Sustainability is a really popular topic these days. I think because it’s so common-place we take it for granted that everyone knows what we’re talking about. At the most basic levels, sustainability is pretty simple but in this short piece I’ll share some ideas about getting to deeper layers of sustainability – connection and community.
I have been thinking about community and about sutainability for a long time. There are a few things that should help give some idea about why I’m writing this piece. I’ve worked in public health since the mid-80’s, largely because it’s a field in which I can address social justice issues. Within the context of public health, much of my work - and passion - has been in building collaborative approaches to address social needs. I’ve been a local public health director in rural North Carolina, USA, put together systems for people living with developmental disabilities in New Mexico, and now work for an AIDS service organization in Durham, NC. I live in the Pacifica Co-Housing community in Carrboro, NC (www.coho-nc.org/pacifica) with my wife, Moksha, and two of my three daughters (Corie - 22, Lillie – 17, Imani -14). I am a dedicated co-counselor, an avid cyclist, and I am also concerned about the future of our world.
These days, most people think about sustainability in terms of ecology and the environment. Many of us, in fact more and more as time goes on, do this by recycling such items as paper, plastics, glass, and aluminum; reducing our consumption of water, fuels, packaging and the like, ; and reducing our reliance on fossil fuels through such strategies as using energy efficient vehicles, carpools, and tele-commuting. These are individual choices that anyone who is interested can make with adequate education and resources. I in no way wish to minimize the importance of these actions, as all of this is vitally important, but I want to think of sustainability on a still deeper level – connection and community.
I think we all know connection when we see it, or more likely when we feel it. It is that sense of knowing, understanding, and belonging. Think of what you often see in the open eyes and face of a newborn - reaching, seeking, knowing. We were all born with that connection. It is part of inherent human nature. It is our connectedness that contradicts any feelings we may have of isolation, terror, hurt, or anger. However, it is hard for me to imagine that if we felt truly connected we could continue some of our current practices – racism, sexism, violence, war. Would policies that degrade the environment continue if we felt connected to the earth? Would policies that support profit over people continue if we felt more connected with one another? It’s hard for me to believe that anyone could continue such practices as human trafficking or slavery if we were truly connected in this way.
I really believe that we can be connected with people and with the environment. My connection with the environment gives me “juice” for caring for it. By connecting with nature, we develop compassion and understanding. Perhaps this connection to the environment is where some of our most well-known ecologists, such as Andrew Muir and Henry David Thoreau, got their inspiration. How would your life change if you made time to be in - to truly connect with - nature every day? Do you think any of your personal behaviors and habits might change?
More than anything else, perhaps, we long for deep connections with other people – family, friends, neighbors. Other humans are the most interesting things we can find; not necessarily the easiest or the most comfortable, but certainly the most interesting. Connection with another human being - another human mind – is precious. Our problem would appear to be that we have learned to forget, or perhaps to not be able to notice, when and where these connections exist. Anything other than connection is simply old distress recordings working to keep us separate. We are stronger when we’re connected. When we’re connected, we’re not as easy to manipulate – to fall prey to advertising and marketing, to over-consume, to over-work.
This leads us back to sustainability. Yes, all the little - (and big- things we do as individuals and organizations that care for the environment are critical. They’re essential. They’re needed to support the long-term needs of the earth. However, on a deeper level it is our connections with each other and with the environment that will build true sustainability – sustainable communities.
The following are some ideas that I feel might be helpful in this regard:
• Develop close connected relationships with your friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers.
• Understand how you contribute to the larger economic system, including the consumption of resources.
• Care about everyone and everything.
• Have a vision – whatever it is. Develop it. Talk about it. Share it. Hold onto it. Work towards it.
• Have fun. It just ain’t gonna work if it ain’t fun.
Thanks for reading.
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