When did it become acceptable to spend all day in a workspace from which you have to move a considerable distance to even see what the weather is like outside? At what point did we just waive our rights as human animals to live with nature in our daily lives?
It happened when our survival became more tied to subservience to an employer than to our connection to our own bodies, minds, and natural environment.
Yale University social ecology professor Steven Kellert says, “Some of our most alienating work environments, in the sense of separating us from nature, are often the modern office building, where people are in these very bland, hostile environments with no access to windows or any experience of the outside or natural environments. Ironically, if you tried to do that to a caged animal in a zoo, you would violate legal statute, and would be prevented from doing so….We don’t see ourselves like that tiger in the cage, that we’re just as much dependant upon those experiential connections as the tiger is.” (Quote found in “The Nature Principle”, by Richard Louv)
Daylight savings time has ended here in Baltimore, and the average worker who enters a building at 9:00am will be going home after dark. He may have less than an hour total to spend with his feet on the earth and his face to the sun–assuming he can even spend it that way.
There is a widespread perception that it’s OK for employers to impose upon their staff any kind of working conditions that don’t pose an immediate threat of tangible physical injury. More subtle effects like increased risk of cancer, heart disease, obesity, vitamin D deficiency, and depression can legally be ignored because they can just as easily be blamed on other factors. Besides, this is a free country, and people who are concerned about these things can just choose to work somewhere else, right? I think most of us know it’s not that simple, and the current economic crisis has made the problem even worse.
A person in a cubicle is not different from a tiger in a cage. We need a significant amount of time each day to maintain a healthy connection with the natural world. Despite studies showing that employers enjoy enormous benefits from providing their people with open work spaces and natural light, many continue to cling to old assumptions. If a worker cannot easily see the outdoors from her workspace, the employer could actually be treating an animal inhumanely and contributing to environmental issues. People won’t stand up for our planet if nature is something they rarely see, let alone connect with. What goes on “out there” in the environment is irrelevant to someone whose livelihood depends on keeping her head down and her mouth shut.
I found Sara Horowitz’ comparison of Occupy Wall Street to the 19th century labor protests quite refreshing. Groundbreaking as these reforms were at the time, this may be the perfect opportunity to revisit and expand them to further protect our physical, mental, and spiritual health.