I am in the middle of a turmoil and I am much closer to being that agent of change I want to be. Many contradictory ideas, concepts and challenges all happening in parallel. I could not have imagined that in 2017 a new enemy has appeared in world politics, #Intolerance. But this just proves that there is only one thing that does not stop changing: Change itself!
This is supposed to be one the last blogs for my Master’s in Sustainability Leadership. Here, I should reflect on my leadership journey. Looking retrospectively, I had three objectives:
- Being able to produce a contribution and integrate International Relations and Sustainability, including my professional experience, both to academics and practitioners.
- Becoming more knowledgeable about sustainability challenges, find a passion, learn about it, master it, act! And if I could find the link with my current work, and I could help drive that change. Wonderful!
- #Inside Value: Find a way of self-reflection, more an introspective exercise to understand where we are, and motivate a normal citizen, a relative, other professionals, a friend, a guy from the bakery, to embed sustainability into the lives.
These objectives are very challenging and ambitious. Surprisingly, the first two are coming together, I feel all my ideas are materializing. Usually, an academic is looking for argumentation and a practitioner is looking for a logical and beneficial analysis. These skills can be mastered because you can build a solid backup built upon facts, theory and analytical thinking. However, the third objective is the hardest and most difficult to achieve.
Let’s try to be really ironic with this exercise:
The six Principles of the ‘me’ and ‘me’ exercise:
If you think and practise the following instructions precisely, I assure you that you will be a successful individual and it is quite likely you will be rewarded at some point in life:
- If you work, study hard and dream big, you will always be rewarded and you will have a lot of money. #Tip: And if you don’t have money to dream big, no worries, just ask for a loan—because you will be rewarded with money anyway.
- If someone doesn’t work hard or study hard, this person totally deserves to be below you. #Tip: This person is definitely lazy and should be held accountable for their mistakes. It is not conceivable that they didn’t think as logically as you. Why on earth?
- No matter if you are rich or poor, it is better to feel empathy and support the rich. #Tip: If you keep dreaming you can be one of this 1%! Because poor people are lazy, don’t empathize too much and don’t be on their side. If you feel bad, alms or charity will make you feel better.
- Everything you need to be happy is somehow linked to money. #Tip: Food, entertainment, shopping. Why go to a natural park if there are thematic parks? Not yet there with your dream house with a swimming pool? No worries, a mortgage for the rest for your life might be the solution.
- Things and goods are created by industry machines and sold in shops. #Tip: The cheaper you bet, the better for you. Isn’t it a nice feeling to know that you bargained with the seller?
- You need to do cool individual actions to be ‘greener’. #Tip: for example, get your super-affordable 6 USD coffee from Fairtrade or even better, become vegan and tell everybody. You can recycle and decorate your house with green stuff.
#Guiltiness, the other side of the coin
How did you feel about it? Probably you practised or thought once about one of the above. Did this make you feel bad? Well, this is life and this is the system we are part of …
The points above, of course, are my very sarcastic representation of some of the values I see in society. I felt guilty sometimes because some of my personal choices or lifestyles were not the best ones and sometimes I see myself reflected in one of the six principles because I like a certain level of comfort, because I enjoy a steak every now and then. Endless reasons that make me feel I am not doing enough.
But a few days ago, while reading a very interesting book, I came to a realization, the problem is not only the bad practices but this exacerbated and irrational individual responsibility that comes onto our shoulders. Systems have worked hard to put the responsibility onto individuals so governments and companies have more flexibility to operate freely. This is another possible blog article about how policies from Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher accelerated this individualism to be what we are today, lonely human beings under pressure and obliged to master the art of being successful while living in an artificial world of material and created needs that help a very small group to get richer and richer.
#How to embed sustainability, how to bring your uncle on board!
We are in the middle of so many prejudices that it is hard to convey an idea that is linked to lifestyles or beliefs. We all see the world through our lenses, and we are the only ones who define them. And this is the biggest challenge for social scientists and sustainability practitioners; whereas it is harder to feel opinionated about open-heart surgery or the development of a computer algorithm, it is so easy to become an expert on national and world politics, migration, sociology and of course sustainability. It is great that we are all involved, that is why they are called ‘Social’ Sciences and we should embrace that.
The challenge comes when prejudices are assumed as given, and opinions become unbreakable rules. And this is a very dangerous space because usually prejudices are the beginning of the emotional realm and you wouldn’t like to enter into a fight with your uncle because he had a very ‘healthy’ lifestyle embracing the six principles and you don’t want to follow his example.
Well, after several years working on sustainability, I realize that the hard push of these hypothetical six principles makes people feel guilty and this creates a bigger boundary to embedding sustainability. So, we must be smarter, we are not preaching as prophets and we are not outside the problem, we were just given the chance to see it a little bit earlier.
#The-everyday-challenge: A better version of yourself
#InsideValue was my attempt to discover what we need to dismiss and what we need to bring to the future. And certainly, I came to the realization that those are an aggregate of individual choices that also are linked to systems and institutions. The starting point? Ourselves, we must stop feeling guilty for not doing enough and start thinking what can we do well and master well to help the world be a better place. Every day we can come up with a better version of ourselves, we just need to talk about it, make it part of our day-to-day conversations, make others understand that sustainability is not a religion or a newly revitalized hippie movement, it is just the way that will ensure we can talk about a viable future.
I have read many articles, positive and negative, about millennials, and one common thing from the previous generation is that millennials need a purpose, a gratification and to have an impact. Let’s work together so that the driver is not money or even empty social media posts. Let’s remember that sustainability needs to be economically viable, so it doesn’t mean forgetting about money; it is simply remembering that we are part of a society and that if others don’t do well, this is detrimental for us as well and that we live on a planet with limited resources. Our uncle was lucky that he didn’t have to worry about it; however, this generation cannot afford this luxury and needs to reflect and put their hands and minds #InsideValue.