It has become widely accepted today to think of the human being as a highly developed animal, the end product of an evolutionary process. However, when one compares the physiological and biographical development of an individual human being with that of even the higher mammals, one discovers phenomena that raise questions as to the veracity of this theory. Universality, adaptability, alert and creative inventiveness are quintessential human qualities. The human being is a concentration of potential; animals express the wonder of specialisation. By having an extended maturation period (childhood), humans are able to become the earth's most versatile inhabitants. In this sense they are the archetype of all creation.
"What nature produces through its forces is destined to be produced by human beings consciously, out of their individual nature" (1). Thus Rudolf Steiner described mankind's unique relationship to nature and our place in the world. Through each human being the archetypal qualities inherent in nature come to individual expression and can, at the same time be raised to consciousness. As the great French palaeontologist and philosopher Teilhard de Chardin (2) expresses it; "In the consciousness of each one of us, evolution has a perception of itself." Being able to have conscious knowledge through the active process of thought, is the unique human trait.
In earlier times the relationship between macrocosm and the microcosm of the human being was instinctively understood. In our times we can consciously rediscover how the archetypal principles that are spread out across the cosmos can be found in individualised form within the whole human being. Thus we can resolve the long felt dichotomy between nature and the human being. Mankind´s place is however not outside of nature and yet we are individually unique. The evolution of the world and the evolution of mankind belong together. As the biologist and teacher A. Suchantke (3) put it, "the human being is – no, not the goal of evolution, but contained within evolution from the very beginning."
It has been said that humans have what animals are. What animals do with their claws, fangs, wings, strength or through the combined resources of the herd, the flock or the colony, humans do with tools, technology and culture. It was Goethe (4) who made the observation that while animals are taught by their anatomy how to live, humans must teach their organs how to respond to life´s demands. Most animal behaviour is instinctive and how they live, how they feed or defend themselves is determined by their physiological constitution. Animals are geniuses in their varied fields but their talents are one-sided. A beaver can only use its engineering skills to build dams; a weaver bird can only construct one kind of hanging nest; the cheetah cannot go grazing nor the eagle start cracking seeds.
Yet humans can do all of these things, essentially with the aid of tools and techniques. What one person can´t achieve alone, a group can. Thus language and social structures and all the other forms of culture enable us to work together. In a very real sense humans combine all the abilities and qualities that are represented one-sidedly by all the different animals in their unique way. This makes the human being more universal than any other creature on earth. In learning about animals in this way children experience through strong identification a deep connection to the animal kingdom, a relationship which later can transform into a profound sense of responsibility and stewardship.
In a very real sense humans have within them as potential, the qualities of the whole world. The laws of the mineral world express themselves in our physical bodies. Our very bones and upright posture give us a unique relationship to the laws of gravity. Without continuous effort of will we would simply fall over. Through our organism we are linked to the life process common to the plant world, in our organs of metabolism, growth, breathing, reproduction. In common with the animal world we live in the sentient realm of nerve-sense organisation, of instincts and drives as well as in our mobility in space. In learning of all these things, the pupils can constantly relate to their own experiences.
Humans are characterised by their openness and never more so than in childhood. Thus the formative influence of the environment on the child is enormous. Relatively little is genetically predetermined. Almost all behaviour and much of our finer physiological maturation is acquired through interaction with the environment. Since each child is more than body and soul, but is also an individual spiritual being with a unique biography, this interaction expresses itself differently. It is the human Ego that bears within it the whole cosmos of archetypal potential. How much of this potential comes to expression is individual. Only in an environment and an education in which a consciousness of the spiritual qualities lives, can the human being realise their full potential.
The child therefore needs other human beings as role models, people who are conscious of their moral influence. A child that grows up in a moral environment learns to behave in a moral way to the environment in return. Each morning of every school day all Waldorf pupils speak the Morning Verse in which humanity´s spiritual connection to the kingdoms of Nature is stressed.
1) Rudolf Steiner, 12. Oct. 1905, Berlin
2) Teilhard de Chardin, The human being in the cosmos, 1959
3) Andreas Suchantke, Partnerschaft mit der Natur, 1993, 297
4) J.W. von Goethe, Letter to W. von Humboldt, 17th March 1832