Solution seekers

Over fifteen years ago I wrote this article that asked the question ‘are you a solution seeker? or in other words ‘do you want to be the change?’

Quite a bit has happened in the sphere of sustainability in the past fifteen years but there has still been too much talk and not enough action. We need to stop talking about change and just do it ourselves.

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing themselves.”
– Leo Tolstoy

Who is a solution seeker?

Some would call optimistic people wishful thinkers and dreamers, and no doubt this is true sometimes. However, there are optimistic people who are not passive. These people assume there is a good solution to every problem, and they actively seek answers to whatever challenges confront them. We call these optimists, ‘Solution Seekers’.

In particular, Solution Seekers want to find the answers to the most pressing problems of our time:

  1. Climate change and pollution
  2. Environmental degradation and loss
  3. Resource depletion and waste
  4. Meaningless rat-race and discontent
  5. Lifestyle diseases and ill health
  6. Social isolation and distrust
  7. Anxiety and depression
  8. Exploitation, inequality and resentment

These problems are all caused by, or at least correlate with, over-production and consequent over-consumption. The reasons we over-produce and over-consume are complicated, they generally relate to human nature and our demons like greed, envy, power-lust, exploitation/predation and many other coping mechanisms for insecurity and uncertainty.

Redefining progress

The problem with the current system is that it is fundamentally flawed. For the past three centuries our modern civilisation has been continually climbing the ladder of progress. However, from our high vantage point we can clearly see that we put the ladder against the wrong wall. Progress has been about producing more wealth through economic growth. At first this was good as it increased the standard of living of the general populace. However, for several decades now, continuing economic growth in developed economies has been counter-productive. It only benefits a few and it harms the majority as well as nature. More wealth is making people sick and it’s making our shared planet sick. Progress can’t be called true progress if its goal is wrong though.

We don’t need a bigger economy, we need a better economy. We need a new system with new goals. At Econation, we believe a wise goal for society is universal and environmentally sustainable human well-being.

Be the change

The solutions to the problems listed above all relate to producing and consuming less, and as a consequence increasing sustainable well-being for all. However, if you wait for others to create the solutions for you could be waiting a long time. There are plenty of people who criticise and blame the system and yet do nothing. When Ghandi said ‘be the change you want to see in the world’ he didn’t mean be pessimistic and blame others. He didn’t mean to sit around day-dreaming or just talking about change either. Gandhi exhorted each of us to act.

No individual can change the whole system but every individual can change themselves. Carl Jung once wrote to a man who had made a mess of his life: “Nobody can set right a mismanaged life with a few words. But there is no pit you cannot climb out of provided you make the right effort at the right place.” This is a universal truism, to achieve any purpose, just ‘do the next right thing.’

Buckminster Fuller said “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” The point is that if enough people change themselves, a new, better system will eventually develop.

What is the solution?

We solution seekers cannot achieve environmentally sustainable human well-being by fiddling with the current system. The solution is to build a better system incorporating the following solutions (and others):

  • Much less production and consumption, much less concern with luxury, affluence, possessions and wealth.
  • Small, highly self-sufficient local economies, largely independent of the global economy.
  • Mutual self-sufficiency that creates resilient, self-determined and happy communities that are simple in means but rich in ends
  • New economics – an economy that is steady-state (no growth), circular (no waste), solar (no emissions) and local.
  • Some very different values, especially frugality, self-sufficiency, giving, sharing and cooperating, and the rejection of acquisitiveness and competition.

What can solution seekers do?

We can’t passively wait for the system to deliver the goal of environmentally sustainable human well-being, it will never be thrust upon us, we have to make it happen ourselves. To be the change you want to see in the world is to build a new system for yourself. Change starts at the grassroots, in the home. The details will be different for everyone but the overall strategy is the same: essential life. This is about making a life, not a living. It is choosing to do what is vital and not what is trivial. It is living simply so you can simply live. It is about being yourself and not being preyed upon by those who would take advantage of you. It is about being as self-sufficient as possible and helping family, friends and neighbours be the same.

In this way you can be part of the solution and not part of the problem.