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Sustain-ablity through Conscious Living!

Sustainability is the new mantra of the 21st Century, whether in the business, personal or professional spheres. It is unsurprising therefore that in a precarious world of diminishing resources and rising volatility,  there is a marked paradigm shift from competition towards co-creation and collaboration.

Working collaboratively and generatively requires heightened perceptive skills. So consider the following questions: When last did you witness the vibrant colours on a butterfly’s wings?  Feel a gentle breeze caress your skin?  Sit in quiet contemplation? Arouse your taste buds with different flavours from a tasty morsel?  Most people struggle to answer these questions because our lives are consumed with busyness,  chasing the ‘next best thing’ and living from habit.

Yet,  observing deeply and immersively, awakening our senses, and stimulating our perceptive skills,  allows for richer life experiences, enhances creativity, facilitates connection with the world and by so doing,  develops deeper empathy and solidarity.  This is what living life consciously is about.  Conscious living, like the African humanist practice of ‘ubuntu’,  is to experience the moment and to perceive living entities; person, animal or plant, not as ‘others’, nor with the separation that conditioned thought creates, but as integral parts to which we are symbiotically linked and that makes us whole. When we live our connectedness to others, it softens our boundaries, reduces our personal prejudices and increases compassion.  This fosters opportunities to forge a participative consciousness and a shared reality that is mutually beneficial. 

Disconnection, one can argue, is the prime catalyst of business failure and strife in the world – not sensing client needs; pursuing nationalistic or colonial goals; exploiting the natural environment. For example,  the war in Ukraine, as with all conflict – Gaza; Yemen; Manneberg, is not only a manifestation of a deeper dystopian human character trait, but also a clear example of rampant disregard for the ‘other’.

Although war seems ingrained in the human psyche, it is human greed, ego and self-interest with little regard for consequences, that triggers it. Our narrow focus on what we believe to be the ‘truth’, has become a  significant obstacle to how harmoniously we live with each other and with nature.  Outdated ideologies, ways of thinking, flawed business models, personal prejudices and pseudo-cultural traits might have worked in the past, but offer no value to a current world that is becoming more diverse and fragile.

Recent history of conflicts, economic patterns and environmental degradation show that our collective decision-making suffer from what Nassim Taleb (2007) referred to as ‘naïve empiricism’, that is, we attempt to shape our worldviews by looking for narratives or information that conform to our story and our vision of the world.  Blundering into war or profiteering from nature’s demise with the resultant shedding of blood and destruction give credence to the words of the late author and Nobel Prize winner, John Steinbeck, that ‘All war is a symptom of man’s failure as a thinking animal.’

Not consciously thinking through the destructive outcomes from our actions denigrates thousands of years of intellectual, cultural, philosophical and technological advances in our human history. Our collective ‘blindspots’ make us live with such careless abandon and to destroy to such magnitude that it threatens our very existence! Gross consumption, abuse of natural resources and disregard for the environment has placed the world in a deep crisis giving rise to an exponential increase in natural disasters – fires; floods; droughts; pandemics. These are direct results of destructive human actions. Our unconscious minds make us oblivious to the consequences of our actions.

To live sustainably on the planet requires a radical reshaping of our thinking and being.  It should be premised on intentional individual and collective actions. It is such intentionality that birthed the United Nations and created a comprehensive human rights code after World War II that all nations can subscribe to.

Embodied in this code is the right to life and freedom, freedom of opinion and expression, the right to work and education. Included too are rights of conscience; in other words, the right to do what you believe is morally best, which is why those that refuse to fight in wars are referred to as ‘conscientious objectors’.

Unfortunately, decades after the ending of World War II and twenty eight years after the onset of democracy in South Africa,  we are still struggling to create an inclusive and shared reality necessary for a future of peaceful and generative opportunities. Our body of human rights law, international or local, seem unable to protect us from each other as we continue to blunder, plunder, and commit atrocities.

On an optimistic note, finding the peaceful coexistence that we so deeply desire is within our capabilities. Humans are by nature adaptable and innovative. To connect with each other we need to shift our conditioned minds with which we understand the world and from which we draw conditioned responses towards conscious awareness. This can only come about as a result of deep introspection with the aim of letting go of the egoic self.

Living consciously is akin to what MIT academic, Otto Scharmer, refers to as ‘open heart’, ‘open mind’, and ‘open will’. When we extract ourselves from the restricting coils of the dominant ego and open ourselves to embrace the rich and diverse tapestry of life, only then will we experience the way of peace.

Consider this statement by Carl Jung as a call to action, ‘Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.’

Rudi Kimmie (PhD) is Chief Executive Officer at TSIBA Business School and Nolan Beudeker (MBA) is Director, Executive Education Academic Strategy at 2U. This article reflects their personal views.

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