“Learning Life’s Lessons: Inspirational Tips for Creating Peace in Troubled Times,” by William Timpson, Ph.D.
In the northern hemisphere, the cold of winter and the dawning of a new year can—and should—inspire new thinking and initiatives once the basics are understood. As we prepare for classes or presentations read through what history can teach us about the challenges of the past, just where there are significant points of light to remember, and how the ideas that emerge can help us connect to what we can do in the classroom or with other audiences. So reflect on those tough issues you face and consider new possibilities that would energize you and carry over to others.
For example, on January first of 1863, in the midst of a divisive, bloody and exhausting U.S. civil war, we saw a courageous President Abraham Lincoln issue a proclamation that freed slaves in the rebellious Southern states and inspire deep change. In January of 1925 in that traditional bastion of rugged male cowboy mentality, Wyoming inaugurated the first female governor in the U.S. Less than forty years later, Senator John Kennedy announced his intention to run for president on January 2nd, 1960 and bring his youthful energy to that office. After many years of a tense and seemingly intractable stand-off during the Cold War when many feared a holocaust should a conflict escalate between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., these superpowers announced a treaty in January of 1993 eliminating about two-thirds of each country’s long-range nuclear weapons.
#1. Embrace complexity while connecting systems, values and sustainability
Thinking about sustainability means embracing complexity and drawing on inspiration from various sources for ways forward. In January 1964, the U.S. Surgeon General released a report indicating that smoking was a definite health hazard. Over many years it eventually became public how aggressive the tobacco industry had been in attempting to conceal this connection and refute the medical evidence. A commitment to sustainability means asking hard questions and interrogating the responses that we get, including questions about the systems that operate our economies, our societies and our politics and that inspire our values. The following “tip” is adapted from #16 in 147 Practical Tips for Teaching Sustainability.
Examine how capitalist and democratic ideals and sustainable practices interact with each other. Richard Fox, then with the non-profit organization, Trees, Water, and People, reminds us that democracy is not something we made once. He insists that it is an ongoing evolving experiment in working collectively and that we are the ones on the cutting edge of that powerful force.
As an example, Fox points to the fundamental question of water and asks if clean and sufficient water is a human right that government should provide or a commodity that can be sold to the highest bidder? In the U.S., Fox insists that we face our own version of water privatization but that it comes in the form of bottled water. He notes that if you look at any convenience store, you will see that we have somehow accepted the marketed premise that we should pay more for a gallon of water than we do for gasoline. Think about that!
Worse yet, as people turn to bottled water as the solution for a perceived failure of our public water systems, we have less money to improve those very public water systems under question. Instead, we are now faced with a huge new form of trash (i.e., mountains of plastic bottles). The truth is that we don’t adequately fund our water systems.” Just think about the tragic events in Flint Michigan in 2015 when dangerously high levels of lead surfaced when the city’s source for water was changed.
However, the real irony is that many tests are showing that some of the bottled water is no better than the water we get from the tap or, in some cases, it is tap water but sold with a fancy label.” For insight into the international debate, read Blue Gold: The Fight to Stop Corporate Theft of the World’s Water by Maude Barlow and Tony Clarke, or view the film “Thirst.”
Ask yourself and your students or audience members: In what other ways do the current economic and political systems undermine sustainability? What would be inspiring?