conducive or non-conducive. In addition to this, there are spiritual and psychological aspects to the environment. The mind-set or the worldview (how the social and spiritual group that one belongs to understands and interprets what is there and what happens around) deeply affects every member of that environment. In almost all ancient societies men had a low view of woman and that somehow had a profound and shilling effect on how women regarded themselves and were treated by men. The belief, value system and attitude of a social and religious group can have a deep negative or positive effect on most of its members. It therefore takes an exceptional minority to rise above the norms and conventions of social groups and initiate changes that eventually affect the whole of society. If what they succeed in bringing about has a lasting mental effect on the whole of society then it is called a paradigm shift. But in general people are children of their environments in physical and psychological senses.
In this wise every person must endeavor to have the right attitude to his/her environment. Such an attitude should be one of adaptation to it and then a desire and commitment to its welfare. We are all part and parcel of our environment. The environment depends on us and we in turn depend on our environment. This is well illustrated in the biblical story of the creation of the earth and man’s place in it (Genesis 1 and2). The Bible says man (Adam) was created from the earth (Adamah) and returns to the earth at death, “Thou art dust and to dust shall thou return” (Genesis 12:38).
Man and the earth (environment) belong to each other for good or ill. Mankind benefits from the earth (vegetation and all its benefits) and can contribute to the wellbeing of the earth by not destroying it or not interfering with its natural state unnecessarily. When we destroy the earth we stand at the receiving end of our bad actions. When we cut down the trees and not replace them, turn swamps into something else, take away all the minerals then we and generations to come pay a heavy price. When the trees die, the animals follow and eventually humans follow too. Therefore our identity is partly embedded in the environment and it is in our very best interest to treat our environments with care and respect and do all we can to advance its welfare. Identity matters and how we each understand, nurture and relate our identity to God and others determines our place in society and our final destiny.