The Sustainability Generation: The Politics of Change and Why Personal Accountability is Essential NOW!
I don’t know who originally said this, but it is true. “If there is one constant in life, it is that change is inevitable, and always happening”. Change happens, and it is uncomfortable. But, change can be good. The politics of change is both uncomfortable (for some), and ultimately good (for many). The politics of change involves all of us, as citizens and consumers, in a self-aware approach to realizing a better future for ourselves, our families, and our country.
Why is it that “we the people” seemingly let so much of our destiny ride on the power and influence of the Presidency? Does one man or woman really have the power to make our life more or less “better”? I think they do, but it is important not to forget that ultimately, individuals are the stewards of their own lives. And, placing too much emphasis on any one person or elected office to improve our lot in life is akin to the odds of winning the lottery.
To realize the full potential of being an American, we have to be responsible and accountable to our individual “life context”, how we choose to live our life, and the impact we ultimately have on our local communities, and the world at-large.
In the case of American politics and the Presidency, it is as if voters want to reserve the right to have a default fall guy (or woman) to take the blame if things go wrong in our life. In some ways, the American Presidency allows us to be unaccountable to our own individual freedom and fate. The freedom to flourish or freedom to fail in our individual life is the democratic gift American’s have as citizens of this country. It is equally important for us to serve our role as conscious citizens (and consumers), as much as it is for us to put our undivided faith in our Commander in Chief.
President Obama won The White House in 2008 on a ticket of hope, change, and promise. At that time, and at the heels of the two-term Bush Presidency, Americans needed to hear and believe in those carefully selected words, and which President Obama skillfully articulated throughout the campaign. Fast forward four years and many things have changed, yet much remains the same. What is most frustrating to me is not the Obama Administration’s under delivery of hope, change, and a promise for a better future; but the continued pursuit of power through petty politicking, and by people no more prepared to deliver on a promising future than you or I. This is of course politics, and may never change.
The silly season is in full effect as the 2012 Presidential election nears. The finger pointing, negative campaigns, and “he said, she said” reasoning are being played out as overstated and underperforming politicians try to convince us who is right, what we should believe, and who we should cast our vote for. The game has become ruthless and senseless. It is less about the “people” who are the fabric of this country and mostly about “winning” another term for a select few. In this process I have yet to see where the 99% every really win.
Who gets short-changed in the American political process however, are the very constituents that enable it to be played in the first place: “we the people”. I don’t believe our democratic process is broken. I do believe however that the new metric for electing politicians into power should be a measure (and proven track record) of their willingness, capacity, and performance to collaborate and bring people together on common sense solutions impacting this generation. We can no longer afford to delay tough discussions and decisions, or defray our cost of doing business onto our children and grandchildren. If this generation continues to disregard the need for reasonable solutions and collaborative action now, a fiscal cliff may be the least of our worries. We must work together to fix the problems which anchor our past and present, and hinder this and the next generation’s freedom to flourish into the future.
Do we place too much emphasis on what we believe a President can do for us, individually, as opposed to making a conscientious effort to take action and change in our own life? Americans expect a lot from their President. But, the power of the Presidency only goes so far. While we seek it in our candidates, and expect it from our elected chief executive, we may only really see true leadership in the Office of the President once, maybe twice, in a lifetime. This may sound cynical and unfortunate, but there is truth to this. The performance and outcomes for some Presidential administrations (and other elected offices at the local, state and federal levels) can be chalked up to egos with agendas that look a lot like power and leadership, but fall shy of delivering substance, direction, passion, and change. America’s democratic process and our generation’s focus on political change, has become too focused on the power of the Presidency in the past decade. There are a myriad of reasons for this ranging from global terrorism and wars, to our own at-home sense of entitlement and ambivalence that has been part of our collective past as a nation.
The ability for the President to lead, bring opposing views together toward action, and be transparent and to be accountable to the Office of the Presidency might be the most essential expectations we should have of a President. While campaign advertising and maneuvering would have us believe differently, Presidents cannot directly create jobs, heal the sick, create new industries, or drive innovation. These are outcomes of policies, incentives, regulations, and other instruments of government which are directly influenced by a President who leads, but ultimately decided and acted upon by members of Congress and the core team the President puts in place. President’s can however lead, inspire, empower and enlist, and, through their daily behaviors and actions, set an example of accountability and action for a nation.
