Designing Regenerative Cultures — Introduction

I don’t know about you, but I was disappointed with the way humanity entered the new millennium. I don’t mean the last 15 years. In retrospect those years could be summed-up as ‘the glass is full’. Half the glass is full of stories of hope and human kindness; and the other half is full of despair about what we are still doing to each other and the Earth. No, I mean the actual start to the millennium.

We had an opportunity as a species, as humanity, to come together and reflect on the story so far, taking stock, listening to what we really want for ourselves, our families, the places and communities we care about. Such a process of deeper listening and asking important questions together might have helped in creating a basis for co-envisioning the future — a future that we would all like to co-create as one human family.

Yes, there was the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. It gave our species a rather alarming ‘fail’ in planetary stewardship; and yes, there were the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that the United Nations came to agree upon. Let’s hope we muster more collective enthusiasm for the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The most hopeful and thoughtful process that occurred in the run-up to the new millennium, in terms of a meaningful dialogue about humanity’s shared values and aspirations, was the creation of the Earth Charter. Sadly not many heads of state — and, more importantly, too few of us — took real notice of it or gave it the importance it deserved. By and large we started the 21st century by simply getting on with ‘business as usual’ rather than initiating a cross-cultural global dialogue on the broader realities of living together on a finite planet, faced with rapidly growing complexity and uncertainty.

I started the 21st century with a commitment to myself. I would do my best to be part of the solution rather than the problem. Initially this led me to enrol in the MSc in Holistic Science at Schumacher College, which led on to gaining a scholarship from the University of Dundee where I wrote my PhD thesis on Design for Human and Planetary Health exploring a participatory perspective on complexity and sustainability.

In 2006, I visited Professor David Orr, who had been my PhD examiner, at his home in Oberlin, Ohio. I interviewed him about his vision of ecological design as an integrative discipline that could enable the transition to sustainability. In that conversation he planted the seed for this book.

He suggested that in order to successfully co-create a story with enough meaning to guide us through the transition

“we will have to decide not just how we make ourselves sustainable, but why we should be sustained. That’s a much more difficult thing.” — David W. Orr

In the process we will be confronted with much deeper questions of meaning: “Who are we? What are we? Was our role here on this planet simply to dig up carbon and release it into the atmosphere and then expire? Was that what we were all about?” He added:

“If our debate does not go further than the language of neoclassical economics, we are done for! Because you cannot make an economic argument for human survival, you have to make a spiritual argument for human survival. We are worth it, and we are worthy of it in that higher sense.”
— David W. Orr

We need to ask the deeper question of why we are worth sustaining. Our answers will inform how we ask the more operational questions and implement tentative answers and solutions. Such deeper questioning will shape how we might initiate wise actions that help us to transition towards regenerative cultures. Starting with the why will help us to understand our own deeper motivation, purpose and goals. We need to question the beliefs that shape our worldview. Only by starting with the why will we inspire people to change their behaviour and to co-create regenerative cultures.

What matters urgently is that we do come together to have conversations about what future we want for humanity. We need to reflect on how we will have to change individually and collectively to create this future. By asking such questions together we may come to understand that we will have to collaborate as one species and learn to transcend and include our differences if we want a thriving future for all of humanity. We need to ask important questions about why and what if. We need to rediscover the common ground of human community. This will enable us to co-create a future worth living in. We need a collective narrative about who we are and why we are worth sustaining, a shared story powerful enough to keep us all innovative, creative and collaborative as we question into the what, how, when and where.

I began the new millennium with a promise to myself to listen more deeply; to listen into why so few people were stepping up to the necessary transformation ahead; to listen into why they were behaving as they were, how they saw the world, why so many of their stories ended with “that’s just how it is” or “that’s just human nature”. I also promised myself that I would pay special attention to the kind of questions we might have to ask ourselves on our long learning journey towards a more sustainable, regenerative and thriving future.

This book is about what I have learned from deep listening and living these questions. It explores how we might live our way rather than know our way into the future, how we might stop chasing the mirage of certainty and control in a complex and unpredictable world. How can we collaborate in the creation of diverse regenerative cultures adapted to the unique biocultural conditions of place? How can we create conditions conducive to life?

Daniel Christian Wahl Es Molinar, Majorca March 2016

[This is an excerpt of a subchapter from Designing Regenerative Cultures, published by Triarchy Press, 2016.]

Photo: Alberto Fraile (Gracias amigo!)