Much like growing a garden, maintaining and growing an ecocentric mindset requires effort and self-reflection. When we start a garden, we generally start with planning. We plan the layout and what plant goes where. There are lots of things to consider such as temperature, sun exposure, and even cardinal direction. Once we start carrying out our plans, we find that adjustments, workarounds, and changes must be made, and we do them. It’s all part of the process.
We can think about cultivating an ecocentric identity in the same way. We identify with the things we do, such as work or our hobbies. When starting a hobby, such as playing an instrument, we need to practice to improve. In our careers, as we improve in our abilities, we get more responsibilities and higher wages. As well, once we have started developing an ecocentric identity, it needs to be maintained. The way we can do this is by looking at our environments and finding what we can and cannot do to express eco-friendly behavior. How is our waste disposed of in our city? Is there a farmers market within walking distance? How affordable is organic produce at the grocery store? Some of the answers to these questions may impede ecocentric growth. The waste disposal might be poor or the farmers market might be too far away to walk. However, we can always find ways to work around these. If the waste disposal is poor, we can make an effort to reuse things as much as possible and reduce waste as much as we can. If the farmers market is too far to walk, we can try taking a bike or a carpool. If we cannot afford organic produce, we can try growing our own. Additionally, as time passes we can make an effort to advocate for more eco-friendly environments. We can save money for a bike and use the money we save on gas on healthier produce. The more people who engage in eco-friendly behavior, the more community leaders will be obligated to support those behaviors. Even if it takes time, these behaviors build on each other. Thomas Copper once said, “A garden is never as good as it will be next year.” Just like gardens, our ecocentric mindset can develop the same way as long as we keep putting effort into maintaining it.
Oftentimes, our environments can discourage ecocentrism. Our home might not give us space to garden. We might live in a food desert where a grocery store is too far away to bike to. However, we can still cultivate ecocentrism in ourselves. If we engage in environmentally friendly behavior, it can help us develop ecocentrism, no matter how small the behavior. The way we use language can help influence this as well. Lera Boroditsky (2017) discussed how what language we speak can change our thinking. The example used in her TED Talk was about how we organize time based on direction. In her example, English speakers will organize pictures chronologically from left to right. However, when a person who does not speak a language that uses person-centric directions is asked to organize pictures chronologically, time is based on the environment. Her example uses the Kuuk Thaayorre people in Pormpuraaw who organize time from East to West. Regardless of which way they were facing, they would organize the pictures from East to West. This is because their language is heavily based on cardinal direction, allowing them to be very well oriented. While ecocentrism does not require this level of orientation, the same idea can be used. We do not need to learn a new language to practice ecocentric speech. The way we phrase a sentence can influence our interpretation and our thoughts about it. For example, we might think “Pests and birds keep eating my crops. I must find a way to get rid of them.” This phrase communicates the idea that growing a garden is purely for your own use. However, if nothing is eating your crops, then it is not part of the environment. It would be more ecocentric to think “Pests and birds keep eating my crops. I should find ways to make sure there is enough for everyone.” This way, as we cultivate our garden and the environment, we can learn to engage with nature rather than push it away. Part of cultivating an ecocentric mindset is working on changing the way we use language. We can do this by being mindful of how words make us feel and what they might bring to mind.
The use of language shapes our perspective and understanding of concepts (Boroditsky, 2017). Our behavior can influence the words that we use, and we can choose to make efforts to shape our language and behavior in a way that cultivates ecocentrism. When writing about emotional experiences in an expressive writing context, people who used causal words such as “because” and “reason” more often were found to be healthier overall (Pennebaker & Graybeal, 2001). A part of an ecocentric identity is the understanding of how behavior affects the environment (Smith, 2019). As an ecocentric identity is developed, these words will be used more. As we learn how our behavior affects the environment, we will become more aware of causal relationships. This will be reflected in how we use language. Language used in this way also has a cognitive and emotional benefit. Pennebaker and Graybeal (2001) stated that people who write about the details of a traumatic event they have experienced are more likely to process the event than those who only write about how the event made them feel. The way people use language gave traumatic events a new perspective and facilitated healing. In terms of cultivating ecocentrism, if we talk or write about how our garden functions in its environment instead of how our gardens make us feel, we will be cultivating an ecocentric perspective. Additionally, having a holistic view of our garden will help us find new perspectives so that we may fix any problems we might face.
