Sustainability Lies Within
In my September 2011 SCH blog post, Sustainability Is the Answer… but What Was the Question?, I noted that there are many different goals and strategies for achieving each personâ€™s vision of sustainability. In the process, we often focus on enhancing the external world – such as having a cleaner environment, a more vibrant economy, or a healthier, more dynamic community. But when we look at our own personal lives, we often find unstable or unfulfilling circumstances which bely our own happiness, and in the end are mostly of our own creation. How can we achieve true sustainability in the world around us if our very own lives are undermining our individual stability?
A sustainable lifestyle is one in which areas such as family, personal relationships, work and physical/emotional health are all maintained in relative balance. However, some of these matters are more challenging for us to cope with than others, and our adaptive strategy is often to avoid reconciling those areas which we feel ill-equipped to handle. This behavior can cause us to neglect facets of our life that also require attention and dedication. Some people may invest heavily in their job, physical appearance, materialism, relationships, or countless other realms because they provide a kind of refuge from painful issues that are not yet resolved within themselves.
The problem with our avoidance of emotional pain is that it inherently places us in situations that compromise our potential for lasting happiness. We may end up finding ourselves feeling unfulfilled, or engaging in unhealthy relationships, addictive habits or other self-limiting and self-defeating behavior. The result is an unsustainable platform for life which can be fraught with physical, financial and emotional instability, or a kind of sterile security that can rob us of our productivity and passion for life.
Avoiding our own weaknesses produces fear-based choices which can be so ingrained in our thought process that we often do not realize the unhealthy situations we may create as a result. In my personal life, for instance, I found it easier to focus my time and energy on marriage and family rather than the challenges of professional life. Although the bond I have forged with my two young daughters is irreplaceable, divorce ultimately made me realize that my over-investment in family was highly unsustainable because it sacrificed personal balance for perceived emotional safety.
Itâ€™s a fairly simple process to identify aspects of our external world which we feel should have increased sustainability. However, it is much more challenging to identify and reconcile those inherent aspects of ourselves which have a direct impact on our personal circumstances. Unless we confront our fears and the thought patterns which produce them, a sustainable life will be an elusive goal – as we repeat the same unhealthy behaviors that accompany our attempt to avoid negative feelings.
From my own experience, I can attest that assuming responsibility for the role we as individuals play in shaping our life is neither easy nor without considerably painful introspection. However, whatever issues about ourselves we choose to avoid now are only bound to resurface later in an increasingly complex and difficult way. Personal sustainability, therefore, is about taking proactive control of your lifeâ€™s journey, and realizing that a more sustainable world lies within more sustainable people.
Paul Hanley is a long-time Cherry Hill resident, freelance writer and Environmental Science professor at the Community College of Philadelphia. Look here on Sustainable Cherry Hill for more upcoming blogs from Paul in the coming weeks. He can be contacted at email@example.com.