WEEKLY VIEWS, REVIEWS & NEWS FROM THE OKANAGAN INSTITUTE
Less is More, More or Less
NUMBER 147llFOR THE WEEK OF OCTOBER 20-26, 2014
Divesting for a Secure Future
Nobody should profit from the rising temperatures, seas and human suffering caused by the burning of fossil fuels. That argument closely mirrors the one from the 1980s that those who conducted business with apartheid South Africa were aiding and abetting an immoral system.
Since last spring, a new weapon has been added to the arsenal against climate change and fossil fuel consumption in Canada. It's a familiar word being used in a new context: divestment. Popularized in the fight against South African apartheid, divestment is something proponents hope will trigger the shift needed to build a national movement to "keep the oil in the soil."
Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu argues that tactics used against firms who did business with South Africa must now be applied to fossil fuels to prevent human suffering: "Fossil fuels have powered human endeavour since our ancestors developed the skills to make and manage fire. Coal, gas and oil warm our homes, fuel our industries and enable our movements. We have allowed ourselves to become totally dependent, and are guilty of ignoring the warning signs of pending disaster. It is time to act.
As responsible citizens of the world we have a duty to persuade our leaders to lead us in a new direction: to help us abandon our collective addiction to fossil fuels. Reducing our carbon footprint is not just a technical scientific necessity; it has also emerged as the human rights challenge of our time. While global emissions have risen unchecked, real-world impacts have taken hold in earnest. The most devastating effects of climate change - deadly storms, heat waves, droughts, rising food prices and the advent of climate refugees - are being visited on the world's poor.
We can encourage more of our universities and municipalities, foundations, corporations, individuals and cultural institutions to cut their ties to the fossil fuel industry. To divest, and invest, instead, in renewable energy. To move their money out of the problem and into the solutions. We can urge our governments to invest in sustainable practices and stop subsidizing fossil fuels; and to freeze further exploration for new fossil energy sources. Through the power of our collective action we can hold those who rake in the profits accountable for cleaning up their mess.
Over the last three or four years, we have seen the rise of a new civil society divestment movement to stand alongside the scientists, environmentalists and social activists who have been challenging the moral standing of the fossil fuel industry.
Once again, it is a global movement led by students and faith groups, along with hospitals, cities, foundations, corporations, universities and individuals. It is a moral movement to persuade fossil fuel companies away from a business model that threatens our very survival."
Early signs suggest the divestment campaign has traction, and is spreading faster than the anti-apartheid divestment campaign did, with over 300 active campaigns on campuses, in public institutions, and among pension funds worldwide. This is an exciting example of the power of an idea whose time has come.
Cheap Crap at the Mall and All
One of the worst inventions of modern life is the concept of "quality time." When it comes to building and maintaining relationships, there is no substitute for quantity. When did we get so busy that we started looking for short-cuts even in our relationships?
Postponed family formation, a high divorce rate, a low birthrate and increasing longevity are some of the factors driving us into . The consequences are by no means always negative, but loneliness lurks and can easily morph into feelings of exclusion and even alienation. And here's a particular hazard: if we live alone and rely on mass media for most of our information about what's going on in the world, life will always seem dark and dangerous.
Living in suburbs where people generally work away from home, arrive and leave home by car and often work long hours, then the opportunities for those crucial incidental encounters that fuel village life - over the fence, on the footpath or at the local cafe - are severely limited. It has become a cliche of modern urban life that we don't know our neighbours. To the extent that that's true, it's a tragedy - not just for us and our neighbours, but for the life of the neighbourhood itself.
If our lives are built for speed - fast food, ever-faster downloads, speed dating, breaks in place of holidays, click shopping, life lived on the run - then we may be undermining our emotional foundations more than we realize. What happens if all that rapid-fire stimulation shortens our attention span and makes slower encounters, like dinner-table conversation, seem boring?
But the surest way to increase the risk of loneliness and depression (or at least disappointment) is to fall for those twin seducers of modern life: materialism and the promise of personal happiness. If we think our possessions are an index of our worth, then we need to think again. If we think personal happiness is a worthwhile goal, the evidence is against us. Our deepest satisfactions come from a sense of meaning in our lives, usually connected to the nature of our work and the quality of our relationships, and that's as true for "modern" people as it's ever been.
Nothing sustains us like the challenge of personal conversations - with neighbours, storekeepers, colleagues, or a kid on the bus - that might take us into uncharted and sometimes uncomfortable territory. If life involves engagement with our local community and a determination to revive the sense of a neighbourhood, then, even if we live alone, loneliness won't smother us.
The deepest truth about being human is not the one we are so often presented with - that we are all driven by self-interest; that we are ruthlessly competitive by nature; that acts of apparent altruism are just a smokescreen that conceals our true motive, which is merely to be seen as "good." Yes, we can be like that. But the far deeper truth is this one: we are by nature social creatures; most acts of altruism are precisely what they appear to be; the cooperative urge lies deep inside us all. Like so many other species on Earth, we depend on communities to sustain us. We don't function well in isolation; we need each other.
But the communities that sustain us don't just happen, and they don't always survive. We must nurture them; we must engage with them; each of us must contribute to the social capital that is our insurance against anarchy and apathy. It is this sense of interdependence that prevents any society from descending into chaos. Engagement with the life of the community - the neighbourhood, the society - doesn't only preserve our own sanity; it also nurtures the social resources that sustain us all.
Revved-up lives seem more stimulating, more exciting, more entertaining. But what if, under the influence of an ever-faster, ever-busier world, we become more impatient with each other? Love's work is hard work, and a reluctance to put in the sustained effort is a surefire recipe for the erosion of our personal relationships.
