Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Tragedy of the Common Folks

Sustainable Business is focused on economic development, green technology, renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, making money while going green, greening the supply chain, et al but the tragedy I see as the most important and the least addressed is the tragedy of the common folk that is, the everyday man and his or her shattered self and family.

Wes Jackson’s position is that we don’t get sustainable agriculture right, then all the other efforts don’t matter. We’ll starve. Okay, I’ll give him Maslow’s base on the triangle. But I’ll take it one step further. If we don’t create socially sustainable societies of people capable of compassion, all the solar panels and biofuels and locally grown food does not matter because our family structure is so utterly broken.

When half the students who start high school in Oklahoma City do not graduate the first tragedy I think of is the lost potential. I’m not referring to earning potential, although that is certainly compromised, but the human potential of becoming a fully functioning person who taps their talents and becomes a contributing member of our society, yes our society not just theirs. What happens to people we don’t know matters, whether you think it does or not, it matters. Living a sustainable life means not just getting the carbon footprint down but sustaining the family unit.

I can speak to this not from the pulpit of righteousness but from the heart that has been broken. I’ve seen berated children paralyzed with fear accompanied by their damaged mother in a domestic violence shelter. I’ve seen people make drugs and alcohol (and other addictions) their God. I've seen people bored with themselves and bored with life; this is a living death. We live in a world that ignores spousal abuse, accepts divorced families, panders to deadbeat dads, and allows child neglect in the name of adults’ rights. What is "Legal" and what is "Right" drift further and further apart. Modern society also scoffs at balance and spiritual growth, encourages debt, discourages citizenship and celebrates consumerism. No amount of sustainability research is going to find the technological fix for a disintegrating society.

Solar panels and wind energy can power our homes but will we be more prosperous or more content in our own homes when strife and dysfunction are the norm? Suburbia and isolation are not normal yet that is where most of us reside, so I have to wonder, do we even know what is normal, good and healthy? The accountability and support that came with the village concept was traded for privacy and property rights. We shortchanged ourselves.

Wendell Berry says “ However destructive may be the policies of the government and the methods and the products of the corporation, the root of the problem is always to be found in the private life. We must learn to see that every problem that concerns us … always leads straight to the question of how we live.”

As a self-appointed change agent I have had to realign my goals to accept I cannot change the world, but I can change one world – mine. And just maybe that will make a ripple that will rock some boats and make a bigger wave. Tending my own knitting certainly keeps me busy. The serenity prayer asks “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.

And where does one go to learn wisdom? Beats me, but I had a friend remind me just today that they hide the darnedest things in books. I agreed and jested that if they wanted people to know they would have made a tv show.

Wisdom is no more rare than air, we just don’t recognize it.

Painting by Mark Chagall


  1. Ah yes Chagall. One of the most hauntingly romantic artists of the 20th century. He captures perfectly the power of the Russian spirit and the transcendence of circumstances...the ability to rise above the devastation to seek truth, comfort and even joy in what remains.

    Berry asserts, "The real names of global warming are waste and greed." So what has been wasted? Time mostly. The time taken to understand the exquisite beauty and design of the natural world and our role within. The time needed to sustain our most valuable resource, the hearts and minds of our youngest members who will surely look back at us with plaintive stares that shake us to the core and ask only "Why"?

  2. If people want to get serious (and cleaner) about the environment then they should get a Bathroom Bidet Sprayer from and you won't even need toilet paper anymore, just a towel to dry off! It's cheap and can be installed without a plumber; and runs off the same water line to your toilet. . You'll probably pay for it in a few months of toilet paper savings. And after using one of these you won't know how you lasted all those years with wadded up handfuls of toilet paper, nasty. Now we're talking green and helping the environment without any pain.

  3. "No amount of sustainability research is going to find the technological fix for a disintegrating society." I'm right with you on that quote. Seems that Mother Nature got it right and we're destined to find that out the hard way that we can't do any better. I believe that even Wes Jackson would agree. Here's a little clip of him talking about the need to power down... I think he'd agree with your perspective, too.


  4. I love what you said about suburban isolation, where's the community? All the cars have their own room and the TVs take up walls as Bradbury predicted.