Flourishing

Ways to Create a Vision of Sustainability - 2

Times When We Were Flourishing.

When speaking of a sustainable lifestyle on a personal as well as a societal level, one descriptor that is used quite frequently is "flourishing." This seems very appropriate for a vision about sustainability. It helps open up the vision to what each of us believes would be conducive for our human fulfillment in a very deep way. What will truly lead to our wellbeing?

This does require us to let go of what society has convinced us to believe is important for our wellbeing. It requires us to let go of the constant messaging of commercial advertisements and of peer pressure. It requires us to extricate ourselves from the limitations of our current economic system and begin to explore other options.

My belief is that deep down, each of us knows what has brought us fulfillment and delight in the past. There are times that each of us remembers quite fondly when we were flourishing - with our family, friends, work associates or being out in Nature. We may have thought at the time, wouldn't it be wonderful if this is how all of life could be. Then we move on back to the world given to us, assuming that such a constant state is unattainable. The hope here is that such fulfillment may be more possible than we have believed.

An important step to creating a vision is to reflect back on those times when we were flourishing in the past. What was going on? What were we doing, what were others doing, how were we feeling, what support was being provided that enabled us to flourish? These are personal stories about the times when we were flourishing. This is an important part of a vision. It is something that could be built in and expanded upon.

While this is a particularly personal reflection, it can be shared with others. We often find important commonalities when we do share these reflections. We also gain respect for how each of us is unique.

Principles for Life in the 21st Century

Many people have been thinking about this recently - what it takes for us to flourish. People have been coming up with what I call "Principles" that describe what is needed for this flourishing. You may or may not feel that these apply for you. In the end, each of us needs to derive our own principles. However, I have found these helpful. Here are some of the principles that I have encountered in the writings of others.

  • Living well. Based on a happiness dependent not on possessions, but on harmony and generosity. A flowering of volunteerism and creativity. The deep, abiding happiness that comes from living life in full harmony with the natural world, with our communities and fellow beings, and with our culture and spiritual heritage - in short, from feeling totally connected with our world.
  • Cooperative behavior. Mutual altruism, feelings and empathy for people and other species.
  • Integrating development with growth. Invest optimally in strategies that promote both development and growth. Economic policy emphasis will shift from efficiency and quantitative growth (getting bigger faster) toward equity and qualitative development (getting truly better.) Development rather than growth may be more conducive to human happiness and welfare.
  • Renewed sense of community. Cooperative relationships, generosity and a sense of sufficiency.
  • Implementing an equity-oriented planned economic contraction. This will require that the underpinning values of society shift from competitive individualism, greed and narrow self-interest toward community, cooperation and our common interest in surviving with dignity.
  • Member economic participation. Members contribute equitably to and democratically control the capital of their cooperative enterprises.
  • Conserver values. A sustainable society will cultivate investment and conserver values over spending and consumption.
  • Maintaining effective organizational and societal learning to maximize the health of the whole system, not the wealth of a few people.
  • Be resource efficient (material and energy). Skillfully and conservatively take advantage of resources and opportunities.
  • Optimize rather than maximize.

There are many books that one can read and articles that can be found on the Internet that discuss what a flourishing life could be.

Achieving Prosperity

Tim Jackson in his book "Prosperity Without Growth" has the following to say on the topic of prosperity.

The biggest dilemma of our times is reconciling our aspirations for the good life with the limitations and constraints of a finite planet....Living well on a finite planet cannot simply be about consuming more and more stuff....The task of the economy is to deliver and to enable prosperity. But prosperity is not synonymous with material wealth and its requirements go beyond material sustenance.

Prosperity goes beyond material pleasures. It transcends material concerns. It resides in the quality of our lives and in the health and happiness of our families. It is present in the strength of our relationships and our trust in the community. It is evidenced by our satisfaction at work and our sense of shared meaning and purpose. It hangs on our potential to participate fully in the life of society.

In the end, we, individually and collectively, will arrive at our own sense of what a flourishing life of wellbeing could be.


