A Better Way

greenmvmtgirlMany of us, living in this world of unprecedented prosperity and wealth, somehow sense that there is something terribly wrong. Everywhere we look we see conflict, deprivation, violence, waste, suffering, greed, destruction, hatred. This document is an attempt to understand why this is, and what can be done by each one of us to make our communities and our world a better place, a happier place.

A Better Way uses an approach that has been used successfully by businesses for many years to fix their problems, to overcome enormous obstacles and create organizations that are now seen as exemplars, as models for others to follow. This methodology has three parts:

  1. The Values Statement — What do we believe in, and what is it we are trying to achieve?
  2. The Vision — What would success ‘look like’ if we ‘made ourselves over’ and achieved these values?
  3. The Action Plan — Practical steps to achieve the Vision, to get us from here to there.

A Better Way is designed to be a living document. As we create it, together, it will change. We will learn from our mistakes, and from our successes. As more and more people become involved, and add their critical skills and creative solutions to it, A Better Way will evolve from being a plan to being a collaboration, a movement.

In addition to the problem-solving methodology described above, A Better Way will also use a community creation methodology. This second methodology has five parts:

  1. Self-Organization — Collaboratively agreeing on who needs to do what by when, and volunteering for the roles we are each best suited to fill.
  2. Design — Taking the Vision down to a grass-roots level, and applying both practical knowledge and bold innovation to specify precisely how a Community living A Better Way would work.
  3. Resourcing — Making the Communities economically viable, finding what they need to succeed and distributing their products and knowledge to those within and outside the Community
  4. Building — Implementing and improving the design
  5. Connecting — Drawing on people who can help in the above steps, and then showing others A Better Way.

You are probably skeptical. We must be hopeless idealists or naive to believe that such a grass-roots transformation of our world is possible. Except that it has already happened at least twice before. The agricultural revolution at the dawn of our civilization transformed our world from a hunter-gatherer society suffering from horrendous starvation when over-hunting and climate change suddenly killed off most of the large game on which primitive man depended. And the industrial revolution transformed us again from a world in which everything made for human use had to be painstakingly, unaffordably constructed one-at-a-time through human labour. These revolutions were not brought about by government, but by innovative farmers and innovative artisans. We can do it again. A Better Way is a social movement, which will in time become an economic movement and finally perhaps a political movement as well. It’s a movement that starts with us and ends with us, all of us, as equals.

greenmvmtgirlThis document is the first draft of the first part of A Better Way — it presents only the Values Statement and the Vision. Most people will never read this version. They will read a version vastly improved by collective effort — including your effort — the result of the infusion and exchange and integration of the ideas and knowledge and skills of a million people. Join us. There is A Better Way.

The Values Statement

Since our first appearance on this planet three million years ago we have striven to be happy. The things that make us happy, and give us ‘well-being’ are universal, and have never really changed. We call these things ‘values’. Here are the values that underlie A Better Way:

  1. Health: We believe that everyone deserves to be healthy, and that the emphasis in our lives should be on prevention of disease, illness and injury, by living a healthful life. We also accept that health care is in part our personal responsibility.
  2. Home: We believe that everyone deserves a home, a place to live, in a clean and comfortable environment, with sufficient sustainable resources to make a living and not have to rely on others. We appreciate that the place we each call ‘home’ is an important part of who and what we are, and we respect the sovereignty of other communities.
  3. Connection: We believe that, as social creatures, we have a need to belong to a community in which we play an important and meaningful part. We have a need for healthy relationships with the families and friends we love. We recognize that we are at once independent, with an inherent need to be ourselves, different and unique, and yet inter-dependent, part of the social groups we elect to be part of.
  4. Discovery: We believe that everyone is driven to learn and discover and create, in our own way, and that this process of discovery is what forms our value systems and beliefs and makes us whole and what we are. A part of that discovery is play, applying ourselves to activities that teach us or simply bring us joy. Equally critical to discovery is awareness, the sensitivity to be open and curious and full of wonder and to feel a part of the whole community of all life on Earth.
  5. Work: We believe that each of us needs to be a meaningful contributor to the communities and societies to which we belong, drawing on our distinctive skills, strengths and talents. We want and need to work to help others, as they want and need to help us, reciprocally, to achieve all of the values in this list.
  6. Peace: We believe that humans inherently seek to be at peace with their fellow man and with all other creatures on our planet. We believe peace is found by granting each person the freedom to pursue their personal happiness, freedom from stress, and justice in resolving disputes and conflicts, by each seeking to do no harm to others, and by accepting the responsibility to ensure that everyone has the wherewithal and opportunity to achieve the values in this list.
  7. Self-Esteem: We believe that self-esteem is essential to a whole and productive life.

