In 1999 I came to live in the beautiful country of Australia. I was fascinated with the red heart of this country, its unique light and its aboriginal heritage.
However by about the time of the new milenium I was a man feeling ill at ease with himself. I felt something was missing in my life.
At the time I was working in corporate finance at KPMG in Sydney. I lived in a beautiful apartment overlooking Bondi beach. I was one step away from partnership at the firm. I felt strong and healthy and had a wide circle of friends. My prospects were good.
But I felt ill at ease.
Part of the unease arose from the consulting assignments that I was being asked to work on. These included online gambling companies, coalmines, an arms manufacturer and so on. They made me feel uncomfortable and were out of line with my values.
In addition to this I was reading more and more about climate change and also seeing with my own eyes how the coral was becoming bleached and dead on the barrier reef.
It became clear to me that if things continued, as they were, the natural progression was towards environmental devastation, possibly within my lifetime.
I therefore concluded, as a rationale economist would, that in order to maximise the utility from my life I would explore new things, stop accumulating wealth and extract all the juice that I could from this precious, finite life. The desire for experience led me on an outward journey to see as much of the world that I could see.
I also experienced an inward journey. I studied Yoga in ashrams and learnt psychology. In the last fifteen years I’ve been blessed to have experienced so many new things and met so many beautiful people in my new coaching and wellbeing career.
The businesses that we have created encourage people to be more mindful of their bodies and their minds. The amazing therapists at our London centre (www.breathe-london.com) provide people with tools to help them see the world and themselves in a balanced and calm way. If people view themselves and others with kindness and compassion then we have a chance to reduce the destructive forces, which are destroying our bodies, minds and this beautiful planet
The year 2015
In all major industrialised countries depression, obesity and the use of anti depressants is on the rise. Why? Is it the disease of over consumption and inequality?
Business and political leaders spout the mantra that we have to keep consuming more and more in order to elevate the poorest in our societies through trickle down economics. But this model appears to be failing. Whilst half the world lives in abject poverty, 1% of the rich control 50% of the wealth and each year this yawning gap becomes larger.
(The graph shows how in each period of economic expansion in the US, the top 10% of people (in terms of wealth) have faired compared to the bottom 90%. Amazingly in the last economic growth cycle most Americans saw a shrinkage in their wealth)
Researchers from the field of Positive Psychology, including Ed Diener and many others, have concluded that financial wealth does not have a relationship with emotional or spiritual wealth. Once we earn above a basic salary and have other basic freedoms such as access to healthcare, privacy, freedom of movement , democratic rights, housing and education we do not become happier as we become wealthier.
Throughout the wealthy economies capital is becoming increasingly clustered at the top whilst the rest of society is told that free healthcare or education can no longer be afforded.
When the fairness quotient becomes out of whack political and social instability usually follows.
But the political and business mantra continues. We have to grow more, build more, and consume more
And the madness is that this lunacy has been exported to India and China. The huge middle classes in these super powers aspire to our levels of consumption. Young people move to their big cities, breaking up families and breaking up ancient traditions. The desire for Gucci and Sony and McDonalds is driving a wedge between them and the things in life that truly bring happiness – a connection to traditions, being in nature, having a sense of duty and community, kinship and family
At some stage in the near future as 7 becomes 8 billion and 9 and 10 and 11, a financial, political, psychological and spiritual tipping point will be reached.
In the west we have experienced the devastating effects of over consumption and inequality. We have a moral duty to change our behaviours. Our consumption will consume us if we let it. We also need to show urgent leadership . We need to understand the madness of other consumption and inequality . We need to provide sustainable housing, healthcare and education to the needy in our own societies and overseas
I vowed back in 2003 that I would not be part of the machinery that led to the destruction of body, mind, soul and planet. When I take new coaching work on I weigh up carefully whether my work will encourage people to move in a positive direction.
The first beautiful picture is a map of the country I love. Australia had a wealth of indigenous knowledge, hundreds of languages and customs. Many of them are lost for ever. When Captain Cook first arrived it was noted that as the ships sat in the harbour the aboriginal people on the foreshore appeared to ignore them. This may seem strange to us but recent evidence suggests that the way we interpret the world around depends, to a great extent, on what we expect or are told to see. Perhaps these alien images simply were not in the range of comprehension of these original Australians. We have no real idea of how they lived in harmony with the natural world and how they experienced life.
We never asked them
The imposition of the mantra of growth, expansion and learning on these cultures has been devastating.
The last map is the Australian governments own estimates of the likely increase in temperatures over the next 60 to 80 years. The lucky country appears headed to become the dead, burnt country
Business leaders, politicians, community leaders, teachers…This is all that counts now ……. Right now…….. Leaders who ignore the science and encourage over consumption and inequality are not leaders.
Building a bright, positive future
If you are working as hard as you can, spending little time with the kids so that you can bequeath them your wealth then seize this moment. Work less and spend more time with them. The environmental experts say that this makes sense
If you are working hard to build up your wealth so that you become happier, then change your behaviours. Strive less for financial security and work hard on the depth and quality of your friendships. Sit quietly and observe your own drives and impulses. Exercise more and spend time in nature. The psychologists say that this will help you feel healthier and happier.
If you are a business leader, take a good, hard look at all of your products. Which ones are sustainable? The market is sometimes slow in placing a fair value on irrational behaviours. We know that we can’t burn all the carbon in the ground but banks still fund carbon exploration. We know that if we keep destroying the forests for mono crop culture we have no future. We need to ascertain which products add to human and global wellbeing and which destroy value. Economic history suggests that this day of price reckoning will come. Are you ready for it?
All of us can take a look at what we consume, how we consume and how we dispose of our waste. For each item of consumption consider whether it brings health and happiness and at what cost? And then consider the environmental and ethical implications of the product.
If just one person reads this and then strives to be a more responsible global citizen then I will have had a good afternoon at work.
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