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Sam, Benoit, Peter, All: A Holistic View of Sustainability (response to your recent letters)

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  • Janet Feldman
    Dear All, Fascinating, thought-provoking, and heart-tugging letters (Sam, Benoit, Peter)...thanks so much for these explorations! Your letters are,
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 2, 2009
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      Dear All,
       
      Fascinating, thought-provoking, and heart-tugging letters (Sam, Benoit, Peter)...thanks so much for these explorations!
       
      Your letters are, interestingly, on similar themes:  success and failure, teaching and learning, and on "sustainable" ways of addressing challenges, meaning in this case an approach that will be the most healthy, balanced, and holistic over the longer term.
       
      Peter, two of your observations I especially appreciate:
       
      -"I learned something the same when I was growing up ... something along the lines that it was not a disgrace to fail, but a disgrace not to try. Trying and failing is a critical part of learning ... especially
      as a child, but so also during ones whole life."
      -"When there are measures, failure is easy to recognize ... and the reasons can be looked into. When a problem is identified it can be fixed."
       
      The first one is a sustainable approach to living one's life in a balanced and healthy way:  to understand that there will be failures and successes, and even to know that sometimes these will be one and the same (like two sides of the same coin). The latter point because it so much helps to be able to examine a challenge, a "failure", and to see how it might be fixed.
       
      In fact, we need this analytical, examining, "reasoning" approach (related to our thought processes), at the same time that we must deploy the ballast of emotion--in particular those related to hope, faith, compassion, love--to maintain a sense of balance and "humanity" in all of our calculations, plans, and solutions.
       
      This is the holistic and integrative viewpoint upon which my own deepest value of "holistic helping" is based. That is why Peter's last paragraph, outlining what is needed for "intelligent" malaria management, is so pertinent, because it clearly delineates the myriad of "partners" (government, communities, nonprofits) needed for such an effort (especially to have a positive and sustainable effect!), as well as the varied considerations and factors involved, from economics, to access and availability of medicines (the two being tied together), to inclusion and participation as both a "concept" (guiding the work) and a reality.
       
      "Sustainable development", as it has been conceived by many practitioners, is very much about broad-based partnerships of many sectors and at many levels, and about inclusive and coordinated decision-making. In particular, bringing those for whom the policies and programs are created to the forefront of their formulation and implementation. "Nothing for us, without us"!
       
      As for the concept of "sustainable development", the term originally referred to development that balances human needs with environmental health. The goal has been to ensure that we as human beings do not despoil the planet for short-term gain, but give it to new generations, as "sound" and whole as it can be (which is a huge challenge, given industrialization, poverty, climate change, and greed).
       
       
      Human beings have always had the view--and the luxury of thinking it--that the earth would simply keep replenishing itself, that it would be there for all time and for all manner of usage.  It has only been recently that we have realized how fragile our environment can be, and how interconnected our whole system is:  people, plants, animals, ocean, soil, atmosphere.
       
      What happens in one place can have reverberations worldwide. Killing off one species can destroy an eco-system, though some species are in turn doing the same (ironically, then, killing--of those species--might be "good" in some respects, even if sad or regrettable in others).
       
      What has evolved over eons of time, and/or has the stamp of the Divine in its design, is now seriously in danger of being compromised to such a degree that the planet might not recover, and succeeding generations will suffer harm that may be irreparable.
       
      Enter "sustainable development", which is such a wonderful, logical, even "simple" idea, yet it has been born of our failure to practice sustainable policies all along.  This has allowed new ideas to spring up, though, which might have more chance for success. Teaching a person to fish, rather than giving them a fish, is one example.
       
      It turns out that these ideas are also very old, based on earlier traditions for earlier times, when people had to move more in rhythm with the natural world, rather than acting independently of it. This "interconnectivity" is an imperative for us to know, to feel, to understand, and to act upon now (and again!). And that is true not only with regard to our human relationships, but in regard to our relationship with all other life on the planet, and beyond.
       
      So failure and success are so much bound up together, and linked to one another like Yin and Yang, where a bit of one is always in the other, and there is sometimes no clearcut and "for all time" distinguishing between them.
       
      This is also true for our relationship with ourselves:  it is not sustainable--in a holistic, healthy, gentle, and caring way--to treat ourselves with hatred, loathing, disrespect, derision. It is not a loving approach, that balances our "failures" and "successes" (those terms being relative and even meaningless in some ways, because we can actually succeed in some ways by failing in others!).  It is an approach guaranteed to bring us to the brink, just as our collective development approaches of the past.
       
      If we are "sinners", we are also "angels"...we are not one or the other.
       
