Traveling frequently, especially on trains, is part of my working life. For the most part it is for the sole purpose of getting from a to b efficiently (but seldom cheaply!). Occasionally I get time to admire the view as I speed through some of the UK’s glorious countryside.
There is a debate raging in the UK at the moment about whether the Government should sanction the building of a new high-speed track from London to the North of England. The obvious objections include the environmental damage such a project would cause, particularly as it would pass through some areas of ‘outstanding natural beauty’.
I’m not sure we need to dig up whole slices of our countryside for a track that might shave another 15 minutes off our journeys to the capital. However, listening to the debate, I do find myself reflecting on whether protecting ‘natural beauty’ is a legitimate argument.
In the UK there are very few (if any) places that have not been dramatically impacted by the activities of humans over the centuries. Forest have been felled. Meadows have been ploughed, fenced, walled and hedged. Hamlets have become villages, villages towns and towns cities. Agriculture has made way for industry and then industry has made way for business parks. Even the tops of the fells and mountains are scared with paths that are as wide as roads, as millions of pairs of boots tramp up and down their slopes.
But all of this doesn’t mean the countryside and parts of our cities are not beautiful. The English Lake District is a case in point. However, I find it difficult to state that it is an area of ‘outstanding natural beauty’ when in fact most of the features we see are man-made or at least significantly impacted by man. Many of the lakes are in fact reservoirs.
What I would say about the Lake District is that it is an area of ‘outstanding beauty’. This reframing, or alternative perspective, doesn’t mean that I would be in favour of putting a high-speed rail link right through the middle of such a beautiful landscape. Quite the opposite. It does, however, give me an alternative view that helps me have a more balanced view, I believe, of the debate about whether alterations to such landscapes should be supported or not. Simply saying it is a part of the natural world doesn’t wash, because it simply isn’t. One would have to travel to places such a Canada, South America or Africa to find such rare, truly natural, places.
Development, whether at the level of the individual, group or organisation, starts with the exploration of alternative perspectives. It is often left to others to reframe things for us (a coach, close friend or colleague maybe). Developing the art and habit of reframing for oneself is, I find, a very useful life skill.
Like the mountainous region of my beloved Lake District, there are always alternative hilltops from which to take in the scene. There are always alternative perspectives to be explored.
P.S. An alternative perspective (that I do use from time to time when it suits!) is to challenge the concept that something that is made or changed in some way by humans is not natural. Consider for a moment that we tend to think of our species as separate from the ‘rest’ of nature. Humans are biological organisms much like any other complex life form on this planet. If we start thinking of ourselves as part of the natural world and not separate from it, then the Lake District, that has been hugely impacted by human activities, could be seen to be of ‘outstanding natural beauty’. Neither perspective is right or wrong. Reframing the argument both ways (and there are no doubt countless more ways to frame this argument) allows dialogue, and therefore, development, to take place