June 4, 2014

Elisabet Sahtouris blogs on ‘Leadership with a human purpose’

Evolution biologist and futurist Elisabet Sahtouris blogs for us on this year’s theme: Leadership with a human purpose.

‘Leadership with a human purpose’ is a wonderfully appropriate theme for this time of immense shift in human existence on Earth.Too much of what we do as humans has been cloaked in the anonymity of labels such as ‘government’, ‘economy’, ‘corporations’, ‘science’, ‘religion’ and so on. This has not only fragmented our way of life into separate boxes that make holistic views of ourselves almost impossible, but has also permitted us to hide behind such labels, forgetting that they designate living systems composed of people.

In each box, all its people share an overall purpose or mission, but they are led by relatively small numbers of people, identified as leaders, who make daily decisions affecting all the rest, as well as the people in other boxes and beyond them all. So, I am thrilled that we will personalise our considerations at this year’s Performance Theatre by seeking to define and implement our ‘human purpose’ as leaders.

The Performance Theatre (TPT)’s call states that the “hallmarks of the leadership we need (are) the ability to challenge assumptions, the ability to see across systems and the ability to build trust.” So, let me confine my reflections to these three ‘hallmarks’:

1) The ability to challenge assumptions

  • To challenge assumptions we must uncover them at all relevant levels. What assumptions do we hold about our own human nature?
  • What assumptions do we hold about the nature of our human economy? What assumptions do we hold about the universe?
  • What assumptions do we hold about nature’s economy and its evolution? What assumptions do we hold about our ability to create our human future?

2) The ability to see across systems

Perhaps this should come first, as I find when I propose that human economics have a lot to learn from nature’s economics, most economists and business people do not want to give up the assumption that human economies are completely different from those of nature. Yet, at the same time, they hold the neo-Darwinian assumption that people act purely in competitive self- interest, which is believed to be what drives evolution, thus actually basing our businesses on the accepted scientific view of how nature functions (albeit that from my evolution biology perspective they miss the nature of mature systems).

There are other systems—ourdesignated boxes—that we need to ‘see across’ such as economics and finance, science and religion, resource use and ecosystem health, different cultures, plus many more that we treat as if they do not affect each other. The global economy must be expanded to a global way of life.

3) The ability to build trust

As I began this reflection, an email came in from Polly Higgins, the Scottish barrister who has launched an international campaign to make ecocide the Fifth Crime Against Peace at the UN and under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.

Ecocide is legally defined as the extensive damage to, destruction of or loss of ecosystem(s) of a given territory, whether by human agency or by other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been or will be severely diminished.

Polly argues that a law of ecocide creates a duty of care, where‘duty of care’ refers to the sanctity of the relationship between a trustee and a beneficiary, as opposed to one party putting self-interest first, and that there is such a trustee relationship between humanity and Earth, such that our ‘duty of care’ is “a duty owed collectively by humanity to the Earth.”

She goes on to talk about ‘leadership crime’, which made me sit up and take note in relation to our TPT dialogues on ‘Leadership with a human purpose’. To quote Ms Higgins:

“Everything we choose to do in life has consequences, but even if successfully hidden the harm it causes remains at large… So how does this play out at a corporate leadership or governmental level? At the moment we have an absence of law to govern decisions at a leadership level; decisions that can have significant adverse consequences for many, both directly and indirectly…A legal duty of care…simply does not exist.”

The upshot of her plea is that, laws still absent to coerce us, the onus of care is on the individuals who are the leaders, whether acting alone or in concert with other leaders.

The ability to build trust—the third of our hallmarks—is then, quite simply, to be trustworthy—to take on as leaders, individually and collectively, the duty of care for each other, for all humanity and for our living Earth.

So let us talk about becoming trustworthy leaders ? trustees for coming generations ? at a time when we face “dwindling resources and a volatile climate, persistent inequality and societal upheaval” as our TPT call states.We indeed hold the future in our hands, our heads and, above all, in our hearts.

As a footnote, I also found this talk relevant to our topic.