We’ve looked at sustainability from the perspectives of our individual lifestyles, work, and production. It’s time to zoom out and think about how entire communities can be more sustainable. Full disclosure: I’ve been on a meditation retreat for the past 8 days (something you already know I love) so I haven’t had time to start the research yet. Instead, I want to introduce an image and spirit that can guide our thinking around a sustainable community.
Bring to mind the shape of birds flying in a V formation. The birds in front lift those behind them, traveling far greater distances than they ever could alone. There is no bird law enforced by bird police requiring they work together in this way. The birds have evolved in close relation to each other and the natural environment to learn this form of cooperation. Their survival and flourishing as a community depends on it.
The spirit of this is what I call autonomous alignment. When embraced in a community, we come together of our own free choice to do good work together. We acknowledge our inherent alignment as humans who depend on each other, and our natural environment, to survive and flourish. Rather than each of us going at it alone, we look for ways to support each other and reduce the overall work required to reach our shared goals.
It’s autonomous because no external force is used to make people comply. There’s no need for compulsion when people realize this form of cooperation enables each one of us to achieve much more than we could alone. Just like the birds. This is a model of a community with strong social cohesion that honors the freedom of each individual to participate in the process in their own way.
We live in very divisive times. More and more, people are splitting into factions aligned in opposition to each other. Of course, we will never all agree on all the political issues that divide us. This debate is part of human progress. Indeed, we should welcome a diversity of perspectives about the lessons of history and how to apply them going forward. Despite our differences, however, we also always have shared goals. The question is: how can we come together, across our divides, and work together?
I believe the more we shape our communities - from the neighborhood to the nation - on principles of autonomous alignment, the more sustainable they will be. We can honor and protect the individual choice to align with others to achieve what cannot be done alone. It’s complex work and requires a particularly difficult struggle against those who sow division in pursuit of personal enrichment. It’s nothing short of creating new customs that see personal freedom and prosperity as what we gain when we align with each other — like birds flying in a V.
Let’s keep this image and spirit in mind as we think about how to create sustainable communities. Our future - and perhaps even our existence - may depend on it.
About the author:
Recovering lawyer, training to be a meditation teacher. Anxiety used to define me. Now I am devoted to bringing peace to the people and communities that continue to suffer from it.