Building a Successful Conversation Through Diversity

Whether engaged in a conversation about sustainability or developing a vision or plan, building diversity into our sustainability efforts is an important principle that will lead to success.

I take a broad view of diversity. It applies to the individual, the organization as well as the wider society. It includes demographic diversity, certainly. It also covers diversity of thought, perspectives, disciplines and the diverse realities that reflect each of our separate existences. It covers one additional important area that I will discuss here.

Applying Diversity to Individuals

How this principle is to be applied is the critical question. Diversity applies on an individual level. There are many different ways in which we approach the world, and they may sometimes appear to be in conflict. For example, there may be the part of us that likes structure and the part of us that may like things to be more free and easy. There is likely the part of each of us that wants to "do" and another part that is happy to just "be." There is the part of us that is a member of a capitalist, market economy and the part of us that may be quite tired of the consumerist culture. There is the part of us that firmly knows we must act to save the environment and the part of us that may be reluctant to make the necessary changes. You cannot divorce yourself from either one of these internal polarities or tensions. It may well be healthier for you to facilitate your own internal dialogue amongst them. Through such a process, all aspects of yourself will feel acknowledged and heard lessening defensiveness. A natural integration will result which will facilitate your awareness of what you truly need to flourish. You will be able to bring more of your full, rich self into your interactions with others.

Applying Diversity to Organizations, Society

The same is true with organizations and societies. They also have many different aspects to them some of which may appear to be in conflict with one another. We can facilitate a conversation amongst them and the people who hold them. As in the individual case, such a dialogue between seeming opposites is one way of enabling both to be acknowledged and heard. The human psyche will do its natural job of seeking integration both on an individual and organizational level. The result will be a healthier and more flourishing society.

We can helpfully build this diversity into our workshops, our conversations and our communities and facilitate the necessary interactions. To ensure each perspective is fully heard, listeners should try to see the world through the experiences of the person who is speaking. We should provide a safe space to support each in sharing their views.

Expanding Beyond Privileged Narratives

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There is, however, a trickier part. We may think that we have factored in a diversity of perspectives even while we are steadfastly following an historical story, narrative or discourse that has been with us for a long time. As a result, we end up privileging that discourse while ignoring other ones. These other ones represent different ways of learning, thinking and even being in the world.

Here are some examples that represent other ways of thinking and being in the world.

"First Nations people in western Canada see the forests of British Columbia as sacred spaces. People from a European background see them as resources to be used or developed even if for leisure. The giving of land back to First Nations people in Canada elicited the complaint that they do not "do" anything with it. The idea that sometimes the point is to "be" rather than to "do" seems to have proved very hard to communicate." (Cata, Myers, 2011).

"The indigenous people of the Amazon understand their world through a different sort of songline.  Indigenous people know how to "think" the forests, know that the paths through this wilderness are songs, the song that each plant has. Song makes a thread of light, a path of the mind; each song tells of one plant's relationship to other plants and not only differentiates one plant from another but distinguishes between the uses of for example, stem or leaf or root of the same plant. There is practical wisdom here but also psychological wisdom; you find your way and learn how to live unlost not through the wild forest but within it. The songlines harmonize people with environment. There is no divide." (Griffiths, 2009)

Joanna Macy in "The Greening of the Self," provides another example. She discusses the Chipko "tree-hugging" movement in north India where villagers protect their remaining woodlands from ax and bulldozer by interposing their bodies. One of her students comments,

"I think of the tree huggers hugging my trunk, blocking the chain saws with their bodies. I feel their fingers digging into my bark to stop the steel and let me breathe....I give thanks for your life and mine and for life itself."

Joanna comments in turn,

"What is striking about Michael's words is the shift in identification. Michael is able to extend his sense of self to encompass the self of the tree. (The) tree is no longer a removed, separate, disposable object pertaining to a world "out there," but intrinsic to his own vitality. Through the power of his caring, his experience of self is expanded far beyond that skin-encapsulated ego."

Each of these stories represents another perspective, a reality that may be quite different from our own.

