The Living Systems View of "Good"

June 22, 2011 Leave a comment

|Photo by daisybush||

I am very much looking forward to my upcoming cafe conversation with Carol Sanford, author of the recently released The Responsible Business. Someone once said, “What Deepak Chopra and Steven Covey are to the individual, Carol Sanford is to the whole organization.”  I have considered her as a mentor at a distance, ever since getting introduced to her work by fellow Arlington resident Bill Reed.  What I have come to appreciate about both Carol and Bill is their incisive emphasis on regenerative design and capacity building as they help people to understand that they are not separate from but a part of “the environment.”  In a recent blog post, Carol shows how our anthropocentric views have not only put us at the center of things but also apart from them, in ways that are increasingly detrimental.  Even with the best of intentions to “do good,” there is often a division between provider and other (think what is implied in “giving back” or “helping the environment”), as opposed to “working to evolve a living order” of which we are intimately a part.

What follows is an excerpt from Carol’s recent blog post “Sustainability: Moving From ‘Less Harm’ to ‘Deep Good'” (for the entire post follow this link).

The Living Systems View of Good: Four Acts of Non-Anthropocentric Good

1. Foster a system as a whole according to how it works when it is evolving and healthy.

Understand how the system (a family, business, or Lifeshed) works and what makes it function and evolve most effectively; how each entity within the system, in its unique way, is making that happen. For a business, this includes understanding the communities it affects—those in which its offices are located, from which its materials are sourced, where it goods are sold, where it creates waste—not just to “give back to” them (do some good) but also to increase their vitality and viability and the vitality and viability of their persons, economies, and ecosystems.

2. Enable each entity to realize its full potential to contribute to the working of the whole system.

A business learns to ask, What does each entity contribute to the working of the system as a whole and how can we support that? For example, the palm oil used in many cleaning products comes from trees that grow “somewhere” specifically. But do those communities become strong economically from supplying the oil? Does the one business you buy from treat its people fairly or (and it often is OR) do they use water conservation and other preservation practices while not supporting life in the whole. The palm plantation and factory may be located so that the Lifeshed in which they are positioned cannot do the work of moving nutrients up and down a mountainside or in and out along a river. To reduce the damage of having located them there is mitigating—doing less harm. But to create true living-systems good, it is necessary to understand how that specific Lifeshed works, as well as how the community and economy there work and can be made healthy based on their uniqueness.

3. Identify each entity’s new opportunity to contribute.

Entities might include a supplier, a child in a school, or even a village. Merida Meridian, makers of exquisitely designed natural floor coverings, works with its suppliers to grow their businesses by marketing their weaving skills to other companies. This has created stronger villages and stronger bonds within villages and has helped maintain traditional economic and cultural lifestyles, which in turn has benefited Merida by fostering its producers’ creativity and productivity.

4. Build capability where it is needed rather than give money to ameliorate lack of capability.

Merida has also supported producers’ efforts to build of business skills and develop Merida has also supported producers’ efforts to build of business skills and develop technology. This again supports Merida, but the villages are thriving as a result and building more secure futures. This goes beyond donating fish or teaching people to fish, all the way to creating a whole, healthy Lifeshed for fish, rivers, people, and all the other beings inter-living with them.

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