All human activity is directed toward the achievement of these values, yet we now live in a world filled with their opposites: Disease, physical and mental suffering, homelessness and alienation, loneliness, hatred, violence, enslavement and disconnection, ignorance, withdrawal, tedium, narrow-mindedness and passivity, unemployment, aimlessness, greed and selfishness, war, anger, lack of personal freedoms, injustice, anxiety, hopelessness, disregard for others, fear and despair and self-loathing. Where have we gone wrong? Our intentions were good, but somehow we have lost our way. Some people believe that man is inherently weak and evil can be overcome only by endless struggle, but there is evidence everywhere that man is inherently good, and we all want to do the right thing. But we’re overwhelmed at the size of the challenge, and we don’t know what to do.

We humans are very adaptable. Despite all the horrors and failures all around us, most of us have convinced ourselves we’re making progress, that it used to be worse, that it’s not so bad. There are those who believe it has to get much worse before enough people will be motivated to do something to make it better. But when it gets much worse, we adaptable humans will be able to convince ourselves that it’s still not really that bad, and that there’s nothing we can do about it anyways. Until it’s too late. We need to realize that, although it’s not our fault, if we don’t do something, now, we will just keep going in the direction we are headed, towards a world with much more of the ‘anti-values’ enumerated in the previous paragraph.

So rather than blaming others for our failures, or throwing up our hands, let’s instead create a vision of a world, a possible world, where our values are fully realized, and see if it’s not too late to find our way there.

The Vision

Imagine a world that has no nations, only communities, ‘tribes’ of people who have self-selected to live together. Each tribe has only the number of people that their community can comfortably and sustainably support. They are self-sufficient — they need not trade with or import goods from other communities in order to allow their members to achieve the 7 Values. They do trade their surpluses and their non-essential specialized products in return for non-essential specialties from other communities. Each community is self-governing — there are no politicians, and decisions are made by a consensus of the whole.

When you are young, you learn critical skills: How the world works, including the study of nature and the study of your own and other communities, and about human nature, the arts, sciences and technology; and How to make your own way, including critical thinking, self-reliance, self-discipline, how to ‘make sense’ of the world, how to create, innovate, collaborate, accept responsibility, tell stories, make a living, find like minds and create community. As a child you learn these skills from the members of your own community, and from self-study on the Internet, not in schools. As a teen-ager you travel extensively to other communities, living with them and learning more of these same skills and applying them through apprenticeships in work of your own choosing — work that draws on your natural talents, learned skills, and things you enjoy doing.

Then you decide, from what you have seen, what community you want to call home. When you’re accepted into that community you share what you have and what you know with the others in the community, and they in turn share what they have and what they know with you.

Despite the importance of local community, this world is very connected. Knowledge is freely shared over the Internet, and people use it to create relationships and networks with others all over the world. Technology allows your virtual ‘presence’ to be nearly as profound and complete as your real presence, and allows you to look over the shoulder of anyone, anywhere, in a rich and multi-dimensional, multi-sensory way, so there is little need for physical travel.