In discussing the First Nations story, Cato and Myers comment:

"What is important here is the unsettling of a previously privileged discourse, an historical embedded discourse from a "civilized" culture of pioneers, conquerors and colonialists, who on initially encountering First Nations and indigenous Peoples' way of life considered it inferior and yet now value their wisdom as contributing to a different understanding of life and collective reality. In the context of the sustainability crisis, this awareness of an alternative perspective acquires added salience." (Cato, Myers, 2011)

 


Inviting Someone Into a Conversation on Climate Change

One of the key purposes of The Earth Project is to support people engaging in conversations with one another on topics that are important to them regarding Climate Change.

The hope is that in time these conversations will result in individual or collective visions of a future time when we will be flourishing in a de-carbonized world with substantially reduced unproductive waste. You can learn more about the options for such a world in this overall blog site and particularly in this specific blog post.

I would like to provide guidance in terms of how to invite others into a conversation and what initial question you could ask that would catalyze such a conversation. I will offer one idea here. However, I appreciate that there is a wealth of knowledge and experience out there with all of you. Each of you will approach this differently and we can all learn from each other.

How to invite someone into a conversation?

ME: I have been giving a great deal of thought to what is happening with our environment and the whole issue of climate change. It would be wonderful if I had someone to share these thoughts with and also to hear other perspectives and maybe even to come up with some ideas. Would you have some time to talk to me about this over a cup of coffee? I would like to hear your thoughts on this.

Starting the actual conversation.

ME: One issue that I think about a lot is how to transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy and how to do it quickly. I believe that we need to significantly reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere caused by fossil fuels. [ This is where you set out the issue and your opinion.]

ME: It seems that much of the technology is already in place to switch to solar or wind and it is now an issue of investing in building more of this equipment, creating the jobs to design and manufacture this equipment and offering government incentives to support installation. [This is where you set out your thinking, your rationale.]

ME: What do you think? [This is where you ask for the opinion of the other person.]

THE OTHER PERSON: [This is where the other person speaks and you listen courteously and carefully to what they have to say.]

Asking the other person.

ME: Is there a particular issue about Climate Change and the future that you worry about?

ME: [This is where the other person speaks and you listen courteously and carefully to what they have to say.]

Beginning to talk about a desirable future.

ME: I look forward to a time when I can walk outside every day and clearly see the mountains that surround me and smell air as fresh as being in the country. There is no longer soot and smoke from nearby coal-fired power plants or industrial waste being expelled into the air. I check the output from the solar panels on the roof and see that once again, we will have an electricity credit. We no longer receive electric bills and, in fact, some months we receive a credit from the electric company for electricity that we have generated. Traffic nearby moves quietly because all of the vehicles are electric. I feel more content knowing that with each day, the carbon footprint of our city and country and the world is becoming less.

THE OTHER PERSON: That is a wonderful vision. I would like to add to that.

MY QUESTION TO ALL OF YOU READING THIS POST:

  • How would you go about inviting someone into a conversation about climate change?
  • What question(s) would you use to start such a conversation?
  • What can you do be doing to ensure that this is a successful conversation?

Please submit your responses in the Comments section of this blog.

 


Toward A Story of Place

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Bioregionalism as a Story of Place

Bioregionalism is seen by a number of writers and practitioners in the field of sustainability as an important part of the solution to the current challenges facing our planet including Climate Change and injustice and inequity.

Bioregionalism is essentially a story of place - of how life anchored in a given place supports success, fulfillment and sustainability. It is the story of human beings living in harmony with the land and its various species.

A number of people such as the author Daniel Christian Wahl have offered definitions of bioregionalism which tend to revolve around the idea that a bioregion is a region defined by characteristics of the natural environment rather than by human-made divisions. These characteristics include: climate, soil, landforms, watershed, native plants and animals. They can include indigenous culture, local community knowledge, environmental history and geography. In a number of writings, Wahl provides these additional insights.

