Biophilia: Life-affirming Needs

As an English major and wordsmith, I enjoy receiving Word of the Day emails from the OED, and often I think there is a synchronicity to the words that the ghost in the machine sends my way. In this way I was recently introduced to the concept of biophilia. The OED tells us this means:

The biological drive towards self-preservation; love of life; this drive an indicator of normal and healthy emotional and social development; A love of or empathy with the natural world, esp. when seen as a human instinct.

I tend to distrust universalisms that indicate something is “natural,” since I find them often a cover-up for judgments, “shoulds,” or power-over [e.g. violence is “natural,” women serving men is “natural”…]. However, I appreciated this particular naturalism described as instinct or drive, since I related it to needs.

From an NVC viewpoint, biophilia can describe our needs that reflect life-affirming actions and decisions. Marshall Rosenberg describes “tak[ing] action out of the desire to contribute to life rather than out of fear, guilt, shame, or obligation.” Biophilia is, in this way, about the strategies we pick to get our needs met. By acting to contribute to life, we support our needs. By making our actions align with our core needs, we have exercised our option to choose life-affirming strategies. For example, when I choose to ride my bike [even in the cold!] I’m choosing to reflect my need for autonomy, physical-well being, and am able to integrate these into my awareness of interdependence with the earth and concern about using fossil fuels in my commute.

Love of life and empathy with the earth is a natural human orientation, known also as a drive. Biophilia describes a core desire, so deeply embedded in our humanness that the discipline of psychology has named it. Free of value judgment, it’s what I like to frame simply as true. I find, when I look deeply, that I am “motivated by reverence for life,” and that NVC helps me as a tool to connect strategies to that reverence – what about you?

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