In order to live within its means, each community works in highly efficient, cooperative ways. There is no pollution, no waste. Because everyone has the essentials of life and has been brought up to take care of themselves and others, and because the community is small and close-knit and owns everything communally, there is no stressful ‘fear of not having enough’, no theft, no crime, little anti-social behaviour and, through prevention, little disease. Because everyone is equal, there is no greed, no abuse of power. As in the prehistoric human communities and most animal communities, the ‘work-day’ is short — an hour per person is enough to provide for the community, and the rest of the day is free for play, for study, for observation of nature, for telling stories, for hobbies and sports — for whatever you want to do.

This ‘extra’ time, and this community spirit, have allowed communities to reconnect with the sacredness of place, and with nature, and with their senses. As a result, communities have reintegrated with wilderness, leaving the majority of their land to revert to its ‘unimproved’ natural state, and experienced a profound philosophical and spiritual re-awakening.

If That’s A Better Way, How Do We Get There?

There’s that skepticism again: We hear you saying “It can’t be done; what are these guys smoking?” Just remember the agricultural and industrial revolutions. The changes they wrought were every bit as dramatic and astonishing as getting from today’s society to the one portrayed in the above Vision.

We’re not saying it’s going to be easy. We’re placing a lot of faith in two very wise people who know a lot about changing things:

Bucky Fuller said: “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

So we’re going to build a model, one that transforms today’s messed-up world into the world of the Vision above. A model, by definition, is miniature. We’re going to build a few model communities. You don’t tell people how to change, you show them. Let them kick the tires, try it out, adapt it, see if it fits them. People learn by doing, not by reading or listening. These model communities are going to be so amazing that everyone’s going to want to live in communities modeled after them. They’ll walk away — no, they’ll run away from their existing rat-races and social and economic and political tyrannies to start their own.

Margaret Mead said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

So we don’t need billions of people to get on board. Just a few, say a million, should do.

The Action Plan will have to be big. Lots of roles, lots of work, lots of learning from failures and success. We’ll need a lot of help to create it, and a lot more to implement it. But knowing where we want to get to is half the battle. And we’ll draw on the Wisdom of Crowds and the Power of Many to get there. A true collaboration, drawing on the knowledge and ideas and skills of millions.

Oh, and another thing. John Kotter says there are two absolute preconditions to effective change: A sense of urgency, and Executive sponsorship. We need you to help create a sense of urgency. Complacency, hopelessness, they’re the real enemy. A sense of urgency can overcome both of them. You’re probably not sure whether it’s really that urgent yourself. There’s a lot of people out there who will tell you the world is OK as it is. There’s a lot of people out there who are paid to tell you it’s OK. If you’re not ready, if you aren’t convinced it’s urgent, that it’s now or never, that inaction is not an option, then that’s fine. We’re not going to argue with you. Come back when you’re ready. We’ll be here, and we’ll still need you.

And the Executive sponsorship? The highest order of all is on-side with us. Nature, instinct, God, whatever you want to call it, Him or Her. It’s the wisdom in your bones, in the heavens, in the land. It was the way we lived for our first three million years on Earth, and it’s coded in our DNA, and in every atom of every molecule in the universe. Just listen, and you’ll hear it.

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That’s all I have so far. First step down a long and rocky road Home. Tell me what you think of the Values Statement and the Vision, and the persuasiveness of the stuff I’ve wrapped around it. What do we need to do to make this a Collective document? How can I make it more accessible to conservatives, libertarians, those with different ‘frames’? When you think it’s ready I’ll make it a Manifesto on ChangeThis! I’m lousy at selling and implementing things, so I need a lot of help to make this salable and to sketch out the big-picture implementation plan. What would the high-level Action Plan look like? How should we organize to put it together? How about the name ‘A Better Way’ — is that better or worse than The Green Movement? And what about the logo: I wanted it to be simple, elegant, green. It’s based on the torus, and on the ellipse used to make representations of natural beings in Westcoast Indian art. You can ‘personalize’ it by putting in its centre a photo or symbol, like a cameo, of whatever personifies A Better Way for you. The example above is a child photographed by Heap Han of DigitalHeap. The logo could be made into a broach, a bracelet, a conversation piece for telling others about A Better Way.