Bioregionalism is a comprehensive way of defining and understanding the place where we live with the aim to live in that place sustainably and respectfully - developing sustainable means to satisfy human needs - access to food water, energy, shelter, materials and education. It involves becoming fully alive in and with such a place.

Bioregionalism involves a sense of belonging to and having responsibility for a place - the region in which we live. It entails having an intimate knowledge of the natural cycles and ecological relationships that operate within it and a sensitivity to disturbances of the ecosystems in which we live. It constitutes a "terrain of consciousness" - about how to live in that place.

A sense of identity comes from our awareness of and knowledge of our immediate environment. This makes people assume responsibility for the place in which they live. This shared sense of belonging to a place strengthens and rebuilds communities. Human cultures develop in relation to the natural ecosystems in the site they inhabit.

The activities carried out in a bioregion are appropriate for maintaining the natural characteristics of the land. The region's economic activity and means of production are tailored to local materials and resources. Agriculture, manufacturing and construction industries need to be transformed to function within the limits of the carrying capacity of the bioregion.

A given bioregion can consist of many co-operating regional communities which are mutually dependent on each other for their existence. Though Bioregionalism acts locally, at the same time there is a connection to the planet by seeking to maintain an equitable, sustainable approach to the carrying capacity of the Earth's biosphere.

Epic Stories of Civilization

It has been said that the use of story is the main way that humans have made sense and communicated throughout their pre-literate and literate history. Many stories over history have been about place - about the communities, people, land and culture of place.

Among the most well-known stories in Western civilization are the Iliad and Odyssey - epic poems by Homer. It is now believed that these were originally recited by Homer in pre-literate times as oral stories (Eighth century, BCE) and then in a later period of history, they were written down.

In "The Formation of the Homeric Epics" by classics professor, Margalit Finkelberg, she discusses the unique role that these stories played in the creation of Greek civilization. She describes a period at the time of the fall of Mycenaean civilization when people were on the move throughout Asia Minor settling in what became the Greek city states. Though earlier epic poetry may have discussed the actual historical events causing the displacement of old populations and the aggregation of new populations, the Iliad and the Odyssey created a different explanatory story - a myth dealing with the ten year Trojan War and the siege of Troy.

In the Iliad, Greeks from many different places joined together in the common enterprise of the Trojan War to obtain the release of Helen, the wife of Menelaus, brother of Greek King Agamemnon held by the Trojans. Throughout the Odyssey, Greek hero Odysseus endeavors to return home from the Trojan War to his wife and son in Greece. These narrative epics gained privileged status in the hands of Homer and according to Professor Finkelberg in accord with the desires of the population to see themselves as one integrated society though initially made up of different languages, dialects and cultural histories.

According to Professor Finkelberg, "This resulted in the emergence of an image of the past shared by all the inhabitants of Iron Age Greece. Epic poetry became the main vehicle for spreading the new image all over the Greek world."

"In the hands of Homer, the story becomes about the establishment of usable ideological foundations for the present and the future. The Iliad and Odyssey provided Greek civilization with a new foundational myth that sustained its validity until the end of antiquity."

"The history of the Homeric poems is not just the history of a literary text but that of a literary text highly privileged in the civilization to which it belonged."

The Story of Earth

I have been wondering whether Earth has a story. Unlike the people in ancient Greece, we on this planet are not coming from many other places though certainly there are differences in language and culture among us. And, life on Earth is made up of many other species and other-than-human intelligences.

I wonder whether what we need at this point in our history on this planet is a story, an epic poem about life on this planet, just as each individual community or bioregion could have a story indigenous to that place.

What if we had a story that could help us to recognize our rich diversity among species along with a recognition of the commonality of life on this planet? A story that can move us to take greater responsibility for the welfare of each other within the human species and across species and within our planetary limits. A story that can motivate us to take action to respond to the Climate Crisis and the other challenges embodied in the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals. A story that can touch us on an individual level, in our communities, jobs, regions and as inhabitants on this planet.

The video at the end of this article may be the best we have as yet for an epic story of Earth.

