A quick note: I wrote this reflection earlier in the week before many schools had been closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. And now it looks increasingly likely that Earth Day events will be canceled too (no official note about this on Earth Day’s website yet but my local festival was canceled and searching online reveals Middletown’s wasn’t the only one). But eventually kids will go back to school, and already some Earth Day events have been rescheduled for July—and there are still many ways to celebrate April 22nd on your own. So rather than adding yet more conversation around the coronavirus (which has become overwhelming), I offer you this reflection instead.
I remember as a boy starting each school day reciting the US Pledge of Allegiance. I never thought too hard about it, and certainly never realized I had a right not to recite it (established in 1943) nor questioned any of its language—including the “under God” clause added in 1954 to distinguish the US from the “atheistic Soviet Union.” After all, I was a good Christian kid and did what I was told. But even if I understood I had a legal right to stay silent, and believed I should exercise it, it would have taken significant courage to risk aggression by one’s teachers (which there are many examples of) or the attention of one’s peers. Courage that few young children have.
Which is why the US Pledge is so effective in shaping the minds of young—and why even now there are new laws being passed to require the reciting of the pledge. Reciting a mantra day in and day out—whether a pledge of allegiance at the start of a school day or a prayer of grace at dinner time sets one’s beliefs at a subconscious level.
These rote actions shape both the individual and group (classroom or family) as well as the broader culture, which is why I found Foundation Earth’s Earth Pledge to be such a powerful idea. Imagine if along with (or yes, even instead of) reciting the pledge of allegiance to their respective countries, students started their days with a pledge of allegiance to the Earth. Would this simple act remind children (subconsciously at least) that they are completely dependent on Gaia for their well-being?
I pledge allegiance to the Earth
To its mountains, rivers, soil and sky
One planet, irreplaceable
To be cherished and protected by all.
The pledge draws attention to Earth and its beauty (mountains and rivers), the full living biosphere (soil and sky), and subtly debunks the frontier myth that if we destroy this world, well, at least there’s Mars (no, Earth is irreplaceable). But most importantly the pledge makes it clear that we must protect and cherish this planet. And that it’s all of our responsibility to do so.
I did wonder if a different—less nationalistic word than allegiance would make more sense: Dependence? Fealty? Obedience? But then I looked up allegiance, which means: “loyalty or commitment of a subordinate to a superior or of an individual to a group or cause.”
That’s right on the mark. I’m not sure I could ever feel that way to an artificial construct like a country—especially one so bent on domination, growth, and consumption—but the first meaning definitely applies in this case. We, humans, are definitely subordinate to the superior and collective whole of Gaia (even if few of us accept that or live accordingly).
So could this actually take root in schools (whether in the US or around the world)?
Maybe the simplest step is to get children and their parents to ask their teachers to recite this pledge on Earth Day. That’s an easy ask (rather than asking to do it every school day) and for those teachers that value this pledge, perhaps they could open up a conversation with their students to see if they would want to recite this every day—or at least once a week (could it be Earth Day every Wednesday?) Plus if the kids are stuck at home these next few weeks due to coronavirus-sparked school closings, the Earth Pledge is so short and sweet it’d be perfect to memorize and discuss with them—which could help start the conversation with their teachers when the students do return.
If the Earth Pledge did take root, which I think it could, it’d be a powerful means to regularly reinforce for all children their continuing and permanent dependence on the Earth.
Also: while we’re talking about Earth Day, what are you doing to celebrate Earth Day on April 22nd—which is the 50th Earth Day?
Stephen Colbert wondered recently whether we should celebrate or apologize. And his guest, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, responded: “We should do both: first apologize and then tell Earth how you’re going to make things better.” That’s right. Celebrate our own efforts to live sustainability but apologize that it’s far from enough, and then work harder to truly cultivate a sustainable culture.
If the coronavirus pandemic has run its course, there are hundreds of events listed on Earth Day’s website that you could take part in—though Earth Day this year may be celebrated in the summer, as some cities like Columbus, Ohio are doing.
But even if this Earth Day is a more solitary one, find a way to both celebrate and reaffirm your efforts to care for and heal Gaia—whether that’s as simple as focusing one of your meditations on this, picking up litter in your favorite park or natural area, expanding your garden, or writing letters to policymakers or an op-ed to your local paper. And most importantly, encourage your friends and family to take their own actions (or join Earth Day events with you if things have settled), and keep pledging yourself and your life energy to cherishing and protecting, to healing and serving the Earth.