Op-ed: Reset: from Fear to Well-Being

Selfishness creates fear. We have become a selfish and fearful society. There is now a chance to reset and start moving from fear to well-being by embracing sustainability. Most people immediately think about the natural environment when the word sustainability is mentioned. For example, a parent of a student recently commented the COVID-19 crisis would be a boon for people in sustainability because everyone was going to start growing their own food. This illustrates the problem with incorrect and unquestioned narratives.

For too long in this country, we have held unquestioning beliefs in our own self-narratives. The COVID-19 crisis lays bare areas on which we might reflect. At the beginning of the crisis, the news told us of lines at gun stores, empty toilet paper shelves and the wealthy going to their second homes. Next, we started to hear about long lines at food banks and higher death rates for certain racial groups. Now, we are seeing that the US, the richest and most powerful country in the world, also has the highest death toll. The crisis is illustrating what can happen when we allow fear to prioritize selfishness over well-being.

Fear is dominating our self-narratives because we stopped having meaningful discussions. We have forgotten that you can disagree with someone and not hate them. We blindly adopted polarized self-narratives. For example, people are democrat or republican, liberal or conservative. Actually, we are first and foremost human. Polar narratives dehumanize. The danger is when we see people as not being human, we allow them to be hurt. Or in the worst cases, we play a role in hurting them.

We passively hurt people by ignoring their suffering and not considering their well being. Mining coal without regard for the environmental consequences is selfish. Likewise, putting coal miners out of work without thinking about how they provide for their families is selfish. We are faced with many similar problems impacting our well-being from income distribution to access to affordable healthcare and education. These are complex problems that require discussions and solutions, not polarized fear. We all tell ourselves different narratives to silence the suffering voices of others in our heads. “They made bad decisions.” “I care but am too busy taking care of my family.” “I am just trying to survive myself.” It does not matter what part of the political spectrum with which you identify, you have a responsibility to increase people’s well-being.

Well-being is not just about having money in your pocket. It results from many factors across different realms in our lives. The UN Sustainable Development Goals highlight 17 areas which in varying combinations contribute to our well-being. It is immediately apparent that the COVID-19 crisis is putting pressure on a number of these areas: No hunger (#1), Zero Hunger (#2 ), Health and Well-being (#3), No inequalities #10, and Decent Work and Economic Growth (#8). Of course, the exact outcome of each realm is subjective. But, it is selfish if we are not taking the time to understand how others define well-being and critically working with them on delivering it.

Not being selfish does not mean charity. It means taking responsibility for our actions. The problems we face are complex and scare us. We have found it easier to hide in polarized self-narratives and a society governed by fear than to act. Achieving well-being requires citizenship. Citizenship is a verb that means being aware of the problems in our world and taking action. Ultimately sustainability is about citizenship requiring us to take an active role in creating our own well-being. Sustainability is not polar – it is about creating inclusive human well-being. Let us take this opportunity to reset our society.

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