And when we're over-revving, we might not realize that our impatience is sending those around us - including those we love the most - a dispiriting and potentially destructive message: Ô" don't take you seriously enough to devote all this time to you." We can't listen to someone any way but slowly. We can't build a relationship any way but slowly. We can't raise kids any way but slowly. It all takes time. And time well spent,
IDEAS WORTH CONSIDERING
Literature and the Human Soul
"Writers open our hearts and minds, and give us maps to our own selves." The question of what reading does for the human soul is an eternal one and its answer largely ineffable, but this hasn't stopped minds big and small from tussling with it.
Alain de Botton and his team at The School of Life - creators of intelligent how-to guides to modern living, spanning everything from the art of being alone to the psychology of staying sane to cultivating a healthier relationship with sex to finding fulfilling work. In the animated essay below, they extol the value of books in expanding our circle of empathy, validating and ennobling our inner life, and fortifying us against the paralyzing fear of failure. Here's a partial transcript of the essay:
IT SAVES YOU TIME. It looks like it's wasting time, but literature is actually the ultimate time-saver - because it gives us access to a range of emotions and events that it would take you years, decades, millennia to try to experience directly. Literature is the greatest reality simulator - a machine that puts you through infinitely more situations than you can ever directly witness.
IT MAKES YOU NICER. Literature performs the basic magic of what things look like though someone else's point of view; it allows us to consider the consequences of our actions on others in a way we otherwise wouldn't; and it shows us examples of kindly, generous, sympathetic people.
Literature deeply stands opposed to the dominant value system - the one that rewards money and power. Writers are on the other side - they make us sympathetic to ideas and feelings that are of deep importance but can't afford airtime in a commercialized, status-conscious, and cynical world.
IT'S A CURE FOR LONELINESS. We're weirder than we like to admit. We often can't say what's really on our minds. But in books we find descriptions of who we genuinely are and what events, described with an honesty quite different from what ordinary conversation allows for. In the best books, it's as if the writer knows us better than we know ourselves - they find the words to describe the fragile, weird, special experiences of our inner lives. Writers open our hearts and minds, and give us maps to our own selves, so that we can travel in them more reliably and with less of a feeling of paranoia or persecution.
IT PREPARES YOU FOR FAILURE. All of our lives, one of our greatest fears is of failure, of messing up, of becoming, as the tabloids put it, "a loser." Every day, the media takes us into stories of failure. Interestingly, a lot of literature is also about failure - in one way or another, a great many novels, plays, poems are about people who messed up. Great books don't judge as harshly or as one-dimensionally as the media. Literature deserves its prestige for one reason above all others - because it's a tool to help us live and die with a little bit more wisdom, goodness, and sanity.
THE PROSPECT OF PROOF IS INTERGENERATIVE
The Incentive of Creative Work
The incentive for being part of a creative enterprise is the same incentive that drives the social economy. Working and creating in a dynamic environment with other motivated people and organizations is inspired by, and fueled by, a community of collaboration.
For sharing space means more than simply being office mates, or cultural patrons. It means sharing ideas, strategies and experiences. It means supporting each other throughout the innovation process. It means working together to build creative products and services and connecting them back into the community. It means creating opportunities to learn, grow and become more resilient together.
In the process, the arts sector can learn from the environmental community, and social justice groups from professional associations. Through such efforts and processes we can begin breaking down the barriers between social movements and release the creative energy and potential that comes from cross-sectoral collaboration.
At Proof, we can take advantage of our space and our programming to provide a launchpad for new social mission initiatives. There are many people, companies and organizations with great ideas for improving our communitiy, but great ideas need structural and strategic support to get off the ground.
The social innovation process can support emerging projects, providing services that range from workspace and administrative support to organizational and strategic planning.
We intend to create a dynamic facility that provides workspace, shared services, programming and incubation support to social mission groups and social entrepreneurs.
We intend to curate a healthy creative environment for shared learning, foster a sense of community, and support established and emerging leaders, and through incubation activities, help ensure that promising community initiatives have the best possible chance of success.
We intend to convene conversations that will encourage us to provide services of value to learners and creators.
We continue the push forward with our grand notion of Proof, a creative and learning centre that will enable good - if not great - things to happen. We anticipate opening the doors in the new year to great fanfare and delicious fare, and inviting creatives to join us on the journey of discovery. As we move from prospect to reality, our productive engagement with the creative community will grow.
Memberships invitations and requests for comment will soon be sent out to those who expressed interest in joining.
Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Almost everything - all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart. - Steve Jobs
The most recent issue of the Okanagan Institute journal Sage-ing with Creative Spirit, Grace and Gratitude is online at www.sageing.ca
A volunteer publication of the Okanagan Institute, intended as an initiative for collaboration and sharing, the journal presents the opportunity for the free exchange of wisdom gleaned from creative engagement, and is focused on honouring the transformational power of creativity. We hope that your perspective on the arts and creative engagement might also change as you read stories of Okanagan artists, experienced and emerging, who engage in art for the joy of stimulating personal and community wisdom and well-being.
A JOURNAL OF THE ARTS & AGING
"One of the strengths that sages possess, regardless of age, is a willingness to be educated by all things. Curiosity leads them to learn from all they encounter. They do not judge people or situations. When one relaxes into just being, everything can nourish and stimulate. For those who embrace life as a sage-ing experience, things come to them from the world and from the events in their lives. By taking time and giving attention to creatively respond to what might at first seem ordinary and not deserving of notice, life ripens with significance and meaning."