It is interesting to observe when a certain topic starts to emerge from on the first glance not connected issues, events, thoughts, people, or experiences. They just start coming to the front and make me think and rethink about what was until then more or less a separate thought or experience. It is amazing how they start forming a collage or a puzzle, and indicate a time for reassessment, and for seeing and understanding things in a broader perspective. Afterwards they offer a new insight, a hint of what could be my next direction or a possible action. The topic of this article is a common theme behind several issues, thoughts, decisions and actions which all together, as described above, reached a certain tipping point for me about two weeks ago, and it is still unfolding in its essence.
Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to discuss and exchange with representatives of the UN members, on the Innovative Public Service to meet Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), officially known as Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (UN, http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-development-goals/). It came out of the discussion that there are several key elements for this transformation to happen globally. To mention few: there is a clear call for a transformative leadership, and a leadership with the integrity and courage to tackle complex societal, geopolitical, economic, environmental, and cultural changes, in a innovative, creative, and inclusive way; there is a need for building the trust among stakeholders on all levels, and the need of the inclusiveness, active participation, and collaboration; and there is a need to assure the accessibility of affordable public services to all.
One could say, that the 2030 Agenda is just another policy document with admirable and ambitious goals, and that the event I am referring to was just another high level event, with many high flying words, but with no actual change in the ‘real world’. I am not trying to defend the document itself here, although I believe it is a very coherent framework program for all committed to work in the direction of sustainability in broader sense in following years. I am using this reference more for bringing up the topic behind, which is the passiveness – as a more or less conscious choice of our behaviour and response to the world. In this regard, the question to be elaborated on is, whose responsibility, right, or privilege is it to achieve these goals and to take necessary actions for this global future plan to become a reality? Usually the majority answers that it is the responsibility of leaders, politicians, and those with the power. This is of course true. The additional question is, how much is this really true just for them? This, at least for me, to some extend irritating coaching question usually serves perfectly when we need to re-question our created reality, our convictions, our thoughts, our stories, and our already known solutions. It brings other perspectives and players to the front.
If we ask ourselves, what is my role in this 2030 Agenda, which aims to achieve the vision of the sustainable and prosperous future of our world in 2030, where no one is left behind, including you and me. And where is my power, or why I feel powerless in this regard? What are the answers? We might caught ourselves saying something like ‘this is too abstract and has nothing to do with the real life on the ground, or this is not my job to do, some people are payed, and some really well, to do it, I have other things to do, or let ‘they’ do it, or ‘someone there’ should take care of this and this for us, and for the planet’. We could often find ourselves talking about what is wrong in the world today, and how it should be, or how we want it to be, but we are not really taking any concrete action on any level to change something in this regard. We believe that we play a citizenship role actively enough when paying taxes, respecting the legislation and other rules in the society, or taking care of ourselves and our family to not be a burden for others. But there is more to this activeness that we each could and can play. The ‘let someone else take care of it (meaning: instead of me), because I have my own things (meaning: and not our common issues) to deal with’ attitude, is reflecting us not taking full responsibility, and not participating as actively as we could, or maybe even should. I am not talking just about our professional roles and actions, but also or even more so about how we act as members of our community/ies or society in general, and as citizens of our country and of the world.
My intention here is definitely not to moralise or judge what is right and what is wrong. I just believe that passiveness usually prolongs things as they are, it sustains the status quo, and by being passive we contribute to this state, although we might not want to. We are sometimes more and sometimes perhaps less aware of our possible passiveness. Behind our passiveness, it is often the learned behaviour, and the acceptance of how we were taught to do something. We sometimes do not want to expose ourselves, because we are perhaps afraid of consequences or maybe reactions of others. We sometimes hide behind the so called authority, namely leaders, our superiors, political representatives, the system, the organisation or office politics, or the belief that we are the ones without or with limited power, and that one person can not do much.
The passiveness I am referring here is not about not respecting institutions, or not accepting certain rules, procedures, or roles. It is about not being aware or conscious enough of your own power, role/s, contribution, choices, decisions, and possibilities. If we are passive, we sustain the state as it is, sometimes also the unfairness that exist, because it was created in some other time and circumstances. It is also about being critical about certain situation or people, and not doing your part, like not voting, not applying for that leadership job and taking the responsibility, not suggesting the possible solution, not initiating the action because you are afraid of failing, not expressing your opinion in your team, not supporting others when in need or difficulty, etc. We get so easily trapped into our story that there is some authority in different shapes and names which does not allow us to stand for something, or to do something.
There are some additional questions to elaborate this passiveness, like: Who, what, and why has the voice, and who does not? Who decides what and why? Who and why is involved or excluded? Who has the power to participate and take action? Why things are as they are, and who decided about it? Our passiveness has many different whys and hows, and there is different energy related to it. But it is still passiveness, and if it is our passiveness we should be aware of it, and possibly strive to transform it into more potential energy – the energy with which we could feel more empowered for taking the action and/or responsibility. It is a choice, and it is a decision, that each and everyone of us take daily. Either to take part or not, either to be committed to change and to improve or not, either to feel empowered or to give the power away, either to take the responsibility or not, either to actively participate, co-create, and make a difference, or to sustain a status quo and not utilising potentials. This is true either in public, professional or personal situations and relationships.
When I am getting frustrated about certain circumstances, or when I become too critical about leaders, politicians, or other people in my life, in a way how they should act and what should they change, it is a sign for me to do a ‘reality check’ – to check my actions and behaviour. At one of this occasions at the beginning of my career, I had the opportunity to learn in not so pleasant way the meaning of the saying of Socrates, ‘Let him that would move the world first move himself.’ Since than, it is a useful compass for me when I get a bit off. So, the idea is to start the possible change with myself, and by doing so I actually start changing my reality, my world. Maybe we did not always think or feel we have this possibility, either because of the age, knowledge, bad experiences or lack of experiences, our role/s, or other reason, but we can choose to do differently from now on. If we would be aware that with our passiveness we often give the power to people, things, ideas etc. that we do not want to give power to, it would be perhaps easier for us to take that choice, and act differently.
Since the fact that today the world is changing rapidly, it is impossible to expect of any leader or politician or individual for having all answers or one quick unified solution for all. New technologies are bringing new possibilities for all of us. We are all more connected, and we have better access to the information and knowledge. But they can also create additional adversities among people and countries, or limitations and exclusiveness. Our increased awareness and knowledge about new challenges, and our obligation to think and act globally and locally, are demanding new approaches, especially in leadership, participation, and collaboration. This offers a new possibility and an opportunity for all of us to make a change, and to be actively engaged.
A vision of the global future where the growth is sustainable, and no one is left behind, requires the involvement of all generations and stakeholders. For this to happen, we need to develop mutual trust and respect, and be open and willing to expose ourselves, to learn, to include, to contribute, to share, and to co-create. It should not be so difficult, if we are aware of who we are, why we do what we do, and what is or can be our role in a bigger picture. We should more consciously decide to whom and to what we are giving our voice, and power. There has to be an active engagement from each and everyone of us, because only those in power are not enough for this new society and world to be developed. If we look at our power or potential powerlessness from this perspective, we can realise that there is a huge potential in everyone of us, and in all of us together. If we just unlock it for being more aware of our own power, our own role, and our common goal, and to take active part in our society, and its present and future, we could create so much better quality of living, for us, and for generations to come.