Today, every politician, not only the President, needs to be accountable to the American people. There is nothing more ridiculous than hearing senior Senators or freshmen Congressmen suggest they have the best (fiscal, energy, education, healthcare, etc.) plan for America’s future, and that the other side of the isle is to blame for all of our woes. Too often we hear political elite telling us that the sitting President has overpromised, under delivered, and over welcomed his stay in The White House. “We the People” need to help our Senator and Congressional elects check their egos and remind them who put them in power in the first place. Their sense of entitlement to the position of power in which we entitled them to have is often taken too far by many.
Somewhere between the pageantry of getting elected and “serving the people” many politicians seem to become misguided on what their job really is. They get elected on the perception that they have the leadership and communication skills to support the needs of their constituents. Yet, on a daily basis many politicians demonstrate that they only like to play well in a sandbox, with a fence around it, with their own predefined rules, and only among like minded friends. As easier as it would be to live life this way, it is not the reality of the world we live in. The world is no longer simple, if it ever was. And so, we need politicians with purpose and passion, but also the good conscience and capacity to bring people together and collaborate toward positive change, not negative one-sided political bullying that serves no one any good, let alone the future of America or our children.
Every generation has its challenges and opportunities. And, our generation is no different. What is concerning is the sense of “issues overload” that we now feel and inherently know we have to deal with. This generation is witnessing a convergence of social, economic, and environmental challenges that is simply unprecedented. The fiscal cliff, global terrorism, state of the economy, domestic energy policy, global environmental challenges and natural resource constraints, socio-economic imbalance and challenges, fighting disease, addressing a broken education system, and other issues have intensified in recent years. What exacerbates the issues of the day is the fact that 7 billion people now occupy earth and are competing for clean air, clean water, food and natural resources to sustain themselves, let alone grow their economies and make provisions for future generations. This generation, and the next administration in The White House, will need to recalibrate and reprioritize what is important to “we the people” if we are to maintain our freedom to flourish.
But this is not a one-sided responsibility for politicians alone. “We the people” have to become more self-aware, pragmatic and realistic to what our needs really are. We must look inward to our individual lifestyle and behavior, and be prepared to take bold action (even if that means concessions) toward creating a better future. This does not have to mean our quality of life deteriorates, or that we somehow “lose”. As citizens and consumers, we have the power through the democratic process to cast our vote in politicians and in products, toward influencing a better world. But our responsibility does not end with our vote or purchase. As politicians take office, and as new products hit store shelves, we need to continuously be the stewards of our own life and destiny, and keep politicians and corporations responsible and accountable to the demanding needs of this generation.
For this generation to move forward, we must also look beyond our political and corporate elite and expect great things from ourselves and from everyday citizens in our communities. In doing so, we need to recapture what it means to hold ourselves and others accountable as we collectively address the challenges of the day, and realize the full potential of opportunities this generation can have toward creating a more balanced and sustainable world.
Positions of power will always be magnets for positive and negative attention. Those that seek power positions either already understand, or will learn that. But there is a common denominator in the equation of power that makes the quotient positive or negative: “we the people”. Let’s not forget the power each of us has as individual consumers and citizens, and the responsibilities associated with this power, to be a part of a process that entitles us to continue to have the freedom to flourish or freedom to fail in this increasingly dynamic world.
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Thank you to Greg Unruh for writing such a succinct and articulate summary of “The Sustainability Generation” in his blog New Leadership for a Sustainability Generation? for the Huffington Post.
Greg’s blog summarizes the essence of “The Sustainability Generation” when he states, “Coleman claims social uprisings around the world, from the Arab Spring to the Occupy Wall Street Movement, illustrate a growing public sense that old solutions are not working today. While society can’t yet articulate the reasons, Coleman sees today’s simultaneous economic, environmental and political crises deriving from a single root cause: unsustainable behavior manifested in a sense of entitlement and a disconnection between our choices and their systemic impacts. Perhaps the sustainability generation’s biggest challenge is that it requires a new type of leader. Coleman’s ideal is a systems thinker comfortable with ambiguity — someone who sees problem solving as a process of constant learning and knowledge sharing with humility, honesty and compassion for others. Perhaps most difficult is a belief in personal accountability for self and others, a character trait Coleman finds lacking in today’s “blame the other side” political discourse.”
I’m honored by Greg’s blog, not just for his accuracy on what the book is about, but because he exemplifies the type of leader influencing The Sustainability Generation. Gregory C. Unruh, Ph.D., is the professor of global business and director of the Lincoln Center for Ethics in Global Management at Thunderbird School of Global Management. Greg is an expert on the role of technological innovation in addressing the challenges of global sustainability. Greg has been a regular and longtime contributor to the Huffington Post.
