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News and views from St. Mary's Woodbridge
Issue 8 Spring 2009

Darwin and the downturn

If you watch TV, read the paper, worry about your job or just worry about being human, then both Darwin and the downturn will have been very much front of mind this year. So is there a connection? Can we consider the work of what many believe to be the greatest Englishman who ever lived, and learn something about what it means to live through the current downturn? The answer is yes.

Darwin was a naturalist who in his most famous book, On the origin of species, propounded his now widely accepted theory of evolution. All life is connected, he wrote, and individual species adapt and survive through a process of natural selection. The key here is adaptation. Animals and plants adapt over generations to their changing conditions, and those flexible enough to adapt survive.

Galapagos Turtle

The same might apply to us humans in a downturn. Unbridled capitalism has been brought to a standstill and we have to adapt to survive. While that doesnt mean changing colour or growing an extra skin, here is an opportunity to think about the way we live and to make any changes that may help to make a bit more sense of what it means to be human. So what Darwinian lessons can we learn to get through the downturn?

First of all be positive. Whatever the plight of the worlds financial systems, we humans have a tremendous capacity for optimism. Remember, our family, our friends, our communities the essential support structures are the same as they were last year and the year before that.

Co-operative spirit
Secondly, like so many Darwinian creatures we have to stay involved with each other and to help each other whenever we can. If, as can be argued, society is emerging from a dog-eats-dog, highly individualistic period, now is the time to rediscover the spirit of co-operation. Being part of your community and trying to build afresh has never been more important.

Thirdly, like birds in winter we have to focus more clearly on what we need to survive. This means using and sharing scarce resources more wisely. We adapt, not only to survive individually but also as part of something bigger society, the church or our belief in God. To paraphrase Darwin, being human gives us a conscience. That means helping each other through difficult times simply because its the right thing to do.