By Anesa Kratovac:
In this day and age, it is apparent that an outdated way of thinking about the role of politics, economics, medicine and many other areas of life is still permeating the collective livelihoods of most people on this planet. What is labelled as “alternative” is that which was a norm just a few centuries ago, while what is today’s “mainstream” is scientifically validated but devoid of humanism and understanding of nature and man’s place in it. The industrial development of the 19th century gave us infrastructure and processes that were enormous technological breakthroughs then, but that have proven to be outdated and unsustainable for the current human consumption and the rapid rate at which finite resources are plundered. The wave of intellectual and technical advancements that gave us the free market, technology, medicine and innovation is now in competition with the Earth’s finite resources in a devastating outcome of corporate profit and human disease. Given this trajectory throughout the 20th century and our understanding of the danger of continuing with these unsustainable mechanisms of growth, it is the task of the current generations to not only deal with the consequences of the infrastructural development of the 20th century but to build new blueprints, systems and infrastructure that will continue progress and advancement into the future- this time sensibly and sustainably.
Indeed, the question remains: how do we sever the ties to our collective past livelihoods and live in a manner that is non-wasteful but which can at the same time meet our modern needs? In his insightful publication Small is Beautiful: the Study of Economics as if People Mattered, E.F. Schumacher noted the parallel between the driving forces of today’s free market economics and the current rise in wars, disease and the consumerist mentality based in greed and envy. In order to make the shift towards a new way of thinking and existing in the world, he proposes innovating education, whose source should be the basic core values that guide us to live ethically:
All history- as well as current experience- points to the fact that it is man, not nature, who provides the primary resource: that the key factor of all economic development comes out of the mind of man. Suddenly, there is outburst of daring, initiative, invention, constructive activity, not in one field alone, but in many fields all at once….Science and engineering produce ‘know-how’, but ‘know-how’ is nothing by itself; it is a means without an end, a mere potentiality, an unfinished sentence…Even the greatest ideas of science are nothing more than working hypotheses, useful for purposes of special research but completely inapplicable to the construct of our lives or the interpretation of the world….Education cannot help us as long as it accords no place to metaphysics. Whether the subjects taught are subjects of science or of the humanities, if the teaching does not lead to clarification of metaphysics, that it to say of our fundamental convictions, it cannot educate a man and, consequently, cannot be of real value to society. [pg. 49-60]
Schumacher wrote this analysis in 1973, and forty years later, we are still dealing with the same issues. Take education, for example. The education system and knowledge regurgitation that schools all over the world currently foster is one that was created by and for the 19th century European society. It was one based on providing enough linear knowledge for the masses that were to enter the specialization ranks that characterized the new industrial age. Art, philosophy and music, on the other hand, were luxuries that the upper classes could indulge but which were denied and seen as unnecessary skills needed to create efficient worker masses of the day. Creativity and the arts rarely played a role in the education system, and critical thinking was largely suppressed. Unmistakeably, a society based on generating producers and consumers leads to economic growth, but also to social erosion, herd mentality and the severing of ties with nature. Now, we are at a point where economic growth has reached its limit and the effects of its damage can no longer be ignored; collectively, we need to act. At the same time, the term “development” needs to be redefined to mean the systematic ability to simultaneously satisfy social, infrastructural, economic and environmental necessities of any one place. This holistic approach is the only way that we can account for the poverty and social problems that are still prevalent in the light of vast corporate wealth and enormous scientific and technological advancement. Indeed, development cannot solely rely on the economic process and growth; rather, it is a concept that must encompass holistic perspective of the livelihood improvement of individuals.
If the government and our institutions are too slow to yield to the call of change, how do we as individuals take it upon ourselves to make it happen? One way is to empower ourselves through critical thinking about the world around us, which is characterized by questioning, observation and research. Another is to open our minds and to start thinking out of the box and leading our personal and professional lives humanely. And speaking of leading, innovative leadership is exactly what is needed to shift the current system towards a socially-beneficial one. It is the leaders of tomorrow who will forge a new path to governance, corporate responsibility to society, human-centric healthcare system and influence many other areas of society. The best leaders in history have been innovators, rule-breakers and visionaries; and what they had in common was their concern for the humanity and the world. It is time to make such leadership a norm and not an exception, to create humane leaders in every part of the world who can collectively transform their societies to be ready for the demands of our shared future.
Many people and grass-roots organizations are taking the initiative to reach young people with values and community service awareness before the system gets to them and repeats the cycle of generating specialists with no interest in the world outside of the self. In doing so, wherever young people end up in life and whatever profession they choose, they will lead this path humanely and with regard to others and the future of the planet.
The Blue Ribbon Movement, a youth leadership training social enterprise where I work, for example, has initiated the Re-lead training program to address this need to re-evaluate leadership in the context of today’s rapidly changing world. The international training program looks for budding and existing leaders who desire to upgrade their leadership skills and does this holistically using content from various leadership domains and from a variety of disciplines such as ontology and psychology. Self-reflection is encouraged and meaningful balance of personal growth and of understanding how professional decisions can impact the larger good is the overall aim. BRM’s Re-lead 3.0 program is held in Mumbai this December and will primarily focus on discovering the participants’ passions, skills and notions behind their economic drive. Initiatives such as Re-lead bring us closer to reprogramming the collective consciousness to be independently thinking members of society, to lead humanely and to leave a beneficial legacy for the next generations. Every effort to get closer to collective transformation counts; let’s strive to be the good we want to see in the world.