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Change is inevitable. Yet many of us have a love hate relationship with change. Change can be good; it can also be feared and pushed away. Our economy, politics, climate, infrastructure, personal relationships, and daily lives are all continuously in flux and changing. One thing is certain however. If this generation does not address the myriad of changes happening around us, we will continue to lose ground in the global economy, and also constrain our capacity to our full potential as individuals pursuing freedom and opportunity.
In the past decade and in the past couple of years in particular, society has become unbalanced. Social change and uprising was prevalent in 2011 and 2012 with events like the Arab Spring, London Riots, and Occupy movements taking on greater emphasis here in the U.S. These movements are a result and reflection of many things, but a common thread is this generation’s inability to meet many of the mounting and basic needs essential to life. Like no other time in history there is a convergence of economic, social, and environmental challenges that we reawake to in the morning, and try to drown out as go to bed to in the evening. There are no simple solutions to our collective challenges.
While we focus in the U.S. primarily on the economy, other challenges run much deeper throughout the rest of the world. For example, natural resource damages, access to clean water, maintaining a reliable power grid and communications network, and feeding and housing the poor are front-and-center challenges which occupy the frontal lobe of people of other nations.
If a fiscal crisis does not crush us, a “sustainability crisis” will. Today, sustainability is about taking a conscious action toward delivering value to society, while addressing the trade-offs and concessions we might need to make, and in meeting the diversity of needs this global generation has in an equitable and balanced way.
Too often we place the blame and point the finger of our woes at corporations and government. There is no doubt business and government has to play a clear leadership role in addressing our sustainability challenges. But we must also be accountable, in our daily lives, to the changes happening around us. As citizens and consumers we have incredible power to impact a better lifestyle for ourselves, our families, and for future generations. Through your voting and purchasing power you can make decisions that impact the politics and products that directly impact your lifestyle.
The challenge for this generation is to transition our society from a sense of entitlement to an action oriented empowered and enlightened generation. In the process we will realize a better quality of life for ourselves, our children and grandchildren. The common denominator to a more or less sustainable world is “People”. Together we have the capacity, intellect, and potential to do great things. Given the challenges before us, now is the time to set aside petty politics and any sense of entitlement or indifference and come together to own who we are, what we are, and what we will be. Our time on this planet is limited. Each day is a gift and your life is a gift. This book was written to help individuals realize they are the most critical part of the sustainability equation.
We can use this opportunity and time in history to learn and leverage its past, redefine its present, and positively impact its future. In this equation, sustainability cannot be mandated, regulated, or legislated. If it is, it will likely fail as not every consumer or citizen has the same perception or definition of what is sustainable. The onerous to figure out “what is of value” to society should not just be on business or government. As citizens and consumers, we need to help others understand what is important to us, what brings us value, and what we envision as “quality of life” measures, and ultimately success.
Our lifestyle should not be defined by the products we buy or the policies that influence our behaviors. Rather, we should be accountable to our behaviors and live a self-directed life that keeps us, as individuals, in charge of our freedom and fate. In this way, we can remain the most viable force in fulfilling a life with a sense of balance, purpose, and passion. And in doing so, government and business can be more fully aware of our diverse needs, and play an even more valuable role in this integrated system of sustainability.
The solution for change and sustainability resides not only in our needs from government and business, but also as an ethic, code of conduct, and accountability which we should all live by, as consumers and citizens. As companies and governments strive for greater transparency and accountability programs we should support them with critical thinking, healthy debate, and clear communications. This generation requires commitment by, and responsibility of business, but also direct action by committed citizens and consumers willing to work as a cohesive “Sustainability Generation”.
The measure of success for this generation will be not in our ability to wage wars, land on the moon, or develop all of the earth’s natural resources. The mark of the Sustainability Generation will be in our ability to rise above negative campaigning and wasted time and energies and work together toward common solutions that address the most pressing challenges of our time, while enabling us to realize our full potential as global citizens.
Thank you again for your interest. I look forward to working with you as we discover and define our role as The Sustainability Generation!
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NOVA Magazine recently published my article,“Customising Sustainability”. NOVA Magazine is touted as Australia’s leading holistic health and lifestyle journal. Since their first issue in March 1994, NOVA Magazine has earned an enviable reputation for their well researched, independent articles and columns, artistic covers and layout and, above all, integrity and credibility.Comments Off on Customising Sustainability – NOVA Magazine Newer posts →