From Ego to Eco: A joyous and uplifting journey
Every day we hear more about the dire situation our unthinking treatment of our planetary home is causing. It is profoundly depressing. Then we hear that to fix it we will have to give up so much of what we take for granted and have been told we need and deserve. This adds another layer of anger, despair, and hopelessness. The only way out of it is a painful struggle! This is an unattractive prospect.
I want to challenge this narrative. Perhaps the way to a sustainable future where we live in harmony with nature and each other could be joyous and fun. Perhaps learning to live together on a small planet will enrich us all. Let’s choose to find a way that uses and brings out the best in ourselves and each other. We can do it. We know how to on a small scale. Let’s find out what is working and see and how to do more of it joyfully.
My thoughts on some simple scalable practical actions follow.
We all know that if you talk to someone who is present and listening you think and feel better. This is the basis of all coaching, counselling, mentoring, and therapy. It works very well when two people take turns. As we do more of this, we solve our immediate worries and start to think about the bigger picture. We also act to make our world a better place.
This simple process is infinitely scalable. Anyone who can listen can do it. When people are listened to well, they want to listen to others. This is a good virus. It deserves spreading.
It’s easy to test. Just ask a friend or colleague if they would like a good listening to and listen as though there is nothing you would rather do. Great things will happen. Then say you would like a turn.
Mutual listening like this is enjoyable and rewarding. You will get closer to each other and understand each other’s worlds. You will both become inspired to act and learn.
This is even more enlightening and consequential when the person you are listening to is different from you. Once you have got to know one person well from a different group, you can never again stereotype that group.
I have the privilege of listening to people in five African countries. Their kindness and wisdom are an utter revelation.
Short video of two people taking turns listening.
One of our core qualities as humans is boundless imagination. We want to build the positive images we create. There is an “Imagine” movement, starting with “Imagine Chicago” where people across a community have conversations about what is good and great about their community and how it can be better. Because the conversations make people feel good, they have the confidence to make things better. The “Imagine Chicago” movement is generating positive and transformative initiatives across the city.
This idea is also infinitely scalable. It’s easy to “Imagine” a village, a town, a region, a country or even “Imagine Earth”. “Imagine Earth” will have people from across the globe talking to each other about what is good and great about our shared home, how they would like it to be and what they will do individually and together to make it so.
I know this sounds idealistic, but it’s easy to test. How about contacting someone in your network who is different from you? She or he might do different work, have a different world view or politics, or live in a different country or all of these.
Just ask questions and listen “What do you love about planet Earth?”, “If you were revisiting planet Earth in 100 years-time and thought, this is amazing, it’s what I had always dreamed the world would be like, what would be happening?” “How would you feel?” “What is one thing, however small, that you will do this week to move it in the direction you want?” “How would you feel if you knew you had made a positive difference?”
These conversations work even better if you share the results in a small group. Then people support and encourage each other. It is counter-cultural and feels scary to take power and responsibility. It can also be enormous fun if we do things together and don’t take ourselves too seriously. Many small actions can and will make a positive difference. The present state of things is also the result of billions of small actions.
Short video of three different people having a go.
One thing is certain. We are not alone in seeing that we need to work together for the good of ourselves and the fellow inhabitants of our home. According to Paul Hawken in “Blessed Unrest,” there are at least two million organisations (Note organisations, not individuals) worldwide with similar or compatible aims. Although collectively this is “The biggest movement the world is unaware of” it is not yet joined up.
Many years ago, I ran a Networking the Networks event in London. People from thirty developmental networks met to connect, listen to each other, cooperate, and learn. We discovered our common purpose was “Creating Transformation”.
We could replicate this online or face to face in communities. It could lead to joint projects and effective action.
As well as networking organisations, networking individuals with common interests in positive change is possible. How about building or joining a networking organisation that is searchable by skills or interests? Then it would be easy to find people to work with creatively.
