|Hello there, stranger,
great to see you! Welcome to Our World. Welcome to Division
You want divides? Weve got divides. Weve got the
divide between north and south.
Weve got the digital divide. Weve got the divide
between rich and poor.
And thats just the start of it. Weve got your Christians
and your Muslims, your hawks and your doves, your suits
and your sandals, your black folks and your white folks,
your Democrats and your Republicans (okay, youre right, maybe
that last ones not such a big divide!).
The list (and the beat, and the beating each other up) goes on.
Youve got your tribal loyalists and your global citizens,
your raving fundamentalists and your raving capitalists . . . and
whats that you say? You get the idea? You get the idea and
you want me to stop?
Okay, I willbut not before I mention one last divide. The
gap between the secular and the sacred, which shows up, among other
places, in the disconnect between business and spirituality. People
have been struggling with this latter divide for decades now and
without much successwhich isnt surprising. Were
talking two very different worlds here. Business, especially corporate-style
business, is clinical and analytical. Spirituality is about connections,
about meaning. Mr. Mars, meet Ms. Venus.
For years people have been coming out with books with titles like
Soul in Business. Their efforts have been met with dewy-eyed gratitude
by the choir and yawns by everyone else. In large measure the problem
has been with the angle in. The word soul falls flat
in this context. Its too squishy.
The goal of these people is laudable, thoughto make business
more responsive to the dictates of the heart. Until this happens,
the logic goes, business will continue to be a sort of institutional
idiot savant, brilliant at producing profits and clueless about
everything else. This isnt good, and not just because it makes
employees want to go home and kick the dog. Think mastodon in a
china shop. Think stomping on the planet.
But I digress. Weve got all these gaps. How do we bridge them?
Soul isnt the way in, plainly. A tougher, more
macho term is required, one that wont get hooted out of the
house by policy wonks, but also has a gentler side.
And hey: it turns out weve already got the term. Its
been around for years, actually. But it hasnt been viewed
in this light.
The envelope, please.
And the winner is: sustainable development.
If the relationship between Division Central and sustainable development
isnt immediately obvious, blame it on Rio. On the monumental
1992 Earth Summit that was held in Rio de Janeiro, that isand
on what came before, and after. Terms like sustainable development
dont have a predefined meaning: our understanding of them
emerges out of a collective conversation (a/k/a discourse)
that happens over time. And the definitions that have emerged out
of the world of Rio are woefully incomplete.
Today, sustainable development has two generally accepted meanings.
The first comes from the 1987 Brundtland Commission: sustainable
development is development or progress that meets the needs
of the present without compromising the ability of future generations
to meet their own needs. The second definition is often referred
to as the Three Es. It proposes that sustainable
development consists of the harmonization of economic growth, environmental
protection and social equity.
Both views are useful. They are also limiting. There are many other
lenses through which to view sustainable development, and our cause
is harmed to the extent that we neglect them. Here are three alternative
(or, if you prefer, complementary) definitions of sustainable development.
First, sustainable development is about right balance. Thats
implied by both the Brundtland Commissions definition and
the Three Es, but there are lots of other issues out there,
too. Globalization, for instance: how about balancing corporate
and local culture? Theres our so-called entertainment culture:
how about making it less adolescent and more real? Theres
also, lest we forget, the spirituality and business disconnect:
Venus and Mars. How about balancing them?
Second, sustainable development is about reconciliation. Think of
Division Central and the strong feelings those many gaps generate.
Denial. Envy. Desperation. Rage. These are the emotions that, locked
into place, tear the world apart. Although sustainable development
is rarely viewed that way, one of its central aims is to bridge
those divides and heal the wounds they cause. If youve ever
wondered why so much talk in sustainability circles is about the
importance of dialogue, this is why.
Finally, sustainable development is about compassion. Why? Because
compassionempathy for the victims of wrong balanceis
what inspires people to seek reconciliation. There are other reasons,
too, but compassion is especially powerful. It operates at the heart
level, and this is where true commitment comes from.
People have felt compassion since time immemorial, but it is usually
for people who feel like members of their tribefamily, friends,
fellow citizens and so on. Sustainable development expands on this.
It invites us to demonstrate our compassion for all the victims
of injustice, regardless of race, color, creed or place of national
origin. The concept of tribe becomes global.
In its embrace of compassion, sustainable development is riding
a trend. Over the centuries, we have become much more sensitive
to the plight of the have-nots than we once were. Increasingly,
we are expected to feel empathy for the victims of suffering, even
if they do not belong to our tribe, narrowly defined. This is one
reason why George W. Bush, during the recent presidential election,
dubbed (or, rather, Dubyad) himself a compassionate
conservative. The rules required him to come across as a caring
guy. A couple of millennia ago, Dubyus Maximus would have stuffed
his pockets and thumbed his nose at the underclass. And that would
have been the end of it.
This is, of course, ego-ideal stuff, a reflection of who we think
we should be. In reality, we are only selectively compassionate,
and appalling amounts of pocket-stuffing still go on. But something
very basic has changed. Compassion has become a cultural core value
now. Hey, maybe there is such a thing as progress after all!
These three themesright balance, reconciliation and compassionare
closely intertwined. In large measure, this is because they address
the same issuethe uneven distribution of power, which underlies
most (if not all) the conflicts in Division Central.
In the broad panoply of sustainability issues, probably none is
more important than leveling the scales of powerright-balancing
them, so to speak. It isnt easily done, though. It is the
rare person who voluntarily gives up power, or even supports structural
changes that might have that effect.
How do you get the haves to engage the have-nots in a spirit of
reconciliation? There are basically two approachesappeals
to conscience and appeals to reason. The former tends to produce
resistance. People dont like being should on,
as the saying goes. The second track plays on fear and goes something
like: Theres a bomb at your party, pal. Do something
or it will explode. Unfortunately, people tend to wait for
the detonation before taking action, as our conduct pre- and post-September
There is another way in, too, but its not something you can
sell. Its the path of compassion, and its entirely self-generating.
The heart opens on its own or not at all. Excuse me,
a variation on an old joke goes, can you tell me how to get
to Carnegie Hall? Answer: Youve got to want it
We all know the difference between doing something because we have
to and doing something because we want to. Compassion is an opening
to desire: it is a spontaneous reaching out thats stripped
both of duty (it is a Puritanism-free zone) and of fear (we dismantle
the bomb because our concern for others makes us want to).
Because its spontaneous, its also dynamic. It starts
in the heart, but isnt sentimental or squishy. It manifests
as action. Compassion, the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat
Hanh says, is a type of energy that needs to be expressed
in a very concrete way.
Its something else as wellanticipatory. Thats
rightanticipatory. Back when I was a kid, compositions were
assigned to me every weekend. When I was in the mood to do them,
Id start them on Saturday morning. When I wasnt, Id
get cracking on Sunday night, and the result usually showed it.
Compassion is its own motivation. It is intrinsically proactive.
It gets us out from behind the eight-balland ahead of the
Can you have sustainable development without compassion? I suppose
so, in the same way you can have a marriage thats all duty
and no heart. Then again, until people let go of their rage, Division
Central will continue to be the name of the movie weve landed
in, so emotions like forgiveness and compassion would seem to have
a central role. Do we need green taxes, emissions reductions programs
and the like? Absolutely. But thats not all. Cut through all
the fancy grown-up talk and the problem is really quite simple.
Do you know what the Dalai Lamas big and complicated strategy
for solving the worlds problems is?
Carl Frankel is a writer, journalist and consultant
specializing in business and sustainable development. He can reached
via e-mail at email@example.com.