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Why do we need to change?
The vision and value system of modern society with its ideas of progress, liberty and individualism has given rise to unprecedented wealth, freedom and technological innovation. Machines are crossing the sky and traversing the oceans. Organisations are spanning the globe. Families accumulate more wealth than previous kings and pharaos. Cities have buildings touching the sky, inhabited by an ever larger, ever more well-nourished, educated and healthy populace.
On the surface, this society appears like a wonder of evolution, unimagined for a species that lived in bands of hunters and gatherers for hundreds of thousands of years. Yet, our civilization exhibits dysfunctionalities which threaten not only its own existence, but that of all life on earth. Wealth is distributed unequally, and accumulated on the sweat, tear and suffering of fellow human beings. Weapons are so powerful that they can annihilate whole countries in a second. The atmosphere is threatened by gases altering its very composition. Individuals, families, communities and countries are torn apart, as they cannot cope with the increasing speed and complexity of an accelerating world.
We have reached a new era in evolutionary history. A single species came to change the chemical compositions of oceans, and the atmosphere, combine and alter the genetic codes of other species, as well as discover and populate almost every single corner of this planet, so that there is no more place to hide.
The central question of our times: How can we maintain what this civilization has accomplished, while at the same time change our path to end the suffering that our very way of life brings about for fellow human beings, other species and this planet?
What needs to change?
We at rootAbility believe that the changes we need to make to stop the suffering and heal the wounds require a deep transformation. Given the planetary scale of our socio-environmental problems, technical fixes, and short-term solutions will not suffice. As part of this transformation we need to replant cleared forests, refresh depleted soil, dismantle fossil fuel subsidies, find new homes for climate refugees, stabilize our economies and populations, and develop renewable energy systems.
Yet, as the very essence of this deep transformation we need to create policies, organisations, communities, beliefs, technologies, values and relationships that are inspired by a different consciousness. The consciousness that modernity, liberalism, industrialisation and individualism brought about sees culture as different from nature, the self as separate from the other and the mind as dominant to the heart.
This allows us to plunder and pillage the earth, to dominate and rule each other, and to shut off our spiritual and emotional senses. Disconnection, separation, and scientific reductionism have served this civilization to achieve a lot. Yet they are insufficient to allow us to deal with the complexity, interdependence and speed of our planetary species, and the crisis and suffering that our way of life brings about.
Systems thinking, ancient traditions and Eastern philosophies show us that a different consciousness is possible. This consciousness moves away from separation between humans and nature, self and others, mind and body towards a deep realisation that everything and everyone is interconnected and interdependent. All the harm done to others is harm done to ourselves.
To bring about the deep transformation of our socio-economic systems, we have to overcome worldviews, values and beliefs that are based on the ideas of separation, and foster universal compassion and empathy to realise our inter-being with the universe.
What then is sustainability?
Sustainability is the outcome of this change in consciousness. It is not a fixed state, but a process. It is constantly debated, questioned and reproduced. We at rootAbilty see sustainability as the social and economic structures, ways of life and state of mind that breathe this new interconnectivity between all life that exists on this planet, the humans who are part of our big family and the wholeness of mind, body and spirit.
This consciousness would inspire for instance, an economic system that co-exists within planetary boundaries, decision making that takes into consideration the interests of future generations, inclusive and open societies that welcome diversity and support the weak, education systems which nurture the spiritual, emotional and cognitive capacities of children.
It is a civilization that operates at a higher level of complexity, re-defining its role on this planet and within the universe. It combines the old with the new: The positive achievements of modernity, industrialisation, liberalism and individualism with the values, technologies, policies and beliefs brought forward by the frustration about the dysfunctionalities of our way of life, and the need to achieve a higher state of consciousness.
Where do we see change happening?
The good news is that the seeds of this new civilization are planted and nourished everyday and everywhere. They have survived in ancient traditions, philosophical teachings and indigenous cultures who have flourished on this planet since millennia. People and initiatives in our civilization are rediscovering this wisdom. They experiment with this consciousness, bringing forth organisations, communities and technologies that transcend the dysfunctionalities of the industrial growth society.
They are people who:
- Act courageously in defence of life on earth, saving refugees on high seas, blocking coal mines, or protesting against exploitative trade agreements.
- Translate between the old structures and the new solutions that are emerging, working in corporations to advance cradle to cradle products, submitting policy proposals to committees to ban toxic agricultural pesticides, or installing solar cells on roofs of universities.
- Build resilience within people, cities and societies to cope with the dysfunctionalities of our times, adapting coastal cities to rising sea levels, strengthening agriculture against rising heat waves and helping communities welcome climate refugees.
How do we help these existing seeds to flourish, and enable more people to plant their seeds? The answer to this question depends on how we see that systems change.
How do we change?
We believe that we need changes on multiple levels, within individual consciousness, organisational values and societal beliefs and structures. Change across these levels is necessary in order to achieve systemic shifts. We experienced in ourselves, our own organisation and the work with others that these change processes exhibit similar elements. These elements do not follow necessarily a linear process, but overlap and intertwine.
Tuning into your calling.
When people, organisations and societies strengthen their compassion and empathy, they tune and listen into the suffering of the earth, their fellow human beings and even themselves. People and species suffering from environmental degradation, economic exploitation and social exclusion constantly send out calls for help and assistance. The question is whether we can be sensitive and open enough to hear them. Once we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and empathetically listen to the calls of the world, we feel that their suffering is our suffering, and we become aware of how our actions contribute to their suffering. We say: “I want to stop being part of the problem and join the people working on solutions.” But how does our contribution look like?
Crafting a powerful and meaningful response.
To which calls of the world do we want to respond? What is it in our power that we can and want to start doing? What have we been uniquely called to do in this world? Do we want to engage in actions to defend life, give birth to new solutions, foster existing solutions or help translate them? This situation raises a lot of questions for people, organisations and societies. We need to make sense of what is happening around us and what we can and should do about it. We craft a vision for change, and discover our purpose in this universe.
Discovering and developing abilities.
Once a response has been found, the challenge remains to discover and develop the required abilities for action. Abilities can include the knowledge, skills, networks, learning mindset and structure that an organisation needs to support a team of intrapreneurs to instigate a sustainability process, or that an individual requires to move out of a corporate job and start or join a social business.
Learning through action and reflection.
Action is a process. It helps us to specify the responses we are called to make. Through action we discover knowledge that we already have and learnt along the way, and we see what skills we still need. Once we enact our response it is important to continuously reflect about it: Action without reflection is blind activism, and reflection without action is powerless theory. The yin and yang of action and reflection helps people, organisations and societies to learn and improve, to stimulate change and engage with conflict gracefully, to mature our responses and answer to the calls of the world more adequately.
Institutionalising change processes.
People and initiatives engage and experiment with their responses in networks and communities at the margins of dominant socio-economic structures and political systems. They become islands in a larger sea of suffering, while the industrial growth society continues to expand and accelerate. To transform systems, we need to institutionalise solutions, by translating the lessons learnt, visions and solutions between the new and the old. This requires that we build structures that can sustain and scale change processes within people, organisations and societies to break up existing institutions and create new ones.