As I write this [07Jan2021], many of us are still stunned in disbelief about what happened at the Capitol yesterday. The media is swirling with thoughts, opinions, and insights around politics and processes, constitution and conflicts, freedom and fairness.
One aspect that is emerging for me — especially in the greater context of sustainability — is the intertwined roles of leaders and followers.
Most of us, most of the time, are followers. Most of the time, we don’t make decisions and take actions that are independent or proactive — we follow those made by others.
For example, we might pick out our own clothing, but we choose from what others have already decided to design and make and distribute and promote and sell. We might decide who to vote for, but we choose from among available candidates, most of whom are white, male, and from privilege. We might choose to eat local or use less energy, but we live in a country that consumes 5 times more resources than the Earth can support.
As followers, we may feel that our role is passive. We’re not the one responsible for making things happen or making the big decisions — we’re just going along for the ride. We’re not the one in the know or the one in control — we’re just the innocent by-stander or the victim. We may not even realize that we’re followers, or who we’re following.
But a leader can only lead if they have followers, and following is a choice. Following is not neutral. Following is intentional. Following has consequences.
“Unintended consequences are the predictable result of intentional ignorance.”Denise DeLuca, Re-Aligning with Nature | Ecological Thinking for Radical Innovation
In the world of sustainability, a core problem is that good people — meaning most of us — make choices that have bad (unsustainable) consequences. That is because most of us are followers most of the time, and we abdicate responsibility for consequences to the leaders. In our western capitalist society, many of the people we make into leaders — people we choose to follow — are driven to accumulate personal wealth and power, regardless of the consequences to people and planet.
Who are you following? What are their core values? Do their values reflect yours? What are your core values? Can you articulate them? Do you understand how values — yours or theirs — might be reflected in choices and actions or result in consequences? What does it mean if you — and others — can’t answer those questions, or have never even thought about them?
As we seek to understand and glean meaning from recent events, it’s natural to spend our energies seeking those to blame; however, we might also want to take some time to look in the mirror and ponder the unintended consequences of our own intentional ignorance.