The insistent coupling of globalization and technology has transformed how the world views sustainable development, making the need for human interaction and trustworthy partnerships integral to advancing technologies; perhaps of some importance, but limited in scope and view, and a huge mistake not easily corrected.
Humanity now faces many deep-seated crises. Some age-old and others newly ‘minted’, but all now intertwine to generate heightened intensity. From the breakdown of the family structure, rising divorce rates, overt and covert prejudice, the overburden of material consumption, widespread injustice, a breakdown in trust, climate crises, extremes of wealth and poverty, and a disregard for environmental boundaries are just name a few. But the challenges we face are only various expressions of a deeper malady—lack of spiritual perspective and understanding of the true nature of human existence that, if investigated, will reveal the basis for transformative change.
We must go beyond conceived techniques and those long-standing ingrained disorders to carryout the ultimate objectives of sustainable development which is to advance human society characterized by security, peace, social well-being, happiness, dignity, and a strong sense of individual and collective purpose. The tasks associated with expanding the foundations for human well-being will require a much deeper understanding—that global civilization based only on a few who work on behalf of the many is a misnomer, but where responsibility becomes the concern of larger numbers of the human family.
This brings to the fore many questions in a search for answers; such as ‘What is the spiritual nature of humankind?’; ‘What are the foundations for human happiness and contentment?’; ‘How will humans need to interact towards one other to experience life to the fullest?’; ‘How to remake the governing institutions of society to reflect the qualities of spirit (generosity, respect, justice, etc.) to find tangible expression in everyday life?’.
Questions like these are challenging because they touch on complex issues of personal beliefs, culture, and social values for which there are no simple recipes or formulas to guarantee best solutions. What has become clearer, amidst the unfolding uncertainties now plaguing human society, is that humanity has focused on addressing the symptoms rather than the causes of social and economic disorder because to do so would threaten the current system and also deprive a minority elite of privileges that it takes for granted.
Notions of progress grounded in short-term profit and material gain (rooted in centuries of tradition) show little promise to explore moral and spiritual dimensions to advance the human condition. Throughout much of human history, accumulation of material wealth was a necessity for survival and as a result competitive thinking became dominant in society. This has produced a materialistic outlook that’s expected to meet the full spectrum of human needs. However, the world is now awakening to the fact that at present levels of consumption there soon will be insufficient material goods available for all a burgeoning human population. Even now the capacity to distribute that made available is becoming limited, and food availability for teaming masses is a continuing problem. For humanity to continue with an accumulation mentality where the haves gain and the have nots project a downward spiral will prove counterproductive to efforts being made to achieve sustainability. It can only lead to deepening inequalities and will expand the global crisis.
At the core of the global crisis lies the attitudes which determine our norms and standards, guided by frameworks and systems devised based on an assumption that gaining advantage must come at the expense of another. The focus on financial gain as an indicator of success is the materialistic paradigm now shaping global policies that reinforce the way we value work. Decades of perpetuating this flawed assumption has left us vulnerable to a multitude of financial and social shocks. Even though this model has showed its obsolescence, we keep insisting on using it even as inequalities deepen in every corner of the globe to reveal the limitations of such an approach. Until we shift our thinking beyond materialistic assumptions of sustainable development, our social and economic frameworks and systems of governing will remain inadequate in response to intensifying global challenges.
We have the potential to expand our consciousness, rethink our priorities, appreciate humanity’s shared identity, and garner human will to reorder our societies based on understandings inline with principles such as unity, solidarity, justice and concern for individual and collective wellbeing. Action based on science and accurate information are keys to our response to current and future crisis. They are our greatest tools, with potential to rise above even the most broken of systems and set humanity on a course of true resilience.
Now is the time for us to engage in a collective exploration of the root causes of our dilemma and current problems, to develop patterns of thought, habits and actions that will increase our ability to build just systems that can respond to current challenges and help stave off future calamities.