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10 Responses to A Better Way

  1. John Moreira says:

    Great thoughts indeed Dave. However, the Green Revolution, as well as the Industrial Revolution, unlike all other revolutions, did not come upon the human race as the brainchild of a particular person, or group of persons. They sprouted from the seeds of environmental pressures, the biggest of them being the population growth, at particular places on the planet, becoming immensely larger than available local natural resources.In my point of view, we are just about ripe for your “Save the World” revolution.These days, one can sense the scale population versus resources beginning to tip again, this time globally.Unfortunately though, the masses will only accept action once things get really, really bad. When it does happen, I sincerely hope people like you will available to lead, for I share your philosophy of scaling down, by practicing “Voluntary Simplicity”, as a friend once told me.John Moreira

  2. shari says:

    Wow, lots to think about. Your site is like an oasis, mostly because I tend to deal with the darker side of politics, well in ed policy.In my worldview, I think it is necessary and vital to keep an eye on the darker colors. Yet I forget about the other side, the possibilities, the creation that is part of the solution, which is what you do. I’m all for the solution. Sign me up.

  3. Kevin says:

    Count me in. Just a note about the values you have identified. They are strikingly close to a set of nine basic needs which have been identified by a chilean economist, Manfred Max-Neef. SubsistenceProtectionAffectionUnderstandingParticipationLeisureCreationIdentityFreedomProbably like the values you have identified, according to his studies, these needs are constant through all human cultures and across historical time periods. What *changes* between cultures and time periods are the satisfiers of the needs. What I like about your values, and don’t see in the Max-Need needs is “connection”.

  4. DP says:

    Dave,I’m with you. I’m especially interested in ways to enhance logical acceptance of your paradigm and ways to increase levels of urgency. I suspect that the whole idea you’ve expressed needs to be translated into a variety of “frames” so that a variety of people are enlightened and inspired into action. I need to think more on this…

  5. Brian says:

    Hi Dave,A wonderful idea and really a path that must be traveled. This is an entry I need to spend more time with, but here are some initial impressions.I would think that at a basic level we are in many ways altering rour elationship with language by retrieving assumptions and sensibilities that have perhaps been lost for a while, and finding others that are new to us. Some of these assumptions and sensibilities lie in wait inside our own cultural environment, while many others come to us via other cultures. So finding ways of interacting with other cultures, other sensibilities, other meanings – often expressed in unfamiliar languages and ways of life – becomes vital to a better way. It will be critical to find ways of bridging cultural divides in order to help promote a greater sense of unity across people.The idea that, “People learn by doing, not by reading or listening” is not one I would suggest should be used. We, of course, learn by doing but we also learn by reading, listening, reflecting, talking, performing and so on. I believe I know where you are coming from on this as I sense (and agree) that there is an underlying and fundamental problem with how “learning” is characterized and imposed on people through our educational institutions. At the same time, I’m not sure that creating divisions between experiences like doing, reading and listening helps to create a more unified understanding of learning. The argument could be made the reading and listening are forms of doing. An important question is, “Doing what?” – a question that you have started outlining a response to. But this “doing” will still involve reading, listening and so on, however, I think what you are changing is the context, situations and circumstances of that doing, reading and listening from one that may be “mechanistic” in orientation to another that is “self-directed” in orientation.I also think “A Better Way” can be enhanced by intergating and exploring the lives of realpeople in real situations. In an important sense, these are models of learning – a miniature. I’m always surprised (actually horrified) at how often learning is described without ever mentioning a person’s name (other than quotes from books – which, of course, can be useful). We talk about learning via categories in a model we have invented, yet we never mention a real person’s name. For example, if “connectedness” is an important feature of a learning model, then why not talk about how people like Stephen Biko, Jean Vanier, Erik Weihenmayer (and the list goes on and on) are authentic examples of connectedness, each in their own unique way, and are vibrant sources for exploring and discovering the nature of this “connectedness.” This could also be done with groups of people. It may be that offering examples like these is a way of imbuing connectedness and learning with a greater sense of humanity. Perhaps lives like these are the models and help us to better explore the question, “How do we learn the things we value most?” This may help to reclaim the unifying fabric of myth that serves to connect us.These are only some rough thoughts. I like this idea of a better way you are presenting and look forward to following its development.

