OThere is a significant shift that we, as humans, need to make if we are to sustain our life on this planet. We need to move from anthropocentrism — which places humans and our interests as the central focus — towards biocentrism, which places us alongside all other living beings.

There are four fundamental tenets that underpin biocentrism:

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  1. Humans and all other species are members of Earth’s community.
  2. All species are part of a system of interdependence.
  3. All living organisms pursue their own good in their own ways.
  4. Humans are not inherently superior to other living things. [1]

We are all connected as living beings and, when we understand that, the actions we take for the future shift from being all about ourselves as individuals to focusing on the higher good of all. As part of this shift, we immediately drop the false separation of seeing ourselves within a “them and us” paradigm and that frees us to see the oneness of all life.

The great news is once we embrace this way of perceiving and acting in the world, seemingly paradoxical outcomes begin to flow into our life. This is called the selfless paradox, where, by letting go of our usual self-centered existence, we receive everything without pursuing it. Also, once we stop pursuing happiness and choose to work for the benefit of all, we become happier. This means that we become able to do truly good work that has greater efficacy and, as a result, we experience more love, joy, and peace of mind.

There is another key aspect of the selfless person that is important to clarify. They never sacrifice anything whilst doing good. Sacrifice is a word that implies there is a cost to being altruistic; however, the reverse is true. I am often asked how I gave up meat to become a vegan. I simply answer that I did not ‘give up’ meat because I do not desire it. Instead, I simply transitioned to a way of eating that was more meaningful to me and left meat and animal products behind. Much like an adult who has out grown the toys of their childhood, it is no sacrifice to leave these toys behind and go onto other pursuits.

“When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. That’s my religion.”
Abraham Lincoln

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Likewise, doing and being good is actually of great benefit to the person who does the good. This is evidenced in the scientific studies which have outlined a number of specific physical, mental and emotional benefits experienced by those who not only do good and practice being good, but who are intrinsically good.[2] These include enhanced mental and physical health, longevity and an inner sense of well-being.[3]

This is not a new nor ground breaking idea, but is one which has foundations amongst all of the great philosophical belief systems in the world. To understand this principle is to grasp the idea that it is in our own, as well as our collective interests, to do good for others. 

Orangutan named Berani climbing

It’s about us

I am often approached by concerned and compassionate people after my talks and presentations around the world. Invariably, they want to know how and where they can best support our efforts to save and protect native habitats and the living beings who live within these ecosystems. Apart from recommending that they start donating or volunteering with the cause straight away, because, of course, that will help, I also suggest that they educate themselves about orangutans, the work we do and the work we support with their funds. This is because I believe in informed action over the long term.

I genuinely believe if we combine our personal efforts and we work together to support effective organisations on the ground, we can make a difference at the global level.

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We use this approach at The Orangutan Project, where we now partner with the majority of conservation groups working on the ground in Indonesia today, because we know that’s the only way we can secure the future for orangutans — not just through orangutan rescue, rehabilitation and release programs (though of course they are critical), but also forest habitat protection and regeneration, education, research, supporting law enforcement, and forging local community partnerships.

Our big goal is legally safeguarding all remaining intact ecosystems and to secure viable populations of each sub-species under our permanent protection so they survive indefinitely.

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But actually, my personal goal and the promise I’ve made is that every orangutan will one day live wild and free. Because every one of them are persons, and just like you and me they have every right to share our planet.

[1] Johnson, Jayme. Biocentric Ethics and the Inherent Value of Life. Encyclopaedia Britannica. www.britannica.com/topic/biocentrism

[2] Mental Health Foundation. Doing Good Does You Good. www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/doing-good-does-you-good

[3] Mental Health Foundation. Doing Good Does You Good. www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/doing-good-does-you-good

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This excerpt has been adapted from Leif Cock’s latest book, Finding Our Humanity

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