Tag Archives: community planning

Being visionary even when success isn’t guaranteed

Donella Meadows taught us that visions of desired futures “come from commitment, responsibility, confidence, values, longing, love, treasured dreams, our innate sense of what is right and good”.

Creating new visions of sustainable and just futures will require us to move past all the negative predictions  and business-as-usual planning.  Not that we should disregard the warnings, but rather that we see the projections based in present-day activities as opportunities to make change.  Creating meaningful  change requires us to be bold –  to create visions with passion, emotion, and conviction.  We also need to be risk takers – acknowledging that we won’t necessarily have the answers or processes in place to begin implementation nor guaranteed success.  This lack of guaranteed success can make the effort of creating a positive/desired vision hard to do, especially as there is so much to be concerned about in our world.  But in creating environmentally healthy and socially just communities we need to bravely, and collaboratively, face our despair for what is wrong and state clearly what we desire for our futures.  We may not get the actions right the first time, but the positive vision will guide us towards new paths.

Joanna Macy and Chris Johnston in their new book Active Hope remind us that we don’t have to be optimistic or be assured of a particular outcome to take actions for change. “Active Hope is about becoming active participants in bringing about what we hope for” even when facing the reality that we may not be totally successful.  We need to fly in the face of ‘being realistic’ and be boldly visionary.

The world and all beings need us each to be visionary leaders, in our ways, even small ways.  And when you align with other visionaries it gets joyful.

Look for ways to create fun and playfulness in the actions.  My friend, and community artist, Paula Jardine amazes me with her ability to create parades and beautiful events for our community, on hard issues like a death in the family or salmon habitat loss, that bring people together in loving, joyful ways with live musicians, storytellers, lanterns, and tea in real teacups.  And the DePave Portland folks work hard, but seem to be having lots of fun.            http://depave.org/work/depaved/

Sustainability can be fun!

 

 

Resist ‘realistic’. Be visionary. A story from environmental planning.

Why is it that our culture seems to accept (even expect) passion and emotion in a CEO’s visioning work and leadership, but those who are working for social justice, peace or environmental well-being  are expected to be ‘realistic’ within the structures and situations of today.  On a number of occasions during my career as a strategic and environmental planner my visions for ecological change and community health were belittled and referred to as being naïve, idealistic or unrealistic and I was told to tone down my passion for protecting watersheds and community shared decision-making. Luckily, I don’t give in to such limiting direction (well, at least not for long, it is easy to get thrown off one’s vision temporarily). Whenever your ideas are challenged and you are told to be ‘realistic’ — resist! —  we won’t create sustainable and just futures without vision and daring goals.

An example of how a daring and positive vision can directly affect ecological health can be found in a Canadian policy regarding toxic substances.  For a brief time, years ago, Canada had an official government vision of the elimination of persistent toxic substances to aquatic ecosystems, including marine ecosystems, with a goal of “Zero Discharge of Persistent Toxic Substances” in the Strategic Plan for Inland Waters Directorate.  I was part of the strategic planning team that was successful in a collaboration with senior management to support zero discharge and put this vision into our agency’s strategic plan. We envisioned this goal being supported by “the coordination of policy with state-of-the-art hydrological, scientific and technical knowledge… and research”.  We knew the technical ability to reach zero discharge of persistent toxic substances was not yet in place, but we envisioned Canadian research and development teams leading the world in creating the non-polluting technologies that would be required to reach this vision.  It was a BHAG  (big hairy audacious goals – Collins and Porras, 1996). It didn’t have a guarantee of success; it required more than present capabilities; it would have required extraordinary effort; it was visionary.  But shortly after this strategic plan was published, efforts began on Canada’s Green Plan (Environment Canada, 1992). As result of industry interference, and scientists who were “realistic”, our vision was compromised to a goal of “Virtual elimination of persistent toxic substances”.  Wiggle words like virtual, consider, encourage are poison to innovation. Once the commitment to zero discharge was replaced, when elimination became virtual elimination, the government, industry, and academic institutions became distracted by, and focused on, just how much virtual meant.  How much toxic discharge could they get away with – not how to end toxic discharges.  As a result little new knowledge or innovative technology and processes have resulted, whereas the brave, visionary stance of zero discharge would have forced the creation of new, non-polluting methods of production.

So being visionary isn’t flakey. It is necessary to guide and motivate our actions towards a better world.

 

It’s not ‘unrealistic’ — it’s visionary

Recently I was in my home town visiting family, and after responding to a question about my work including community-based conversations about envisioning a world without weapons (Elise Boulding) or a world without hunger (Donella Meadows), a friend of the family said “that seems unrealistic and idealistic”.  The word ‘unrealistic’ is often attached to ‘idealist’ or ‘idealistic’, in my experience, as a way of dismissing visionary ideas or actions. But has anything really spectacular or meaningful ever been done without envisioning it first? (Well, okay… babies).

And yet, discussions about sustainability rarely include visions of what communities or individuals want their ecological futures to be.  The majority of discussions of ecological or community futures are based on an extrapolation of present trends, they are predictions of the future, usually of situations of loss (species, community, jobs) or hardship (food or water shortages) — not preferred futures or visions that we could work towards that would allow us to avoid projecting harmful present-day trends into the future.

Perhaps we do not see many examples of preferred ecological futures because creating a positive vision of the future might be considered foolhardy when the chance of success is not guaranteed.  Or it may seem too risky for us to create our own vision of a sustainable and just world because others might label it as idealistic or unrealistic.  But Donella Meadows urges us to “occasionally take the social risk of displaying not our skepticism but our deepest desire. We could declare ourselves in favor of a sustainable, just, secure, efficient, sufficient world… even at the expense of being called idealistic”.

We could create ecological visions that will inspire and motivate action.

Once we identify a detailed image of what a sustainable and just community would look like, we can more actively begin to address the hard reality, through critical analysis, of exploring what is not working or the barriers to reaching our vision, identify what is working, and then create strategies and plans for action, including where each individual can contribute their talents and experience.