Social Villains

Who is the villain of sustainability?

If we had to point a finger at the true antagonist of the sustainability movement there would, or at least should, be a lot of fingers pointed at each one of us. What about humans is the issue? That’s one of the questions I found myself truly taking a long look at this week.

If we absolutely must point a finger at something let us point it at social systems. Social systems can be viewed as sociological networks, relationships that constitute a coherent whole between individuals, groups, and institutions. Examples include the family system, school systems, or peer systems to name a few. These systems make up much of the influences and pressures that an individual faces on a daily bases. If this is the case that makes sustainability a sociological question, a question that examines the social meaning or patterns of a phenomenon. We have become complacent in our overindulgent lifestyles because that is what our social systems have deemed regular behavior. We as individuals are always participating in something larger than ourselves, such as the larger social systems.

Humans are no different than other physical things, we take the path of least resistance in life, much the same as water and electricity. For humans this is usually not a physical path but a metaphoric one of personal effort or confrontation. We instinctively wish to cause as few ripples as possible in our social systems. The scariest and perhaps most important issue with social systems is the fact that we can describe the framework of many social systems without necessarily saying anything about the individual personalities of the people participating in those systems. This is to say the paradigm we face is created by the social systems we encounter daily. As such we have been morphed into passive super consumers because that is what media, advertising, and cinema has told us, as a collective whole, to be. However, if people can change how we engage with our social systems, there is hope to transform or abolish those systems. 

Reflecting on the Ted Talk with Dr. Marc Cohen I found myself circling back to the statement that “its hard to be happy unless I’m well.” However, this is not well in the since of not plagued by sickness but well in mind, body, and spirit. How is that achievable? What are my blissors as he refers to them, what makes my life more enjoyable? For me it was the time I share with my spouse, cooking, or talking on the phone with my mom, but mostly the laughs I enjoy everyday thanks to my dogs. These were my blissors and I found not one of them had to do with material gain. I spent small moments of my day reflecting on the instances of that day, what I remembered and what stood out. In having these moments of reflection i was essentially participating in a Nano-mindful meditation. I found that the pressures of my peers to go out for drinks and buy $6-dollar coffees was much less enjoyable than quality time enjoying each other’s company. While the pressure to be social is not bad in any way the activities I found suggested left me more stressed and less fulfilled.

In these Nano-meditations I did not find my center or balance, I did take time to analyze my choices. In a momentary analysis I found myself taking a step off of the “hedonic treadmill” that I honestly didn’t even realize I had been on. I became aware of what I should be more focused on what my own true values might look like. In taking a mindful step back into myself I found what values contribute most to my happiness and in this clarity found that my social system was not propelling me toward achieving them. Therefore, I believe knowing these things I can suggest activities or be more of a role model for altering the systems I engage in to support my needs more. while this is not the path of least resistance in the end it could be a path to greater happiness for me. I believe that being aware of ones self promotes more balance in life, with friends, with work, and with nature. Being mindful allows you time to become aware and to truly self-evaluate. If we are not aware of how our choices effect ourselves how can we be aware how those choices effect the world?

These choices are what I hope to continue to evaluate in myself and I believe as I become more self-aware I can push this focus out, moving from the I in mindfulness to the We.

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