This article is co-authored with Joe Brewer and published concurrently on his blog at Chaoticripple.
It is time to state clearly what is needed to live in a sustainable world.
“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”
– Mahatma Ghandi
We have all heard these prophetic words. But exactly what do we have to do in order to be the change? Conversations about sustainability rarely focus on the personal elements that must be present in our everyday lives. They simply miss out on the importance of human thriving at the personal and social levels. In this post, we explain how to become a fully thriving human being. That way you can achieve the greatest fulfillment in your life while also helping humanity tackle our global challenges.
There are four steps that you will need to take in order to become fully alive. As you set off on this journey (or continue from somewhere midway), be sure to keep in mind that the single most important thing you can do is to know and love yourself. With that in mind, let’s dig in!
Step 1: Anchoring
Before setting out to achieve a state of thriving, you will need to know where you stand in this world as a human being. This is where you can explore your deep roots, inquire about your personal history, and reconnect with the things that nourish you. The principle of Temet nosce applies here. You will need to “know thyself” before you can thrive. Also consider that it won’t be possible to build a sustainable world based on false understandings of your fragile human condition. So you really need to know yourself if you want to succeed.
At the most basic physical level, anchoring is about getting the sustenance that your body needs to be healthy. All of the standard elements of physical health are relevant here — nutritious food, clean water, exercise, and so on. You won’t be able to thrive for long without them! This implies that you must seek sustenance in your physical and social environments. Surround yourself with supportive people and ensure that you are mindful of the role the natural world plays as a provider of all the energy and resources that your body needs.
At the more philosophical level, you will have to cultivate a rich understanding of the human condition — how your mind works as informed by the best cognitive and social sciences. This includes knowing about your social connection with others, the importance of being accepted by your peers, and the power of creative problem-solving that springs forth from a healthy human mind.
Anchoring is about standing on firm ground and this applies to your knowledge of self and community. Your capacity to thrive will depend in many profound ways on the social systems that are built to reflect our collective understanding of the human condition. Believe humans are nothing more than greedy and selfish? Then build a world that deprives others of compassion and reverence. Discover the beauty of our social morality? Then spread love and kindness among those around you.
Perhaps most important of all is anchoring at the personal level. Anchoring is about having gratitude for your biological mother — a sentiment that is required before it can extend to the deep mother Earth from which you and she came forth. It is rarely talked about in environmental circles, but the root cause of disharmony between humans and the natural world can always be found in wounds we have inflicted on our relationships with our own mothers. Seek healing in this realm of your personal life and you will discover a love for all living things.
Like the tree, be solid and eventually you throw off healthy fruits.
Step 2: Love
Every one of us needs to feel loved. We find our greatest joy in gratitude for others and the recognition they give to show appreciation for us. This virtuous cycle of giving and receiving is at the heart of our emotional and spiritual well-being. It is the “circle of sustainability” for our personal lives.
At the center of all our woes is the absence of self-love. This is true in the individual sphere of our relationships with family members, friends and acquaintances, and with romantic partners. Those who know how to love themselves will bring healing and nourishment to those they interact with. The converse is also true. When we are unable to love ourselves, we harm others in our relationships with them.
This is why it is so important to know ourselves first. The anchoring it gives us becomes the source of strength from which to forgive and support others. It is also why so many among us inflict harm on the natural world. We have built economic and political systems that cause us harm because we are unable (at the societal level) of truly loving ourselves. Think of it this way — if we REALLY loved ourselves, would we be doing this to our planet?
Love of self opens the door to the higher level of love for life. As human beings we are capable of profound curiosity and a sacred sense of awe for the beauties of this world. When we begin to love life it naturally follows that we will seek to learn about it. This is where the drive for knowledge is felt most strongly. Passion is the experience of loving expressed toward something other than ourselves. And reverence is the unique capacity we all have as human beings to feel gratitude for the wonders of life.
This is how you can become a lifetime learner. Your passion for things in the world will keep your curiosity on fire! In this way, love is the key to healing ourselves and the world.
Love yourself, love another, love life. There are many concrete ways to practice: empathy, solidarity, joy, smiles and laughter, sharing good moments and purpose, non-judgement, trust, liberating freedom, authentic integrity, vibrate passion, have intimacy and sex, and of course… letting go.
Step 3: Purpose
The passions that flow so readily from love are also what help us find our calling in life. Every human being needs a sense of purpose in order to thrive. At the most basic level, this is about having meaningful choices that culminate in meaningful actions. It is also about having a vocation. You will need to know who you are to discover this vitally important aspect of your identity.
Note how different this is from the typical communication standpoint of most environmental organizations. Doomsday talk and constant complaints about what is wrong in the world does nothing to incite curiosity about how each of us can show our gratitude for life and step forth with love to give through our actions. Inspiration is one dimension of this. Personal empowerment is another. But going deeper you will find that it is your own aspiration to be a full human being that reveals the path you must take. No one else can do this for you.
Your purpose is the combined outcome of anchored self-knowledge as it is fueled by love of self and others.
Step 4: Action
The road to sustainable human development is one filled by meaningful action. Human thriving comes forth through the fulfillment you gain by answering your calling. The intuition you develop by learning about your self becomes a foundation from which you will discover the right course of action. You simply need to set your purpose in motion with the passion you have for a fulfilling life.
Another way to think about this is to follow your bliss. As you discover what brings you the greatest joy, it will become clear how you should treat others. The actions you take will nourish your body and elevate your soul. And this is how you can achieve a state of resilience in your life.
By taking this four step path, you will become an embodiment of sustainability. This core of your life will then act as a seed for growing a civilization that is also sustainable. The old adage “be the change you wish to see” is prophetic. This sequence of anchoring, love, purpose and action shows you that the only way to remake our social world is from the inside out and the bottom up.
And so if you want to address the threats of climate disruption, spread justice across our financial systems, or transform the business world so that profit aligns with social good, then you will first need to find your grounding in life and follow the path to purposeful action.
If you don’t because you would be afraid to fall, just remember that you are eventually going to die anyway…
This is the 4 Step Path to Human Thriving. We hope this is helpful for you. It’s definitely been a healing process for us as we’ve uncovered it ourselves.
Now go forth and find your own thriving!