edit mode

This snapshot of epistemic-existential-ecosocial [EEE] interrelatedness with nonhuman others is conceptualized through a tandem of (allow me to underscore) cross-cultural translations of notions from 1) Buddhist and 2) Turtle Island philosophies. Importantly to the equity dimension of my project, the quotation marks that habitually guard “philosophy” are emphatically set aside, on the analogy of Pam Colorado’s “Native science” as proper science, which view has also been popularized by other Indigenous and non-Indigenous academics, e.g., Gregory Gajete (2000) and David Peat (2005), respectively, a.o.

The particular trigger for the present theorization was Laura’s idea to revitalize the plants in our faculty building. I am convinced of the importance of the project because the tiniest spurts of acquired habit (in our case, related to having an environment of thriving plants) would be symptomatic of and, on the positive side, indicative of, a much larger-scale overall condition of (what I label) “ecosociality”. Currently a grassroots initiative, the idea would much more effectively take off with the purposeful cooperation of levels of faculty governance and larger-scale commitment by conscientized (to borrow a Freirean staple) human actors – students, staff, faculty – who would bring it all to actual fruition, and enjoy the triumph of making a faculty-wide joint project a lived reality.

Before we move on to Laura’s demonstration of what flower re-potting looks like, let us ponder, for a panel presentation’s while, a handful of dyads, within whose network the human/plant dyad is structurally-systemically (in Harawayan terms) situated. The contrasts between (as well as within) these dyads of humans and nonhuman others, as experience has just made us all too well aware, tend to escape our mundane attention. This invisibility resurfaces as a veritable axiom, which, despite scholarly efforts over the years (Rachel Carson, Donna Haraway, a.o.), in all evidence, continues to saturate current imaginaries. Put differently, the educational views advanced in classrooms are not unambiguously upheld by at least one category of living co-participants in the immediate physical environment we are creating. On the upside, maintaining the felicity of plants can become a powerful symbol for an embodied social change, while it would require neither time nor financial investment worth mentioning. As I will argue, the doability of the project and the scale of crucial neurophysiological retuning it (as encoded habit) appears to command make it much, much more than symbolic.

My analysis pivots on the understanding that humans are an integral living part of a reciprocally sustainable (or not!) living system, e.g., along the lines of Capra and Luizi’s Web of Life (), in agreement with the earlier Gaia hypothesis and Ervin Laszlo’s (1996) systems view, among a number of likeminded, though far from coextensive or interchangeable, theorizations. I submit that a necessary condition for upholding our longstanding claim to rationality would be to fully consciously conceptualize and bring into felicitous actuality an alternative to the above noted Invisibility Axiom. This is the theoretical-practical (praxical) axiom of fully sensitized awareness of belonging to a (to reiterate) reciprocally sustainable (or not!) living system, which defines what I term the “Ecosocial Paradigm”, and extending the signification of the originally intended Kuhnian use of the term, treat it as encompassing and also as far exceeding the academic theory/framework domain.

Let us take a closer comparative look at the relations between our human selves and human others, contrasted with 1) animals, 2) plants, and various modes of so-called 3) “non-living” matter – 3a) e.g., minerals and 3b) artifactual objects, from 3bi) print books to 3bii) computers to 3biii) a piece of art. All of these have their place in the ecosocial system of a university building (cf. Jim Lang’s description of the school ecosystem in his 20?? PES talk). In it classrooms, offices and common areas are the often indifferent beneficiaries of decorative plants. How does a recontextualization of Buddhist and Native teachings play into conceptualizing the alternative Re-Visibility Axiom, and with it the whole Ecosocial Paradigm? And why should office plants matter?

To the first question, from the side of Buddhism, I invite the notion of “mindfulness”, which, through its many historical and cross-cultural permutations has distilled the core disposition of cultivating sensorial-mental-emotional awareness of the here-and-now, particularly in a non-judgemental, appreciative mode, in which one moves toward what variously verbalized and instituted worldviews have named “enlightenment”, “peace of mind”, “mental health”. The Theravada Buddhist tradition, in particular, contributes the teaching about the four brahmavihāras “divine abodes” (Pali: karunā, upekkhā, mettā, muditā), commonly rendered as “compassion”, “equanimity”, “lovingkindness”, and “sympathetic joy”, respectively. These constitute a rule-of-thumb tetrad of sorts, spelling out concrete steps in a person’s progression toward enlightenment/its hetero-cultural counterparts. From the Indigenous tradition(s), I invite what has been termed “ontological respect” for the other (e.g. Armbrüster 1999 citing Bunge, 1996), which, to my mind significantly, extends to nonhuman others, from animals, to plants, to rocks, all of which are seen as “relatives”, “teachers”.

To the second question, thinking of plants as links in an existential continuum of multiple and vital interdependencies is consistent with the multidirectionally non-dichotomous disposition of Buddhist and Turtle Island philosophies and traditional practices alike. Given that, it seems logical that plants’ mistreatment would likely go hand-in-hand with mistreatment at other points, from other humans to rocks. Conversely, achieving equitable treatment at one point in the vitally connected chain would have to varying degrees tangible benefits for some and/or all other links.