Tell Your Story of the Land

Likely, few of us are epic poets though together we might be. However, we are all in a position to tell our story of the land and the communities who live on it. Each of us has our stories of living in place, in community, of hopefully beginning to live more sustainably.

Is there a bird near your house that you continuously notice? What color is it? What song does it sing? Does it have a mate, a nest, young ones chirping away? Are there cats in your neighborhood as in mine that have their daily habits? Do you interact with them, feed them? Do you concern yourself with their welfare?

Outside the town where I grew up in New Jersey, there were miles and miles of cornfields. I still remember the pleasant feeling of seeing them, of buying fresh corn from a farmer at a roadside stand.

I remember fondly the farmer's market in my town outside Boston and the joy of buying fresh vegetables and talking and eating ice cream with my neighbors. I recall the city sparrows who visited my back porch and listening to them chirp away in the early morning.

Where I now live in Haifa, Israel, when I get on a bus, I see secular Israelis in shorts, religious Jews in long black coats, Moslem women with headscarves and soldiers, school kids, elderly people. It is comforting to me to live in a city where all co-exist in our increasingly fragmented world.

So, tell your story. To your kids, parents, family members, friends, strangers. Ask them to tell theirs. Weave them together into your own little epic of life on the land, in community hopefully striving for some degree of harmony with all.

Video: An Epic Story of Earth.





Operationalizing a Bioregion

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How to "operationalize" a bioregional approach is an intriguing question to ask.

The response to this question starts from the premise that a bioregional approach is a framework - it is an orientation, a way of seeing things. In this regard, we can say that a bioregion aligns with the ecology of place. We can surmise that this is how Nature sees itself. This becomes the defining litmus test rather than saying that one is part of a city or a political region. It is not the politics that defines the existence of the region, but rather its own local ecology.

In taking this ecological perspective, we are asking the question what does it take for this bioregion to thrive as any ecosystem might thrive.

One "operational" step on this developmental pathway is to map the bioregion in which one exists. This will be in line with recognizing the multiple capitals of the bioregion and also to assess whether the bioregion being considered is congruent with any political, geographical jurisdictional lines which currently exist.

For the purposes of this, we can set out the multiple capitals with which the region is endowed:

  1. Financial capital
  2. Manufactured capital
  3. Human capital
  4. Social and relationship capital
  5. Intellectual capital
  6. Natural capital (renewable and non-renewable environmental resources)

Here we are asking the question: what are the different types of resources which endow the region. We are looking at the past, the present and the future potential.

Specifically, we can look at the plants indigenous to the region, the climate, the terrain of the land, the watershed, the animal life. We can look at the cycles of life that happen in this region: the length of seasons, the growth seasons of plants, the habits of animals (seasonal pollination activities of bees), the relationships among species, even the migratory habits of humans (is there a seasonal migrant work force). We are looking to have a deep ecological knowledge of the region.

We can look at the existence of renewable and non-renewable natural resources which includes minerals, rich soil, clean air and water.

We can look at the history of the people resident in the area. What traditions do they have, food they are noted for, well-known cultural attributes? Are they rich in historical skills, intellectual abilities, technical knowledge? The list can be a long one as each area of capital is explored and mapped. This is done on multiple scales: nano (individual), micro (enterprise), meso (portfolio) and macro (national) if applicable.

As part of this, we can ask questions about who are we as a community. What are our values, our vision for the future, our assets- both historical and current and our culture. Are we indigenous, homogeneous or diverse? Where are we on the path towards recognizing and articulating values and in developing a common culture?

Finally, one has to assess the carrying capacity of the bioregion from both a local and global perspective. (See: Kate Raworth, "Doughnut Economics") For example, what kinds of industry or agriculture will be within the carrying capacity of the region without having a negative impact on the surrounding elements of the environment? What will be the impact of activities within the region on the global carrying capacity? As part of this one must look at issues of equity within the bioregion and the impact in contributing to inequities on a global scale.

This type of mapping process helps to create attunement with the local ecology and also positions the residents of the bioregion to think about strategic actions that will enable the overall bioregion to thrive.