I completely believe in “the power of intention to spark evolutionary change,” as my colleague Nancy Southern so eloquently expressed it.
As human beings, we have the capacity to envision a different future and to commit to actions that will turn that vision into a new reality. That’s the power of systems design: the power of coming together to dream and learn, to empower ourselves, to collaborate and transform our realities.
In the sustainability field, we face the challenge of extreme complexity and gloom scenarios. We hear mainly bad news: scarcity and decline. It is extremely easy for people to feel overwhelmed or depressed. We find ourselves living in fear and fear inhibits the creative response required.
My work in the sustainability field has been focused on developing individual and collective capacities for this creative response. Systems thinking, collaborative learning and dialogue, leadership and communication skills, ecological literacy and design competencies are some of the practices that empower groups to work effectively on socio-ecological issues. However, there are some subtle distinctions that I have learned to appreciate. There is a difference between making things happen and allowing something to emerge. The first is a more “technical” approach. The second a more “co-creative” one.
Is sustainability something to build or a garden to cultivate? A destination to reach or a path to dance? Here are some of my reflections to move in this direction.
From thinking to being
Thinking is good. We need more critical, creative, and systemic thinking. We need to engage our whole brain to deal with complexity. But thinking is just the beginning. Unless we are able to feel and live in new ways, we won’t be able to manifest new realities.
From intellectual knowing to multiple ways of knowing
Since the scientific revolution, we have placed Cartesian knowledge above other forms of making sense of our human experience. I think we are at a point in our evolutionary development when we are ready to integrate some of the wisdom that we lost. We need to learn from equations and poetry; scientists and spiritual leaders; industrialized and indigenous cultures; men and women; peoples of all colors, shapes and orientations; children and elders; our ancestors and the unborn generations; and from our connection with the land and the stars. Our history has provided us with all the knowledge we need to create our future. It is time to harvest the lessons and to put them into practice.
From words to emotions
I am passionate about dialogue and have experienced its transformative power many times. A learning conversation is a form of action. This is true when we engage with each other beyond words and concepts; when we listen with the heart and not only with the ears. If we are trying to inform and educate, if we are trying to connect and engage multiple stakeholders in our efforts, we need to make sure we communicate care, humility, and compassion, even if we don’t mention these words. And we need to make sure we deeply listed and consider their own cares and concerns.
From “me” to “we"
There’s a lot of lip service concerning collaboration when, in reality, we are still functioning in individualistic ways. There are thousands of organizations around the world working on water issues, but most of them remain as isolated efforts. Even though we are starting to become more aware, and even understand, that we are deeply interconnected, our actions don’t reflect this fact yet. It’s time to truly come together and to intentionally create synergies. If there is one global solution to the sustainability challenges, it’s a solution that includes us all—all living beings on this planet.