The line of reasoning based on my cross-cultural translation and epistemic-epistemological cross-pollination, then, goes as follows: although, at first blush, the cross-culturally and cross-paradigmatically transposed divine abodes tetrad can most readily be seen as guiding specifically human relations, hence ameliorating processes of longstanding harmful human othering, on the Turtle Island understanding of thoroughgoing ontological respect (what crucially correlates with my conception of “profound relatedness”), we humans owe “compassion”, “equanimity”, “lovingkindness”, and “sympathetic joy” to our relationship with any entity in and part of the world of which we are interrelated co-constituents.

The co-constitution view goes back at least to Dewey (1916) and – encouragingly for the theoretical and the corresponding grassroots re-potting projects at hand – finds its full-grown conceptual spell-out in numerous variations of ecological thinking, ecosophy, ecotheology, etc. The sluggish progress of climate change conscientization on a global scale, for example, and of the policy making and implementation that go with it, has received a recent, if yet to be ratified (not to mention, implemented), boost with the Paris agreement in December 2015. Interestingly enough, in some sense, the way the re-potting project is taking off, more or less matches the average for these larger epistemic-existential-ecosocial [EEE] climate change interrelatednesses.

The principles of continuity and interdependence adopted here have found their way much earlier into Charles Sanders Peirce’s cosmology, and they are consistent with the findings about and the understanding of the subatomic realm in contemporary physics and its philosophy, notably exemplified, for example, by Werner Heisenberg. By the logic of continuity/interdependence, classrooms that teach how to overcome a number of invidious social-economic-political asymmetries like racism/colonialism, heterosexism, ablism, classism, not forgetting industrial pollution, would provide consistent – including very important subliminal – mediation of the educative message if they are graced by flowers and plants that are not merely aesthetically pleasing to look at (and otherwise promptly disposed of), but also well tended, thus healthy to be around and with. Along with Dewey, yet again, they would be part of the educative environment that primes for developing the intended directions of thinking, understanding, and knowing/learning.

In considering whether it is worth while to be rejuvenating the OISE plants, and maintaining them that way, would the minuteness of their projected beneficial effect on other links in the EEE relational network serve as a good reason to stall? Likewise, were we to wait for the requisite consciousness change to happen first to then find ourselves painlessly succeeding in caring for the plants as well, what would be the immediate returns of inaction? I would like to think that, if given the choice, the OISE community would opt for ecologizing our immediate environment. Once because this would be enacting a principle taught and written about. A second time, because of the likelihood of a neuro-physio-psychologically coded habit to transpose to action far beyond tending plants. A third time, because unlike racism, colonialism, ablism, heterosexism, and so forth, it does appear to be within the easiest imaginable actionable reach – of any smaller or larger group of human actors.

In light of the above, the bottom line is that the benefits of plant rejuvenation multiply outweigh the investment of time, funds, and effort – it seems practically infinitesimal. Tiny as the wilting plants are on the radar of “much larger problems”, the investment into rejuvenating them is even tinier. This works exponentially in favour of the benefits.


Since it is said that the devil is in the details,

I say, so can be the divine.

What say you?



Armbrüster, Thomas Friedrich (1999) The German Corporation: An Open or Closed Society? An Application of Popperian Ideas to Organisational Analysis. PhD Thesis, June 1999, University of London.

Bunge, Mario (1996) The Seven Pillars of Popper’s Social Philosophy. Philosophy of the Social Social Sciences, 26 (4): 528-556.

Cajete, Gregory (1994) Look to the Mountain: An Ecology of Indigenous Education. Skyland, NC: Kivaki Press.

———- (2000) Native Science: Natural Laws of Interdependence. With a foreword by Leroy Little Bear, JD. Don Diego – Santa Fe, NM: Clear Light Publishers.

Dewey, John (1916/2009) Democracy and Education: Toward a Philosophy of Education. Merchant Books.

Eppert, Claudia (2010) “Heartmind Literacy: Compassionate Imaging and the Four Brahmavihāras”, Paideusis 19 (2010), no 1, pp. 17-28.

Eppert, Claudia and Hongyu Wang, eds. (2008) Cross-cultural Studies in Curriculum: Eastern Thought, Educational Insights. Mahweh, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum/Routledge, Taylor & Francis.

Hadot, Pierre (1995) Philosophy as a Way of Life. Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault. Edited and with an Introduction by Arnold I. Davidson. Blackwell Publishing.

Hinsdale, Mary Jo (2012) “Choosing to Love”, Paideusis 20 (2012), no 2, pp. 36-45.

Laszlo, Ervin (1996) The Systems View of the World: A Holistic Vision for Our Time (Advances in Systems Theory, Complexity, and the Human Sciences). Hampton Press, 2nd edition.

Nelson, Donald (2012) “Implementing Mindfulness: Practice as the Home of Understanding”. Paideusis 20 (2012), no 2, pp. 4-14.

Nhat Hanh, Titch (1998) Interbeing: Fourteen Guidelines for Engaged Buddhism. Berkeley: Parallax Press.

Oliver, Kelly (2001) Witnessing: Beyond Recognition. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Peat, F. David (2005) Blackfoot Physics: A Journey into the Native American Universe. Boston, MA: Weiser Books. First published in 1994 by Fourth Estate, London, UK, reprinted in 1996.

Vokey, Daniel (2001) Moral Discourse in a Pluralistic World. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.