  6. Meryn says:

    If you want “The Better Way” to get a broader following, I think you should take some time to think about the following:”Perfection is achieved not when nothing is to be added, but when nothing can be taken away.”Although I can see your good intentions, I can not identify with much of the mentioned values. I would never put my signature below them.I have learned from studying technological innovation, that it’s very, very hard to reach universal agreement on anything, even the most trivial. There are lots of people who disagree with each other, because they think that their ideas/values/way of doing things are somehow better than those of others. What’s needed is something so small, so pure, so basic that it – effectively – will be hard to disagree with.This does imply that the message will be very general, and thus be vague to lots of people. So on top of the core principles, there can (and should) be written more detailed documents, each tailored to a specific group of people. I’m not advocating double morals. All the ‘derived’ documents should (at the core) be consistent with each other. This must be made clear to the readers by explaining how the detailed principles fit together with the core principles. If this process is repeated, you get some kind of a tree, with very detailed list of values at the leaves, which even some ‘tolerant’ religious groups could identify with, but which will unite all of those groups based on there common interests.And it may very well be that 90% or 99% of the world can agree with your current list of values, but why exclude anyone? People want to agree with each other, but most of them don’t want to give up on their believes, their concept of truth and rightness.The core message should be as simple as possible, but no simpler. I want to agree with you.

  7. You should check out Kirpatrick Sale and also Murray Bookchin. Your ideas are very closely in line with theirs:http://www.social-ecology.org/staticpages/index.php?page=about&topic=about

  8. David Miller says:

    I liked your perspective and the comments to it. I think there is a lot to glean from this perspective. One thing I do ponder is How does a community deal with the duality of the human condition? for example the desire to work together and help eachother and the conflicting tendency to be selfish. It seems a plan for change must aknowledge this, and have some substative way to deal with it otherwise all of the other positive work of a whole community can be derailed by the selfishness of one person.

  9. Dave Pollard says:

    Thanks, everyone. I’ve been quite moved by the comments and e-mails I’ve received on this article. But I’m not so sure where to go from here. The truth is that Manifestos, and Values Statements and Visions, can give voice and direction to an existing need for change, but they cannot create that sense of need where it does not yet exist. I still believe that a lot of people think there is something very wrong with our society, but I am much less convinced that there is a sense of urgency or even the beginnings of consensus on what is wrong, let alone what to do about it. Sorry to sound negative, and I may well come back to this, but at this stage I’m not ready to charge ahead with a version two or a part two of this Manifesto, and I did not want to raise expectations that they’ll be coming soon. But I really do appreciate the many replies and e-mails, and all the thoughtful comments. Maybe it will inspire someone else to write the Manifesto that I don’t seem to have the perspective, the words, or the heart, to get right. Peace, /-/ Dave

  10. G.L Johnson says:

    I found you because I googled Margaret Mead’s community statement.I read your idea and I feel it’s true. I know your feeling at the end. How can we shift public attitudes, change the culture we live in. The answer is-it takes a group. David, you are like “a voice in the wilderness”, a prophet. There need to be many and I understand your feeling. I can’t get my church friends interested in the world at large. Keep going! Persist and hope. Change will come. gj

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