During a meeting for a student organization I’m involved in, we had an icebreaker activity that asked, “Would you rather be color-blind or lose your taste buds?” After pondering the idea for a couple of seconds, I walked to the side of the room representing the latter, where the minority of people stood. I justified losing my taste buds because theoretically losing my ability to see color was unimaginable. For me, there’s a powerful emotional significance to the various colors that I see every day. Colors reflect mood, purpose and the uniqueness of living and nonliving beings. I believe it’s ultimately our responsibility to recognize that diminishing color from our lives, such as in the natural spaces around us and in the people among us, means diminishing our ability to mold a society whose functional potential can be powerfully multidimensional and far-reaching.

The presence of color in our surrounding environments serves as an untold essential contributor to our mental health. A 2006 study confirms that spending time in nature can counteract the toxic stress that occurs in our daily lives because viewing stimulating natural scenes can create a pleasurable experience for the brain. Another study discovered that plant life can have similar biological influences on the body as aromatherapy, a phenomenon essentially built on the collective leverage of the visual, olfactory and touching senses with each other. When placed in a workspace with a multicolored personality in its greenery and abundant sunlight, employees demonstrated a 15-percent increase in reported well-being. Unknowingly, we are uplifted by the dynamic structure and presentation of nature in ways that are generally unobservable on a minuscule level, yet we would likely feel a dramatic change if these characteristics of nature ceased to exist.

While ensuring the presence of green space can be the first step towards using nature to improve our livelihood, it’s worth noting that the green space must be well kept in order to have these positive influences on our behavior. In other words, the pleasurable and therapeutic effects that viewing nature can have are best conveyed when the nature looks natural and unaffected by man-made destruction. A Time Magazine article about the psychological effect of green spaces mentions Dr. Andrew Lee’s commentary on their functionality as social spaces: “If a green space is difficult to get to, has poor lighting or is not clean, it may be seen as unsafe or inaccessible and probably wouldn’t boost a visitor’s mood.” With that being said, it’s important to let the behaviors of diverse and flourishing plant life carry on naturally and that we minimize drastic alterations to allow them to fulfill their abstract healing potentials.

Not only can dynamic natural spaces be attributed to the health of the people who experience it every day, but these spaces can also be indicative of the health of the environment these people live in. When the color of an area is changed from natural, earthy tones to a modern white, eccentric slate or abysmal black alongside human intervention in the area, this more often than not suggests the poor quality of the environment in this area. For instance, a Rice University review of marine life in the Caribbean comments on the importance of the multicolored coral reefs for the quality of their surrounding marine ecosystem. The varying vibrant colors of the coral reefs are able to reflect sunlight differently to protect them from damage. In addition, their colors attract various species of fish for mating and shield them from predators, which ultimately contributes to the livelihood of all surrounding sea life. 

As a result, these coral reefs are contributing to the quality of their surrounding marine environment by allowing the many organisms within this environment to carry forth their every day behaviors that contribute to their survival and future evolution. In the many areas around the world that are suffering from coral bleaching, the loss of color in these natural spaces suggests a loss of ability for these spaces to provide for the evolution of the organisms in them, and thus the distress that is placed on the quality of these environments.

It’s also important to realize that almost nothing functions as well as it could when the parts of the system don’t think or act diversely and don’t represent different functions that ultimately allow the multidimensional system to perform. It’s not surprising that some connoisseurs of capitalism and exploitation neglect the importance of diversity in nature, just as they neglect the importance of diversity in people. However, it’s imperative to acknowledge and act upon the idea that diversity in function and in representation is essential to the progression of mankind. While we waste time debating if these marginalized groups — naturally and socially-constructed — of our world are important enough to care about, we are ignoring a slow obliteration that is curtailing the outcome of their future permanently. The expansion of diversified characteristics is inevitably beneficial for our health, the health of our environment and the health of our society. We shouldn’t choose to ignore our ability to acknowledge color in its many visual and metaphysical forms if we have the choice.

Kianna Marquez can be reached at kmarquez@umich.edu.

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