In recent weeks I have listened to a thought-provoking podcast series titled the Wellbeing Economy, produced by the Crawford School of Public Policy at Australia National University. Topics discussed covered issues such as economics, climate change, health, amongst others, and all highlighted the tensions between the pre-COVID world view and value placed on industrialised concepts and ideologies, and the emerging view and value of health and community over profit and progress. As this series highlighted, the two views are not worlds apart, although modern media would have us believe otherwise, and offered up some viable and realistic pathways for moving toward an alternative and far more progressive future state for our collective community.
For instance, modern monetary policy argued by governments in the western world posits governments should avoid deficits at all costs. Yet, responses to COVID the world over has seen governments, be they from federated nations or not, embrace greater levels of debt and deficit to boost their nation’s resilience and response to the pandemic. Whilst time will demonstrate how effective – and compassionate – governments will be in generating revenue and reducing government spending in order to meet their interest payments and reduce their budget deficit, the immediate response has shown that governments can, and should, prioritise the health and wellbeing of their people and communities.
‘Old-world’ processes like extractive industries for energy generation (such as fossil fuels), business processes such as travelling to meet in person to progress business relationships, and even democratic processes such as campaigning and voting, have been and will continue to be under pressure from innovations and ways of working, driven by both necessity for change (such as social distancing through COVID) or mitigation of threats such as climate change. This massive disruption does indeed provide an opportunity for reflecting on what it is we as individuals, and therefore as communities and more broadly society, accept and adopt as the drivers we value most, and how we want these drivers to manifest in our lives.
Though not all of us have had the opportunity or circumstance to connect with others in our community (whatever that community might be) in recent months, our need for social connection, validation and support has driven massive self-discipline in adherence to COVID restrictions, further reinforced by our collective commitment to preserving life for others as much as possible. Of course, this is both easier and more apparent in stages of acute need, such as the current pandemic. The need is no less during non-pandemic times, such as pre-COVID, with millions living in abject poverty and homeless. Their lives were no less in need of preservation and support, but suffered a slow demise and so was, and is, easier to ignore. This deliberate ignorance is fueled by distraction of consumerism and the pursuit of profit as progress.
Coming back to the idea of a wellbeing economy, I have started my 2021 with a question:
What do I value – truly value?
What matters to me with respect to how others are cared for? What matters to me with respect to how I, and my community, can live in harmony with the environment? How can I play a part in supporting the betterment in the lives of others, in areas such as health, community and connectedness?
The podcast series concluded with a wonderful reflection episode, where one of the hosts shared their view on this emerging Ethic of Care – the idea that our default disposition both as individuals and collectively, expressed through government policy and programs, is one that privileges care and compassion for people and the planet. Many ideas were shared across this series for how such an Ethic could be actualized across social, economic, business and community domains, and I strongly encourage you to listen to the series to be both challenged and inspired by the ideas discussed.
There is ample innovative energy and growing desire for this Ethic and view to be the norm, but it’s under pressure from an equal narrowing of individualism and ‘old-world’ views, as communities adapt to a COVID-normal context.
As you move into whatever 2021 holds in store for you (hopefully something more promising and rewarding than 2020), ask yourself what values to you. Form your own views of a future you want to see created by all of us, and consider what actions (or in some instances, inactions) you might embrace that will contribute to the future you envisage. Do not adopt the views put forward by the mass media (including myriad social media platforms) without considering the values you have and whether these views resonate with such.
Do you want to embrace an Ethic of Care and a progressive future, or default to the values of yesterday and last century that are now under more pressure to serve our evolving society?
The issues facing us are bigger than anyone, yet are solved by everyone.