Posted by: Thomas C. Esakin | June 28, 2009

Sustainable Development and Interconnexions

Sustainable Development and Interconnexions

Albert Einstein said:

A human being is part of a whole, called by us the “Universe”, a part limited in time and space.  He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest – a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness.  This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us.  Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison…to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.  (1954 cited Rinpoche, Sogyal 1994. The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. San Francisco, USA:  HarperCollinsPublishers, Inc., p. 103.)

I recently facilitated a workshop on Leading for Sustainability, one held for interested faculty and administrative staff of a large post-secondary College in Ontario. 

A key part of this particular workshop I occasionally give is to explain in some detail how Sustainability directly impacts the thinking patterns of human beings.  For SD is akin to creating a revolution in thought, as it requires humans to try and understand a variety of interconnexions affecting human and other life that, heretofore, we humans have not been required to make.  In another sense SD offers mental gymnastics for our minds, for it causes us to stretch our minds from the familiarly known to new places unknown and even unimagined.

Does this sound like Gobbledygook to you?  If so….Good!  Then we are already stretching your mind for Sustainable Development.

As you know by now if you are a follower of my blog, SD requires humans to make interconnexions between social, economic and environmental segments of human and other life on Earth.  Why? For “Hishuk ish tsawalk”, or Everything is one and all is interconnected”, as goes an age-old expression of the Nuu-chuh-nulth First Nations, who have inhabited the west coast of Vancouver Island, Canada since time immemorial.  (You can explore the history and rich culture of the Nuu-chah-nulth Peoples through their cultural web-site, available at: ).

SD calls on human beings to (re)-learn to make interconnexions, because we have now taught ourselves to see a surface separation on Earth instead of realising Earth’s hidden connectivity.  This separation that humans perceive on Earth – whether between the economic or environmental or social, or between things such as the political or sciences or cities or countries or nations or continents or colour or species, etcetera– is generally understood by SD to be a surface perception of a much deeper reality.  For in actuality —– now let’s collectively S-T-R-E-T-C-H our minds here —– there is only One – one Earth:  a single planet that solely unites diverse life forms and various eco-systems all within a solitary shared home. 

With the advent of SD, we human beings ourselves have purposely chosen to only separate Earth’s one connectedness in to a mere three separate parts called the social, environmental, and economic.  So with thanks to Sustainable Development and its three equal separations, humans are now much nearer to seeing Earth’s connected oneness: closer than we were before the recent time when SD materialised as a new scientific concept (but one based on borrowed ancient wisdom, such as that of the Nuu-chah-nulth People’s).

So does SD with its interconnexions now sound simpler to you?

It should.  However, when trying to put it in to practice, SD has been anything but simple.  This has been due in large measure to how human minds, at least in so-called Western cultures, have been increasingly trained to separate out life instead of making common connexions within our world.  For from kindergarten upward through the highest levels of post-secondary education, we people of Western cultures are taught to narrow our views and interests through something called specialisation.  And through this process of specialisation – especially beneficial, as it is, to our current free-market economic model (note that interconnexion!)- we Westerners have willingly yet unconsciously put on mental blinders that only serve to generally narrow our vision to our chosen specialties and then to little else. 

Thus, our formal systems of education in the West have become a part of our problem in trying to achieve Sustainability.  For while our formal education systems might “theorise” about Sustainable Development, the means that these same systems use to educate us humans do then themselves, in “practice”, move human minds in the opposite direction from seeing the holistic interconnexions called for by SD. Specialisation has seemed to cause human minds to limit their vision of focus toward a narrow depth, instead of expanding our minds to see the broader interconnexions realised by SD.

As one of the participants at my recent workshop said to me after it had finished: it is difficult enough to get academics to agree to work together in general, let alone to have them more specifically work together in the pursuit of Sustainability.  And why?  The specialisations that academics often become help blind them to (and then bind them from) seeing the broader picture of life.

Donnella Meadows speaks to the underpinnings of this effect in her last book, “Thinking in Systems”, which was published posthumously:

Once you start listing the elements of a system, there is almost no end to the process.  You can divide elements into sub-elements and then sub-sub-elements.  Pretty soon you lose sight of the system.  As the saying goes, you can’t see the forest for the trees.  Before going too far in that direction, it’s a good idea to stop dissecting out elements and to start looking for the interconnections, the relationships that hold the elements together. (2008, White River Junction, VT, USA:  Chelsea Green Publishing Company; p.13).

This common practice of human minds “separating” things may explain why economists and business persons continue to operate under an antiquated economic model premised on a belief in an unlimited growth; a belief which the scientific school of physics and its related laws say is impossible.  Or why scientists working for prominent multi-national corporations can play with the genetic code of flora that has naturally-evolved over millennia (such as maize), all the while also truly believing that that they do so in both isolation and without possible consequences to the broader environment.  Or how since the Industrial Revolution humans have continued to pump and dump pollutants in to Earth’s one common environment and believe they can do so without impunity. And almost, ad nauseam, you can make your own various interconnexions to add to this list. 

So Sustainable Development encourages us human beings to search out obvious and non-obvious interconnexions between each of SD’s three separations.  By our doing so, we can then make the connexions needed to better help humanity and other life on Earth both survive and thrive.  This would include our finally connecting physics (the environment) to economics and society, so humans can then be in a better position to develop a new economic model that reflects the breadth and depth of current scientific understandings. 

Interconnexions are available for each of us to make at most countless moments throughout our daily lives.  Making interconnexions can actually become a fun thing to do, once you get the easy hang of it.  For example: you might connect your considered mood at the time when you wake up in the morning to later personal behavior you exhibit during the same day.  Or connect humans’ ongoing (usually unconscious) thought processes to our later actions and words.  Or connecting many of the things we buy as consumers to the social influences that can subtly (or not-so subtly) encourage us to buy any given item.  You might wonder if there is a connexion between a daily newspaper’s focus on “negative news” and how humans today have come to perceive the idea of news.  Or maybe connect the increasingly lower turnout of voters in many Western countries to various aspects of the democratic political system that may have become dated and, thus, unrepresentative of the political needs of our current time (or otherwise stated, connecting the effects of time on the efficacy or appropriateness of our current political systems).  Possibly your reason for not bicycling or taking public transit to work (and thereby your doing a greater part to help the environment) is connected to social stigmas related to modes of transportation.  Or maybe you can easily connect trees and bushes to both fresher air in your neighbourhood and also to a greater abundance of local birdlife.  Etcetera.

Interconnexions impact us and our lives in so many ways, most of which we don’t even know about and so we don’t even take the time to reflect upon them.  Sustainable Development calls on each of us to consciously reflect on any of those near countless interconnexions humans encounter throughout their days, but as perceived through each of an environmental, social and economic lens.  By our doing so, we can quickly become surprised at what we discover.  And our surprise might motivate us to want to learn about how we can become more aware of interconnexions on a continual basis. This way, we can then place ourselves in a stronger position of personal understanding.  Then, in turn, this will help us humans make better decisions for ourselves and other life on Earth.

As always, your thoughts are welcome on this blog-spot or any other matter related to Sustainable Development.



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