Writing about emotional events helps us feel better and be healthier. Because language is a tool to communicate ideas to others, this suggests that talking to supportive people is psychologically beneficial (Pennebaker & Graybeal, 2001). As previously stated, talking about the details of an environment or event gives a new perspective. However, talking to people about these environments and events also provides us with a social benefit (Pennebaker & Graybeal, 2001). If there is a problem in the garden, a friend can help come up with solutions and provide new perspectives. Additionally, it prompts the social group to engage in ecocentric ideas, further promoting environmentally friendly behavior. In a community garden, this kind of communication is easily facilitated. People who use community gardens are exposed to a variety of different people (Cumbers, Shaw, Crossan, & McMaster, 2017).
Ecocentrism is reliant on the ability to imagine a world where humans can live with nature sustainably. If we only have our single perspective, we might not be able to imagine a sustainable world. Exposure to many cultural perspectives and ideas will help facilitate a social identity based around harmony between humans and nature. Social identity is how humans define themselves as a collective and how their behaviors reflect in-group protection (Wright, Schmitt, Mackay, & Neufeld, 2020). When we define ourselves as a part of nature rather than above it, we promote environmentally friendly behavior and ecocentrism. When nature becomes a part of our social identity, we will behave in ways that protect it. In addition, this ecocentric social identity begins from the bottom up (Jans, 2021). Individual leaders in the community start sharing their ideas. As others start to listen and internalize them, they start to build off these ideas. Eventually, the community as a whole becomes ecocentric and starts to push their local governments to reflect these ecocentric ideologies. As local governments change to fit their communities, larger governmental organizations will need to comply as well.
While cultivating ecocentrism, it is important to not only consider how you affect your environment but also how you affect your community. Learning from others and letting others learn from you is important to innovation and progress. For example, in a garden, you might be trying to increase the efficiency and yield of your crops. There are many ways to achieve this, many methods dating back to the beginning of human civilization. However, each culture has different methods used for different crops. In a community garden, people from many backgrounds garden together and share ideas. If you have a problem growing lettuce because it is too hot, you might see someone growing squash on a trellis over the lettuce to give it some shade. If you notice too many pests are killing your plants, leaving none for other members of the ecosystem, you might see how others deter the pests or attract predators. From this, new ideas can be inspired and these new ideas will continue to inspire more ideas.
Language is a key aspect of cultivating and maintaining an ecocentric identity in both ourselves and our community. Different phases will prompt different aspects of our Self-Memory System, specifically in episodic memories and event-specific knowledge (Conway and Pleydell-Pearce, 2000; Conway, 2009). To use an earlier example of how growing tomatoes with your mother influences autobiographical memory, specific phrases will prompt different aspects of the memory. Someone might say the phrase “I love the way the sun feels against my face” and you might remember how the sun felt that day. Someone else could say “I love the color red” and you might remember the color of the tomatoes you planted with your mom. Either way, it is the same memory, but different aspects are prompted depending on what words were used. These are called “episodic elements”, or different pieces of information that make up the whole of the memory (Conway, 2009). When cultivating an ecocentric mindset, these connections are vital to growing our overall self-concept. The more connections we make, the stronger our ecocentric identity becomes.
Language is a good way to self-reflect on an ecocentric identity. As we learn how we interact with our environments, our language will change to reflect that. We can use this in a few ways. Firstly, we can check ourselves for non-ecocentric language, either mentally or by keeping a journal and correcting them to reflect a deeper understanding of our role in nature. We can change “I’m a bad gardener” to “The garden didn’t do as well this year” to show that some situations are out of our control and that we can always try again. Secondly, we can be mindful of how our environment influences us. To do this, keep an eye out for things that you did not directly cause, such as new growth on a plant or damage from pests. As we practice this, we will learn that our environments influence us as much as we influence them. Lastly, cultivating a growth mindset will help improve our gardens. We will learn as we garden, and as we learn, our garden will improve. The Hebrew proverb “as is the gardener, such is the garden,” reflects this idea well. As we cultivate our garden, our garden will cultivate us, supporting healthy behaviors and healthy ideas.