Today it is more clear than ever, all the efforts made in the last decades to tackle the problems our economy generates hadn’t been enough.
Transitioning into a sustainable future is not only urgent, but inevitable. With every crisis, it becomes more comprehensible that our problems are growing bigger. But in order to successfully tackle what could be the biggest challenge in human history, it is necessary to make deep changes in our society.
We have heard this over and over, but why are we still reluctant to conduct this transformation we so pressingly need? Maybe we are just missguided.
Major sustainability initiatives have tried to match profit with the natural and human well being all along. But profitability is not only important, it has become our prime concern. Think of a scenario where economic activity is unsustainable (plenty to choose from). If there is an option of getting the same or more amount of profit with a sustainable solution it may be adopted. But if we were forced to pick between economy or environment, we would probably go by the status quo. As a society, profit is our priority.
Economic growth trumps anything else because we still think that it is the main driver of wellbeing, even though there is too much evidence out there that tells us otherwise. Against our “rationality”, we still choose to believe that the massive consumption of material goods and services that it allows is vital for our development. We let it happen at the expense of beyond natural, societal and even personal integrity.
The paradigm of indefinite economic growth makes us think anything is justified if it means keeping the wheels of the economy turning. Under this worldview, destroying and capitalizing our environment is a necessary evil that allows us to keep on producing the things on which our “good” life depends. But this is one of the biggest lies you’ve ever heard.
Along with the growing environmental predicament, we are living through another global major disaster: a rising mental health crisis. Data is alarming: mental illness is the leading cause of disability in the world, and among other factors, these diseases are proven to be strongly linked to stress, social inequality and isolation. This is especially true for Anxiety Disorders and Depression, which are, by far, the most common ones.
Environment and mental health are two sides of the same coin, they are both being sacrificed in order to achieve the unreal expectations of economic growth. An economy and society that puts so much pressure on people and the environment is clearly not working for our wellbeing.
The Egocentric Civilization
We are inclined to believe that the crises we are currently living through are generated by human nature. But they are not here because we’re vile creatures, they were produced by the worldview from which the social and economical system stems.
Under this paradigm, humans are considered to be material inclined — egoistic beings whose only purpose is to survive getting every single benefit they can, with no real consideration for anything else. So basically, we think of ourselves no different than a virus.
Is no surprise that we act like a pest for our planet and even for our fellow human beings. But contrary to what mainstream economic theory may say, It is not inherent for humans to behave like this, we do it because we live within a system that is built on a virus’ worldview.
Of course we may be capable of pushing anyone under the bus if it gives us something we think we need to be happy, but we are also capable of so much more. That’s why we love the rescued dogs and signing children videos online, we are constantly looking for reasons to feel inspired and hopeful.
As humans, we have deeper aspirations, we are motivated to live an authentic life led by our heart and intuition. If we don’t do it, is because we think it is naive or unrealistic, since our economic and social structures are made so we need to mess everything around us to be able to survive.
This virus’ world we’ve built is so disconnected from human condition that it is unable to make us feel fulfilled. More often than not, just existing can be overwhelming, no wonder why our mental health is nowhere to be found. It is so harsh on us that it relies on fear, hedonism and need of validation to keep thriving.
And people who are brave enough to stand by and exist outside of it are met with violence: economic, social, psychological, and often, even physical. They get excluded and deemed irrelevant, idealist or crazy, even if everyone feels they are right at some level.
Think about it like being in an abusive relationship in which you feel really bad. You know it is not healthy and you want to leave, but you are too afraid of the uncertainty and pain that you will experience afterwards.
You know things are bad, but once in a while you have a good day, and this tiny bit of pleasure makes you think “at least I have this”, so you can keep on bearing this awful relationship. Or perhaps, when you decide to leave your partner, they tell you how special you are and you feel validated. You think “maybe it was my fault, but now, apparently I’m doing things correctly, I can be loved if I keep behaving like this” so you stay.
But finally one day you open your eyes, you are determined to finish it, and you really do it. You are so proud because you did it, you took a decision for yourself and even if it wasn’t easy you feel free. But your ex doesn’t take it so well, and they go out of their way to hurt you, so you have to fend for yourself constantly, or unless they get tired.
The thing with the system is that it is not an individual, instead it is a way of thinking, it is embedded in millions of people. So it never gets tired, ever.
When I talk about changes I’m not only talking about personal actions and behaviors. It is unfair to put the responsibility of transformation only on people when the system is put against individual actions all along. It is very well documented that individual actions have very little impact, and on top of that, is a burden that makes us feel even more stressed.
I’m neither referring only to laws or policy since these are mechanisms that try to minimize the damage, with low levels of success, that the social and economic model inherently does. We need to stop being damaging, and for this to happen we must transform the most fundamental thing about our system: how it sees humanity.
The change we more urgently need is how we think of ourselves. Understanding differently our existence and wellbeing, beyond our materiality, biology and intellect, will allow to built a different economy and society.
In order to have a future, we need to redefine what it means to be human and what is important to human beings. We need to learn what it is that gives us life purpose, meaning, motivation and direction.
Lead Through Spirit
The word spirit refers to the principle that gives life the source of our will, conscience and thought. It is derived from the Latin word spiritus which means breath, life or courage. Spirit, then, is what animates us, it fills us with life, vigor and passion, what moves us and gives us a reason to function.
Spirituality is what gives meaning to everything else in our life. It shouldn’t be something that’s only encompassed by religion, it is too important to let it be dictated by a handful institutions with their own agenda. We should reclaim it, and use it in a non dogmatic way for public life, so we can build new social and personal dynamics that would result in lives that are meaningful.
Thus, we can create a new way of organizing our existence, one in which our realization does not depend on the work we do, the trips we take, or our material things; one that doesn’t make us feel so desperate for quick pleasure, or for validation and status. In other words, a life lived for more than being a perfect piece of machinery at the expense of our happiness and nature’s integrity.
What we need to start building is a society and economy that allows us to find our own meaning of life, and encourages living in a more altruistic and authentic way, instead of punishing us for it.
Reconversion to sustainable production models, public policy, education and even responsible consumption have a role to play.
However, they are not enough. We don’t need to improve the outcomes of the current development model, we need to change its core. If our future does not take spirituality into account, we will get stuck in an economic and social system lacking purpose for the people that live in it.
To keep our current ideology unchanged would signify that we must keep on building our relationship with nature and others through exploitation. Even if it is disguised as “sustainable”.
In Spirituality there are not rules, only principles
Spiritual traditions differ among them, but their fundamental job is the same: The transformation of the individual from an egocentric way of seeing wellbeing to an internal realization of our connection with everything around us, way beyond materialism. When we feel free to see beyond our egoistical existence, nature conservation becomes obvious. The humility of living within nature replaces the whim to dominate it.
Conserving the environment already makes so much sense to all of us. We have innate affective ties with nature and people around us. Under this model, we are constantly forced to choose between them and what we think is our well being. We need to be able to honor these bonds by creating ways to channel them.
If we can detonate a transformation that takes into account the human spiritual dimension, we can achieve a transition towards a way of life integrated with nature and people. A society and economy that is concerned with much more than materialistic needs, one with the capacity of generating lasting happiness and freedom for all beings.