When we discern sustainability from the perspective of the Curve of Hope, it’s relatively easy to conclude we have a generational problem.


Most of us in the Western World have lived in the Agricultural and Industrial Ages for 3 generations of more. We have institutionalized the Waste & Pollution exponential curve by justifying so much of what we do on bottom-line economics while ignoring the costs of ‘downstream’ externalities, focusing on personal rather than communal success, and developing a hubris that precludes us from listening to the voices of those who know sustainability as a sacred way of being. Our education systems are a major part of institutionalizing being unsustainable in terms of both cultures and structures that resist change, and they most often approach education as pedantic training rather than experiential learning. These are not easy problems to address and solve, but addressing them is an absolutely critical step on the path to re-achieving a sustainable planet for our children and future generations.

The book, Language of Life, and the website, Appreciative Sustainability, attempt to address these issues, and the key points from both sources are summarized below. The intent of this page on this site is to open up the ‘Education Transformation’ conversation, recognizing that a significant portion of the transformation is currently being address, but also recognizing why this portion is necessary but not sufficient to complete the transformation. This will be further explained below with Archetypes for Sustainability and the emergent understanding of necessary paradigm shifts.

Here is some suggested learning.

As we learn more about the Languages of Life and the cultures who speak them, we realize that these cultures are fundamentally different and operate in a higher meme than our own culture (Language of Life, Wisdom Consciousness, pg 83). For myself, I can only get a glimpse of the effect of these languages when internalized, because I don’t speak one, but I’ve encouraged my children to have my grandchildren learn such a language, and my 9 year old grandson, Devon, skypes regularly with his mentor in China to learn Mandarin. My hope is that this will open up new channels in his thinking, and also his listening as he appreciates more deeply other peoples’ truths in their lives and the wisdom they are sharing.

A question that emerged for me was how do the ‘wisdom’ cultures educate their children? I don’t pretend to know the answers, but once again glimpsed an understanding that I put in the form of a graphic (Language of Life, Wisdom Consciousness, pg 85). It became clear to me that the education system that I experienced had lost touch with its original intent of creating an informed citizenry, and was overwhelmed by Industrial Age forces of workforce preparation, technology, science and engineering, higher education, and wealth and accumulation. Not all bad, but very different than the Indigenous attributes of experiential learning, land and sense of place, lore through oral traditions, connection to all life, 7-generational thinking, prophesies and story telling. The primary difference for me is that the Western approach measures success based on economics first, social order second, and ecological integrity third; the Indigenous way reverses these to ecology first from which social order will flow, and economics become somewhat a byproduct of the lifestyle. A key lesson for me is that the Indigenous approach should be primary and its guiding principles not co-opted because being relational is a primary paradigm with being hierarchical secondary.

There are several facets of transformational learning (that are addressed in Section III of the link). They include Learning Organizations, Paradigm Shifts, Dialogue, Appreciative Inquiry, Personal Learning, and Other Seminal Learning that includes Theory U, Panarchy, Biomimicry, Human Dynamics, and Quantum Physics. Each of these disciplines informed my understanding and ability to synthesize my thoughts on sustainability. A most important field that I believe is very relevant, but I haven’t studied is neural networks, particularly as it relates to brain development based on the language we speak and the influence of surrounding culture.

Archetypes for Sustainability (Language of Life, The Indigenous Way of Thinking, pg 101, and Archetypes), is a most important learning because it clarifies who we are being, and for children, who they wish to be. And then it clarifies three major paradigm shifts our culture has to address—

  1. Shifting our thinking from mechanical to organic, and the suggested approach lies in changing our primary science from Newtonian Physics to Living Systems.
  2. Shifting our world-view from scarcity (often perceived) to abundance as understood by the Indigenous Peoples as recognizing that the Earth provides but only in the context of mutuality and our responsibility to maintain balance and harmony. We must live lives of ‘sufficiency’ and our current approach to recycling, and other forms of eliminating waste and pollution lead us toward ‘sufficiency’, but our lifestyle ‘footprint’ is far to big to be reduced enough by these actions.
  3. Infuse the wisdom of the Indigenous archetype into our Western knowledge archetypes of Business, Warring, and Social Justice so that each of them becomes sustainable.

Living Systems (Language of Life, Living Systems, pg 117, and Living Systems), is in my opinion the most important learning because living systems is the theory that underlies sustainability and one of the major paradigm shifts to be made is replacing Newtonian Physics as our primary science with Living Systems. It can be taught quite easily without loosing its essence, and these initial teachings should then lead to students pursuing the more nuanced understandings of what brings and takes life from organic systems. We can then apply these same questions, ‘What brings and takes life?’ to all the organizations, conversations, and family dynamics even though they might not be living systems in the strictest sense, they are what brings vitality to our lives. Looking at education institutions as living systems, particularly applying the Panarchy curve, lends great insights into how to intervene in a system that is often stuck in the Conservation phase.

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