A Guide To The Perplexed

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The question we’re posing is: How can we help the sustainability community maintain its own growth? That’s a BIG question. How do we begin? I’d like to collaborate using some of the ideas from the past to create a TEDActive sustainability guide that changes the choices people make.

Any thinking about sustainability is determined by context — where you are gives the concept of sustainability meaning. We could think of TEDActive as a lab where we can develop some themes and ideas that help move sustainability forward and create content that documents TED participant perspectives on this question. I’m confident we can make a difference to the growth of sustainability during our time together in Palm Springs by creating a TEDActive sustainability guide, a compendium of thoughts contributed by TEDActivists. There’s a perfect mix of people.

I’m influenced here by the writing of David Orr, the Distinguished Professor of Environmental Studies and Politics and Special Assistant to the President of Oberlin College and a James Marsh Professor at the University of Vermont. He has said that three stages or elements must come together in any successful social movement, and each requires leaders and participants with different skills:

  • Spirit: The dramatization of the challenges – requires prophets and visionaries, poets and artists
  • Science: The creation of more accurate and telling metaphors and theories – requires scientists and researchers, analysts and statisticians
  • Society: The engagement in political change – requires leaders and activists, strategists and organizers

Sound familiar? It does to me. It’s what we’re doing and who we are here at TEDActive. So we’re in the right place at the right time with the right people to begin to answer this question, and create something useful. How do we continue along this path leading to sustainable living and sustain the growth of a massive social movement that has no coherent center?

David Orr reminds us that “the problem is not how to produce ecologically benign products for consumer society, but how to make decent communities of people who do not confuse what they have with who they are.” We need to change the way people see themselves and their place in the world, to sustain our progress with sustainability we need to further enlighten our communities with meaningful ideas.

We need a ‘guide for the perplexed’, and fortunately my personal favorite sustainability thinker, E.F. Schumacher, wrote such a guide thirty-five years ago. In it he said that human problems, like those posed by the transition to sustainability, are not solvable by rational means alone. These are what he called, “divergent” problems formed out of the tensions between competing perspectives that cannot be solved, but can be transcended (Guide To The Perplexed, 1977; pp. 120-133). In contrast to, “convergent” problems that can be solved by logic and method, divergent problems can only be resolved by higher forces of wisdom, love, compassion, understanding, and empathy.

Caught between complacency and despair E. F. Schumacher thought it advisable “to leave these perplexities behind us and get down to work” (140).

So in beginning to answer this perplexing question, I suggest we get down to work and create some TEDActive messages filled with wisdom, love, compassion, understanding, and empathy. Lets engage with Spirit, Science and Society and offer our own 21st century Guide To The Perplexed. It could be people telling their stories on video, visions and facts, it could be poetry, art and music. It could be inspiring ideas worth sharing.

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