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love … the foundation of sustainability

August 17, 2009

In the fifteen years I’ve been working in health and sustainability I’ve made some bad decisions. Decisions that have cost me time, money and friendships.

I don’t think that makes me bad at what I do, or fundamentally inexcusable as a human being. If anything it makes me very much the same as most other people – we do what we think is best, and sometimes, upon reflection, we realise that the suffering our choices have created for us is a direct consequence of ‘jumping over’ what we knew at the time.

Georgi (my beloved wife and one of my business partners) and I have invested a lot in our businesses over the years. Some of the decisions have been sound in that they have moved us closer to the type of life we enjoy. Yet some of those decisions have cost us an enormous amount of time and money – and have brought us face to face with the reality of what it is to run an unsustainable business.

Unsustainable in that

somewhere along the line, we lost touch with what was most important to us, and got ensnared in a way of living that was determined by the requirements of our business, rather than the requirements of our life.

(although, if I’m being completely honest, it was definitely more me than her).

It’s not an uncommon situation – in fact, it’s something I’ve observed in projects of all shapes and sizes – from micro-projects run out of a basement, to multinationals with a dozen different divisions.

So five weeks ago I got on a plane and flew to Boulder. It wasn’t really all that intentional – I was supposed to be working on a project in LA that fell over at the eleventh hour. I had my ticket and couldn’t cancel it and was desperately in need of some sort of a holiday. I also urgently needed a new perspective.

A few days after arriving I lost my wedding ring. And it completely threw me. It was covered by insurance, sure, and could certainly be replaced – so logistically it wasn’t really that big a deal. But what my response to the situation showed me was, that regardless of how much money or influence I did or didn’t have, regardless of how many people I did or didn’t help, regardless of whether the world was improved a little, or a lot – or not at all – through my being here – none of it would have any meaning if I allowed my attention to be, even for one moment, taken away from Love.

It’s a scary word, in some sense. Love. It’s not the central topic of conversation around boardroom tables or in parliamentary debates. In the US town hall meetings on Health Care Reform, it’s not the framing topic on the agenda. It doesn’t seem to be taken into account when considering foreign policy, the Kyoto Protocol, or nuclear disarmament. And it certainly – despite all protestations to the contrary – is not informing most (if not all) religious activity around the planet.

Yet ultimately, as ephemeral and undefineable as Love is, it is the central tenet informing all human experience.
So why is Love considered to be something ‘personal’ that has no place in our professional or public discourse?

I’m not a doey-eyed romantic. I’m not writing about Love because I have some ungrounded vision of the world all holding hands and singing Kumbaya. We’re too different to always agree (and let’s be honest, conflict creates growth, generates change, engenders innovation and stimulates debate).

I’m writing about love because I’m rational, and am contemplating Archimedes‘ dictum:

Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world

So with everything we’re facing in the world at the moment, with all the time, effort and money going into trying to solve the enormous challenges facing us, is it possible that the only fulcrum we have available to us is love? And what if it is?

Clearly a fulcrum alone is not enough. We require the lever of intelligence, the lever of reason, the levers of discourse and debate. If we are really going to make a difference, we really need to consider that Love alone is not enough.

And as embarrassing to some as it may be to use the word, as foolish as it may sound to suggest we make love our global agenda, I’m a long way from proclaiming the dawn of a new age. There is no place in my epistemology for either reincarnation or the Rapture.

According to Advaita Vedanta, moksha (liberation) is achieved through both jnana (enquiry) and bhakti (devotion) – as a bird needs two wings to fly.

So perhaps it’s time we found a meeting place for the two – where the intellect, as a servant to the heart, can achieve it’s greatest potential – and the heart can acknowledge the value it’s servant provides.

Then, perhaps, we might find a truly sustainable way to move through the world.

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