Monday, September 2, 2013

Positive Deviants: Path to a Sustainable Future?

Moths drink the tears of sleeping birds. The birds sleep on, inadvertent givers. The moths fly on, enriched. We feed on sorrows, on stories, on the spaciousness they open up when they let us travel in our imagination beyond our own limits, when they dissolve the boundaries that confine us and urge us to extend the potentialities of our imperfect, broken, incomplete selves. (Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby, Viking/Penguin, 2013)

Can we find the stories to dissolve the boundaries that steer us towards an abyss? Jump to Petra Kelly, whose shortened life, was a story of awakening possibility - the idea that feminism, nonviolence, and ecology could be connected and thereby bring a better world. And then to her friend, colleague, and biographer, Sara Parkin, who continues this work as a Positive Deviant.

     Keith Grint says leadership 'is not a science, but an art; it is a performance not a recipe; it is an invention not a discovery'. And I agree.As I agree that it is primarily a product of the imagination. A leader imagines a better future and persuades people to follow (Grint, 2000). There is however, a difference between leadership for anything else and leadership for sustainability. Leadership for sustainable development (SD) is definitely about imagining a better future, but not one that is constrained by an organizational or geographical boundary, as most leadership is. It is for something far greater than an individual, or his or her organization, or even family and country. It is for the greater good that embraces all life on Earth, including all humanity and future generations. As we recently celebrated the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth, it seems appropriate to say that sustainability leadership is about the continuing participation of our species in evolution. Get it wrong and we are fossils. (p.4)

Parkin suggests four habits of thought as a mental checklist - resilience, relationships, reflection and reverence to guide our actions.

     Many people are put off getting to grips with sustainable development because they believe it is too complicated and more the domain of specialists sporting PhDs. And it can be daunting to realize that sustainability is about everything. How on Earth can one person, or one organization, know about everything?
     No one can, of course. Which is why sustainability literacy is about having sufficient knowledge and understanding to make good enough choice or decision. By definition, we've not done sustainable development before (certainly not on the scale we have to now), so we are all learning as we go. Hence the importance of reflection as an important habit of thought. You may not get it right every time, but with a good enough insight into the broad range of old and new ideas, you should be able to work out when it is wise to ask for help, or just to go ahead with sufficient confidence you've got the direction of travel more right than not. (p.10-11)

 ...It is your task to work out the right thing to do where you are and deviate around or remove the policy, funding, and other impediments to make it happen. (p.11)