For a large part of my employed life, I worked for a progressive sustainability communications agency. A key belief of the company, and of many successful people all over the world and over centuries, is that you have to have a vision of what success looks like, before you can achieve it.
I worked with different kinds of clients, all of whom were professing some level of commitment to sustainable development. From previously unusual suspects such as multinational corporations, to the more expected non-profit organizations; from national government departments to local authorities and; everything in-between. Perhaps because it was my bread and butter, and something at the front of mind every day, I often started to feel the frustration of hammering the same messages, doubting that they were really getting through. Or whether those that commissioned them in the first place were merely ticking boxes.
The self is at the centre
The most important conclusion that I came to was that everything starts from the self. If I do not respect, admire and love my self enough, it is unlikely that I will have much respect, admiration and true love for other people, let alone the planet! Ayn Rand’s novel The Fountainhead made an impression on me that has lasted years and contributed to this conclusion. She challenges common interpretations of selfishness, redefining it as focusing on your self with a view to self-actualisation, rather than detracting from this noble mission and letting other people’s identities, thoughts and deeds retard your actualisation.
I have been known to get into the situation of considering other people’s feelings to the point of sacrificing my own. The result has often compromised my own journey. I’m not advocating disregard for others, I’m only insisting that you need to take care of your self first.
When you are content, fulfilled and peaceful, your empathy for others is acute. You are in tune with the natural state of things: harmony. You understand that to maintain that balance, you need to recreate that sense of contentment, satisfaction and peacefulness in everyone and every thing that is around you.
If I value my self, I value the planet that sustains me and I value the contribution, and necessarily the well-being, of others.
The realm of vision
As a result of this line of thinking, I have found it effective to use visioning in the context of my immediate experience. By picturing my ideal typical day – the activities I undertake, my surroundings and my social interactions – I inevitably create a vision with economic, social and environmental aspects considered. By imagining how I want to live, I draw a picture of the world that I want to inhabit.
When I hear stories about prodigal African politicians, shamelessly displaying wealth of dubious origins in front of people who are struggling to eat, I always have to ask: how can they be so myopic? Do they think of the world that they are creating for their children? A world where the hungry are so insulted and strained by lack of opportunity that they resort to taking with force? Taking from those very children?
The prodigal sons and daughters are not thinking of themselves, they are thinking of the joneses that they need to keep up with or prove something to. Self-reflection is the last thing on their warped agenda. Were they to take a moment and truly think of their own well-being, would their behaviour alter?
Imagine if all Africans regularly dedicated time to envision how they want to live? Imagine if they described these pictures in detail, considering all aspects of life from their vocation, to their working and living (social and physical) environments; from recreational pursuits to time invested in personal growth. Imagine if Africans were this selfish?