We are all sinners and saints in sustainability
If God created the universe in six days, and on the seventh day he rested, can God also fix the universe in a week, or less? Rhetorical questions and doomsday predictions aside, the 7 billion people occupying earth are all sinners and saints in global sustainability. As much as we don’t like to admit it, humans are an imperfect species, particularly in our relationship with the natural world. However, it is understood that the fate of the natural world and of our own are one in the same. The fundamental element of the universe (as “we” know it) is “people” and our ability to work together, or at odds with each other, toward a purpose-driven life and global society.
Being able to think beyond ourselves requires patience, humility, a strong capacity for listening and learning, and an ability to separate ego from our true “self.” Sustainability, then, is very much tied to spirituality, and how we choose to embrace, or not, our journey of self-discovery, enlightenment, and living life with sense of purpose. Understanding that spirituality goes beyond the practice of religion, and that we all are part of a generation living within a context of time and fate which is requiring more accountability from each of us, is a perspective toward how people can begin to embrace sustainability from personal point of view.
I have been a sinner, and I remain far from being a saint. However, I feel an obligation to live a life with a strong sense of purpose, passion, and balance. In doing so, I hope that my life will show more good deeds than bad in its final ledger. My personal passion is to help others find their role, as citizens and consumers, in creating a more sustainable world. While I may be passionate about sustainability, I am not naïve. For example I don’t believe that “sustainability” can ever be fully reached, in part because there is not one singular definition to what it is, and because our the needs of our generation are always in flux, changing as we age and mature throughout life.
Further, there are as many definitions of “sustainability” as there are people, 7 billion and counting! And for each of us, sustainability means something different, and manifests itself in our daily lives in unique ways. For example, who says and controls what sustainability is, or isn’t? For some people the gift of living another day is “sustainability.” For others, sustainability is a desired utopian state yet to be achieved. Whether it is a state of mind, an oasis in the sand, or a physical realization of perfection, sustainability can seem to be a far away land from where society now resides. The “Arab Spring,” “Occupy Movement,” and “London Riots” represent recent reflections within society of our distance from each other, and sustainability.
But, amid all of the chaos the “24-7” news cycle would like us to absorb, we should not be discouraged from trying to get there. As much as it may seem ludicrous to have God “clean up our messes,” it should be equally as absurd for our generation to push social, economic, and environmental challenges onto our children and future generations. Kicking the proverbial “can down the road” will only perpetuate the sinners in each of us. And, to succeed as a societal “norm,” sustainability cannot be dictated, mandated, or regulated.
Our generation should be grateful for the world we occupy and in its current state, with all its distorted warts, bumps, and bruises. Gratefulness is a lost virtue, and one that challenges our capacity to flourish in life. In gratefulness toward the world, we need to rediscover what it means to be selfless stewards of the earth, and friends to each other. At its core, sustainability is about how humans interface with each other and the natural world, and in a manner that has us consider not only our needs today, but it also challenges us think beyond ourselves toward the needs of future generations. That requires selflessness, gratefulness, and mindfulness. The act of working toward “sustainability” will require that each of us choose to be personally accountable to our individual lifestyles, and that we collaborate as conscious citizens and consumers, on achieving more of those “good deeds.”
In the past year there has been a great deal of focus in the U.S. and in Europe on the financial crisis, and the “fiscal cliff.” There is no doubt that the state of the global economy is in turmoil and our financial futures very uncertain. The financial markets have seen sinners and saints in the past decade. Sinners have laundered billions, ruined lives of many, and negatively impacted global economies. Saints have begun to redefine the object of money and wealth, and are creatively working on business models that can be a win-win for people’s pocketbooks and for the planet. But finance is but one aspect of the challenges before the world’s sinners and saints. If a fiscal crisis does not crush this generation’s sense of entitlement, a sustainability crisis will. For far too long, the consumption-driven model of developed nations has lived with a sense of entitlement over natural resources and the natural world. Given this one must ask, in doing so, we have created too much distance between what God created 4.6 billion years ago and what we consume during our “24-7” hectic lifestyles to fully appreciate the true value of life?
Our notion of success and what it means to be responsible stewards of the planet might not truly align with the “developed world” that has been created. We are no longer dreamers, doers, or creators. We are consumers first, and “fixers” of the holes we created from our consumptive lifestyle second. In this self-defeating model of evolution the holes we dig are only get wider and deeper, and our ability to “patch and fix” our troubles less plausible. This gets back to the fundamental element which driver our capacity to be sustainable: people. The common denominator to a more or less sustainable world is “you, me, and we.” We must relearn what it means to be grateful for a world of bounty and beauty. We must also recognize that there is richness to life, beyond what we consume, that can bring meaning and pleasure to us as individuals, and as an entire generation.
As individuals, we are the stewards of our own lifestyles. We have the power to make decisions that impact our health, spirituality, and sense of self. The equation for a more sustainable world is complex, and there is a certain amount of sinners and saints in each of us. The challenges impacting our generation mount as competition for the world’s energy, water, food, and other natural resources intensifies. Global competition is causing disruption and challenge in our economy, environment, and throughout society. As much as we should be grateful for the bounty and beauty of the world, we should equally be grateful for the life and wisdom of each other.
As individuals, and as a generation, we do not have to fall victim to negative behaviors and influences within society, or events which impact the world. “You, me, and we” are the “Sustainability Generation” living in the here and now, and that can take action toward a more civil, balanced, and accountable world. By discovering who we are as individuals, and being accountable in roles as parents, citizens, friends, neighbors, teachers, and leaders we can lead a purpose-driven, productive, and sustainable life. And, by better understanding our sense of self, and our views on spirituality, we can collectively become better stewards of our individual behaviors, our interactions with each other, and our generational impact on the earth. Let’s begin by being grateful that as individuals, and as an entire generation, we are lucky enough to continue to have the ability to have choices for our future. We should also recognize that we can deliberately choose the path of a sinner, or that of a saint, in our gift of life.
(Mark Coleman is the author of the book “The Sustainability Generation: The Politics of Change and Why Personal Accountability is Essential NOW!” Visit his website here: www.thesustainabilitygeneration.com. Throughout his career Mark Coleman has developed a strong focus on the critical areas of energy, environment, and sustainability. His career has spanned strategic and leadership positions in government, applied research, technology development, and management consulting organizations. This rich and diverse experience has enabled Mr. Coleman to have access to, engage, and work with a broad range of regional, national, and international leaders on the subject of sustainability. Mr. Coleman resides in Auburn, NY with his wife Aileen and two sons Owen and Neal.)
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