I went to a TED Talk inspired campus event that featured personal reflections from four different members of the student community. The purpose of this event was to explore what makes us tick, what we care about and what passions drive what we do. One presentation and conversation stood out because of its multidimensional nature and space for diverse reflection. Essentially, he raised questions around the meaning of life and the purpose of environmentalism for the audience to contemplate during their own search for meaning.

To many people, it is obvious why protecting the resources, health and systems of our natural environment is important: to sustain healthy and prosperous human life. But why do we want the opportunity to keep living? Why is it important to us to be healthy and prosperous? Simply put, we want to be happy. We are in a constant search for and remodeling of our personal and communal happiness, and this entails many different components for different people. I believe that the essence of what we are all searching for, the core of human joy, is nourishment.

We are used to thinking of the term “nourishment” as strictly referring to food, and whether or not an individual or population is malnourished.  I would like to expand the application of this concept to include not just what we eat, but what we do, have and experience.  We understand ingestion as the most direct way of internalizing something outside of us, but we take in much more than what we put in our mouths.

Malnourishment in the traditional sense comes from either not eating enough food, or not eating enough of the foods that are high in nutritional value.  When we eat food that is not nutrient rich, we have less energy than we need. There is still a void to fill, so we think all we need to do is eat more rather then eating differently.  This concept can easily be applied to consumerism and doing anything that only makes us feel good temporarily.  So much false nourishment. How can we really take care of ourselves if we don’t know the difference?

Multiple aspects of our existence need to feel nourished. We need something that feeds us that is “nutrient rich” for our body and soul.  This sort of satisfaction is the kind that stays with us for more than four hours and its benefits are endless.  Our body wants food and water that is pure, fresh and not chemically manipulated, while our heart and soul want positive and fulfilling relationships, space to explore and develop internally, and the time and opportunity for creative expression.

We all have something that makes our sanity and peace of mind feel a bit more sustainable. We like research, painting, singing, writing, playing music, analyzing data or creating an organization, because we seek meaning and the freedom to express our passions.  We are reflective and curious, and we all use different tools to help us process what we observe, experience, and “eat.”

I interpret a core intention (or a positive side effect) of the environmental movement to be a “back to basics” initiative.  In a lecture on global climate change, environmentalist, author and journalist Bill McKibben stated that the least liberal idea is the desire to do what it takes to keep living on our planet.  It is not liberal or conservative to want to exist as we have done for thousands of years; it is instinct.  In other words, it is instinct to continue our pursuit of what makes us happy, what makes us feel nourished. In order to ever feel a sense of deep fulfillment, we have to contribute to “feeding” the community and natural world around us.

Originally published on thedickinsonian.com April of 2013.

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