Today, I’m continuing to muse about Nature Deficit Disorder (NDD). First, full disclosure. I was introduced to the term NDD by the author Richard Louv’s book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature Deficit Disorder, published in 2005. Second, I want to unpack something I mentioned in my last column, the medical condition Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). I wrote, “Simply spending 20 minutes outside each day can successfully treat the condition.” Ultraviolet rays entering one’s eyeballs are curative for SAD. It can be cloudy out. One doesn’t need to be dressed in a swimsuit to benefit from the invisible rays of our sun. The fact that many people contract SAD indicates to me just how seldom a lot of people get outside and underscores to me my conclusion: NDD is the #1 human ailment in the year 2011. Kevin Kling tells a tale about how a long time ago on the earth a chasm opened up separating animals and humans. As the chasm got wider and wider, the dogs jumped across to be with the humans. Today, when you hear “the mournful cry of the wolf [it] is the longing for the chasm to be closed.” My point? Animals—pets in our homes in particular—like sunlight, are one of the many ways you and I can heal the divide, can protect us from NDD.
I have served on the admissions committees for two colleges of veterinary medicine. I have reviewed the applications of and I have interviewed hundreds of wannabe-veterinarians. Two things occurred for almost every applicant. Both of these things happened to me when I applied to vet school. First, to a person, each candidate said they wanted to become a vet because “they love animals.” Second, somewhere in the advising, sometime during the interview, each prospective veterinarian hears what I heard, “Pete, I know you love animals. But do you understand that if you become a veterinarian you will have to work with people?”
It is my opinion that the various social structures of our society—whether they be the PTA, our churches, our schools, or our ability to self-govern—are breaking down. I am wondering if another dimension of NDD is that TV, the internet, cell phones, technology, & social media have us confused? While we might get the feeling we are connected. However, could it be that a lot of the connections we have with people and with nature are, in fact, not real? For example, I’m sitting here in my tiny office writing this column. I’m looking out at Nature on this gray November day. I’m “talking” to you. In my mind, you’re “listening” to me. The truth is I’m struggling to find words that will convey to you the thoughts that are in my brain. Your brain is converting little black ink marks printed on this page of the County Post East into a voice inside of your head, Words… Words are not real. For example, can your thirst be quenched by the 5 letters “w” “a” “t” “e” “r”? No. Water is real and thirst quenching. The following 5 black ink marks: “w” “a” “t” “e” “r” are not real water.
Research has found that words are only a small part of what is being said in a face-to-face communication. Seven percent of what is communicated occurs via the words that are spoken, 38% of what is communicated occurs via “paralinguistic means” (i.e. the “music” of the words) the remaining 55% of what is communicated occurs via facial expression/other body language. Us animal-lovers can understand what our dogs, cats, horses, or cows are “saying”. In fact, if my naughty Jack could speak words, there would likely be times I’d be looking at his body language, because I would suspect him of lying to me.
I’ve concluded I’m like many people. I would rather spend time with animals than with people. Misanthropy is defined as “a hatred or distrust of humankind”. Are most of us animal lovers misanthropes? I don’t know. I do know that my generation is not skilled as previous generations were at resolving differences. This observation of Kurt Vonnegut’s wraps up my musing for me: “Ray [Bradbury, the author of the book Fahrenheit 451] was sure as heck prescient. Just as people with dysfunctional kidneys are getting perfect ones from hospitals nowadays, Americans with dysfunctional social lives, are getting perfect friends and relatives from their TV sets. And around the clock! …’Hell is other people,’ said Jean-Paul Sartre. ‘Hell is other real people,’ is what he should have said.” My resolve is to, as difficult as it is for me, to work at keeping my NDD at bay by having more, not less, real face-to-face interactions with the human animals of Waupaca County.
Published in the Waupaca County Post East newspaper, 12/1/11.
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