This could be online and worldwide but local networks in a community would help a lot. When the people in a community, even a small one, work together their joint abilities, contacts and skills can create significant change and have.
This is also infinitely scalable.
We can do much more connecting informally. It’s fun doing random acts of listening where you connect with strangers to understand their worlds from their point of view. It helps you appreciate the richness of the people around you (and your prejudices).
Let’s also have more conversations about what sort of world people want. What do we want our great-great-grandchildren to inherit? I have done this, and I sense there is agreement on a just, sustainable, and peaceful world. If this is so, let’s think together and about what we need to do to get there and challenge each other to do it.
This is testable too. Just do it. You have my permission!
Any formal structure for organising a worldwide change effort risks wasting energy by political infighting or protecting itself from attacks. Managing the structure will use more energy than delivering the outcomes, So, what is the absolute minimum necessary?
I don’t think we need a structure. What we can do is to bring people together. Let’s bring together people of goodwill who make things good happen whether organised or not. We can create a space (virtual or physical) where those people can talk to each other support each other and work out what to do to make our world a better place.
They/we may use the ideas in this note, they may use others. That’s fine.
Let’s have lots of these. Light many fires. Some people think they have a vested interest in keeping our failing system. They won’t be able to keep out the light.
This idea is also infinitely scalable and easy to test. All we need is two or three positive people who we would love to spend time with, create a space, light the blue touch paper, and stand well back. This could be FUN (which is where we came in)
Shoot a short video of three people connecting deeply and deciding to act powerfully.
To “fulfil” means “to bring into effect”. It’s lovely to do this when the whole experience is enjoyable. There is almost nothing more enjoyable than doing great work together.
Bill, a colleague in the lab where we were graduate students had just moved into a brand-new house. The garden was a complete mess, full of debris and half-bricks. He invited eighteen friends to a garden(ing) party. They brought their spades and forks and on a hard-working and sweaty day, they landscaped the garden. They then had a bit of a celebration.
Bill glowed as he told me about how much fun and satisfaction everyone had had. It seems perfectly possible and reasonable that we would have just as much fulfilment and happiness working together to restore our world.
We can all start this locally in a small way. It requires a decision. We don’t need anyone’s permission.
A video of helping someone decide to act (deciding is usually the difficult step!)
Change can be joyful. It does not have to be a struggle. If you ask people to tell stories about when they have been happy, they almost always are about experiences that cost little. Sharing happy stories also makes you happy.
Even more remarkably, when people tell stories about when they have made someone else happy, their energy and enthusiasm rocket. It looks like the simplest way to be happy is to make someone else happy. You can do this with a smile or being appreciative or just listening.
We can spread this practice of sharing happy stories without limit. When people know they can be happy without needing even more stuff, the excessive demand that drives climate change will fall.
This will reduce the need for “work” which will, at last, increase the amount of discretionary time to look after each other and the planet and live and learn.
Video of people sharing stories of when they were happy and when they made someone else happy.
Hope and Appreciation
The potential and actual environmental problems we face are real and daunting. It would be easy to despair and give up. “Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.” This is a choice anyone can make. I prefer the opposite hopeful choice. Arthur Johnston, a wise Organisation Development professional in ICI, once said to me at the height of the Cold War “I don’t know whether we will survive or not, but whatever happens I want to be found doing my duty!”
We can all do something. One of the simplest things is to catch people doing things right. Simple appreciation is powerful and costs nothing. Suppose we see someone picking up litter in our street. Saying, “Thanks for looking after our street and the planet we all live on”, will encourage that person to do more. Appreciation of good things grows good things and spreads.
We have a choice. Let’s choose hope. Let’s choose to make a difference. If not us, who?
If enough of us do these simple things, we will stop thinking that moving from ego to eco and solving the climate crisis is something we “ought” to do. Instead, it will be rewarding and joyous doing these both individually and together.
The “hard” things like conscious consumption and effective campaigning will turn out to be not so difficult after all.
Hope and Appreciation