      Benoit, when I read your letter, my heart reached out to you, but at the same time, I wanted to shake you up, to give you some "tough love". You are very loving and the soul of support to the rest of us here. But you need to practice being this way with yourself most of all.
       
      We need you over the longer term here, but I fear for you, if you will not take a more kind and gentle course with yourself.  Your view of yourself is not holistic, and therefore not an approach that is sustainable, nor will it sustain you (and the latter is so important!).
       
      The writer, Ernest Hemingway, said something we all should take to heart, especially because it clearly shows how "failure" can be "success".  "Life breaks us all, but those who will NOT break, it kills". Tragically, he could not follow his own best advice, and took his life. But what he said remains so very true:  "brokenness" can be a sacred thing, it can be a wonderful if fearsome teacher, it can be what sustains and saves us.
       
      But instead of thinking of our own "brokenness" as a bad thing, we need to think of it as a good thing, a thing that will help us to grow, a thing that will help us to learn, and also to teach others. The Buddhists believe that "chaos is very good news", for exactly the same reason.
       
      Their approach--the sending out of lovingkindness to the world, the acceptance of suffering without the terrible struggle against it, the lessening of a desire for fulltime "happiness"--all of these are methods by which you (Benoit) and all of the rest of us might gain more inner peace or quietude, might learn more about peace and love--towards self and others--and might teach the world more about faith and hope.
       
      Jesus, as a human and a spiritual being, was and is about love, peace, hope, faith, and joy. But he did not shy away from the difficulties of life, and he too had doubts about himself--and also about God--along the way. But he transcended them (and in a way himself), and this we all can do (though perhaps not as dramatically:)).
       
      My mother had a wonderful saying, taken from her own religious beliefs:  "God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind".  Power, in this case, not being "power over" someone or something, not being political power, but inner strength, and an ability to empower ourselves, especially through love. Which is truly the only way to develop and maintain a sound mind (and notice that is done through an emotion!).
       
      There is a "sustainability" issue too:  your approach to yourself is not sustainable, by which I mean that you may not be here among us for the longer-term if you cannot turn around your view of yourself, and perhaps of others in your immediate family.
       
      Some of that will involve "letting go" of some things and even of some people (at least the conception we have of them, what we want for them and from them), which--ironically--is sometimes the only way we can truly hold onto them. This "letting go" is like dying, but within that are the seeds of life too:  Buddhists believe that, if we can practice this small "dying" every day, we will be ready for our final passage from this world, to another life.
       
      We should not try to "cheat" this process by short-circuiting ourselves:  there is growth and spiritual sustenance in the process. And the more we practice this ourselves--given our connection with all other forms of life--the more we can be the change that we want to see in the world, the healthier the planet will be, and the healthier we will be.
       
      There will be many so-called "failures" along the way, but these may and hopefully will birth our greatest personal and collective successes.
       
      So, for Sam, "sustainability" in my view is a great teacher!  The concept as a theory does have its detractors, especially those who say that this approach can't adequately be practiced in a world of such uneven wealth and natural-resource distribution, where so few own so much, and so many have nothing.
       
      You and so many others in rural areas in particular are experiencing the "negative" effects of uneven distribution of wealth, which has come about in large part because of the exploitation of the earth for human gain.
       
      However, it also should be said that poverty in a material way also abounded during the time when people did live more in tune with the natural world, one reason why a new approach to wealth creation and development sprang up in the first place. 
       
      That newer approach--mastery "over" the earth and its resources, also linked to "mastery over" peoples unlike oneself--has now been shown to have its limits, indeed its "failures", along with its successes for some.
       
      There are simply not "successes" enough for billions of others the world over, which is why we now have to rethink development policies and practices again.
       
      And this is where you, Tom, Ken, and others come in:  you may think of yourselves in an "un-powerful" place and situation (ie "what good can I do?", "does it matter what I do?"), but in fact you are in the most powerful--in an "empowering" sense--position on the planet! 
       
      Because it is in places like your own localities, and with people like you, that a deeper form of human development and growth can take place, one that "lifts all boats" (or all ploughs, as the case may be :)), and truly brings the planet to a healthier, better, and more "sustainable" place, both for the immediate term and for successive generations.
       
      So please keep this in mind as you plan your conference, and wonder why it matters. Know that it does matter, far more than you can discern at this time (or perhaps even in your lifetime), and keep going with faith, hope, and love:  for yourselves, your families and communities, your country and continent, for the world, and for what lies way beyond it, both in "sense" (spacetime) and in spirit.
       
      With greatest blessings and lovingkindness to all, Janet
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