Today I want to compare us to bacteria.
It’s not to insult anyone, I promise. I actually think that they can teach us about the value of diversity.
Bacteria get a bad wrap.
Urgh… we just think of germs, dirt, disease.
But you may not realise that we depend upon bacteria for our very survival. Our bodies are made up of more cells of microscopic life than cells of our own, and without them we may well stop functioning.
It’s an area of research that’s been receiving more and more traction in recent years. There’s a lot of variety among these tiny microbes, and the beneficial relationships they have with one another and also with ourselves are vast and grossly misunderstood. It seems like making an enemy out of bacteria is as logical as hating all food because you don’t like spinach.
Kill Them All, Just In Case.
Of course with them being so very, very small and us all being brought up to associate them with disease, it’s easy to see why we just wage war against the lot of them. We feel that we are reducing our risks in life by taking to the habit of bleaching and disinfecting. But have you ever noticed how the products you’re using are always promising to kill off 99.9% of germs? Never 100%.
A truly sterile environment is a heck of a feat to achieve, and even more so to keep it that way. If you had a patch of bare soil in your garden, would you expect it to remain bare? It just becomes an opportunity for the first seeds blown in off the wind, giving rise to an overwhelm of very few species.
It’s no different with the microbes on our surfaces or skin.
So disinfecting is more a case of creating a lack of variety, rather than achieving germ free.
And this is where we can get to our lesson.
Losing Diversity Leads To Problems.
Wherever there are bacteria (which is pretty much everywhere) there is a hive of activity which serves to alter or harmonise the environment itself. This is true of our guts, our skin, our soils, everything.
We could say that each species has its own speciality, so the more variety that’s present, the more ‘skills’ that are on offer. When we kill off bacteria with antibiotics or disinfectants it’s the variety that gets reduced, and we lose significant benefits that we may not have even acknowledged were there in the first place. A colony loses resilience as it loses diversity, and it becomes far more likely that issues will arise.
Studies into the microbiome within our own bodies are now highlighting all kinds of revelations that move us from the idea that things are as straightforward as having ‘good’ and ‘bad’ species, to the idea that problems are instead caused when there is an ‘imbalance’ or lack of variety.
A rich and diverse microbiome is now considered essential to prevent the development of major human diseases.
And microbes that we consider completely harmful can actually offer benefits when their numbers remain in balance, such as how E-coli offers vital assistance in absorbing iron.
So What Can This Teach Us About Our Own Communities?
The loss of diversity from disinfecting creates the sort of issues that we adapt to and begin to expect as normal. We’ve no way of knowing how it might feel to live in true harmony with these little critters.
In a similar way society minimises variety through considering certain traits and skills as being good and acceptable. This means that other traits are either bad, unwanted or undervalued. It’s much simpler and more predictable to focus our kid’s teaching towards very few skills such as maths and language, so we can prepare them for their shirt and tie jobs where they’ll serve our most valued needs.
But just as with our guts, the less diverse an environment is, the less capable it is of accepting something that’s different. It leads to intolerance. We now have things that suit the environment, and things that don’t. And the more it heads in this direction, the more that ‘different’ gets rejected.
We're so used to setting everyone's standards as the same, but the more we do this the more we all lose. There is huge value in the abilities we currently dismiss Click To Tweet
When Everyone Is Valued, We All Benefit.
Within society losing diversity causes isolation and poor outlook for people who struggle with our most accepted abilities, and we miss out on the skills they could otherwise offer.
Something as daft as not being able to spell words correctly is enough to cause judgement and discrimination that can affect the direction of someone’s entire life. If you’re not naturally good at what is deemed to be ‘clever’ it gets identified early on and affects your education, self esteem and career prospects.
The truth is, an ability to spell has very little bearing on a person’s true value to society, it’s only our old habitual thinking that would suggest otherwise. In my own experience for example, people with a wonderful affinity for wildlife or incredible skill with their hands, often struggle to some extent with writing. In today’s system significant numbers of people with an enormous amount to offer will never get the opportunities or recognition they deserve, just because they don’t excel in some other very specific areas.
If you’re getting riled because spelling is important to you, I get it. But perhaps that emphasises the point I’m trying to make. We’re so used to setting everyone’s standards as the same, but the more we do this the more we all lose. There is huge value in the abilities we currently dismiss.
We’re crushing the ambitions of young people, losing their skills and adding to unhappiness.
If we’ve lost effortless harmony through getting trigger happy with the disinfectant, have we done the same thing to society? How much stronger could our own communities be, if we learn to value variety and appreciate all abilities more equally?
If this is your first time here, then you get can get a better feel for what Winglewood is about by watching my welcome video.