Since the beginning of my work career, nearly 20 years ago, I never thought of myself as an academic researcher. I started as a reporter, moved to be a social educator, then a social entrepreneur and finally understood I had a personal purpose, related to the development of sustainable leaders and cultures, and that I could express this purpose in many ways. Ways that included many of the previous things I had done, plus some new ones, like coaching and consulting, and even informal – but never academical – research.
However, after many years working focused on my purpose, I felt the urgent need to reflect deeper on what I was doing, and where I was going to. When I realized the best way to do that was a Master Program, I decided it had to be something very precise. And even when I found Goucher College’s MACS (Master in Cultural Sustainability), it took me two years and many conversations with the Program Director, Amy Skillman, to really decide to take the step to start it.
I entered the Program as part of a process of expansion of my personal and professional identity, so I was both nervous and open. But doubts about having made the right choice started to fade out when I began Cultural Sustainability Intro Class. To my great surprise, every required reading gave name, deepened or expanded my understanding of the very things I had been doing and reflecting on. The course gave me confidence in myself and in my path, and comforted me by making me know that I am not alone: there are people, may it be faculty, my fellow students, or the authors and researchers I read, that move in convergent directions.
I was also pleased to see that the structure of the course, and specially the assignments, built a gradual and clear understanding of the work I want to do. And throughout this process, I understood that I want to help to systematize the culture of the field of Cultural Sustainability, starting from the legacy of the very Master I just started. I want to study deeper their readings, talk with faculty and students, get to know meaningful action that evolved from the course, and bridge those understandings with my own work.
As result of my investigation on leadership and culture, I learned to value profoundly the role and the importance of mentors and of one’s ancestral lineage, may it be family or knowledge lineage. So, I feel thankful and honored to have found a lineage of cultural pioneers from who I can learn, to whom I can bow and from who I can move forward with my own ideas, to evolve and continue what was inherited.
So, by end of Cultural Sustainability Intro Class, I feel I took not a step, but a leap, in harvesting the core of my new identities. I do see myself now as a (beginner) academic researcher, maybe even a faculty, in the future. I am curious to witness what will evolve from here. I see myself as part of a greater community, that has Cultural Sustainability as an overarching theme, and I am happy and proud of that.
I am also much more aware of key concepts that ground the work I am doing and that I want to do. Here is a summary of some of them:
- Cultures and people get richer when we share, give and receive our material and immaterial gifts, instead of transforming everything (including human relationships) in commodities. Must read “The Gift”, by Lewis Hyde!
- Cultural Sustainability means to safeguard people’s and group’s rights to express their own authenticity, to preserve their authority and to value the place (physical or symbolic) they are coming from.
- In the current moment of the planet, safeguarding human authenticity, authority and place means to decolonize our mindset and bring from periphery to center marginalized ways of thinking and living, such as indigenous and African perspectives, or the deaf community perspective (this last point is a gift I received from my inspiring colleague Kathleen Brockway, an active member of the deaf community). Must read “Indigenous Methodologies”, by Margaret Kovach!
- Cultures are “tool kits” from which we can withdraw worldviews and strategies to better live life, individually and collectively. Thus, the more diverse this took kit is, incorporating marginalized worldviews, for instance, and the more conscious we are about how we are using this kit, the better.
- Our concrete world is a materialization of our worldviews and assumptions, and these are expressions of the intangible culture that is influencing us. Thus, we must not neglect the power that the intangible aspect of culture has in our lives. Cultural Sustainability has to do with moving from an intangible culture that stimulates egotism and destruction to one that fosters cooperation, diversity and the conservation of life.
- “Conserving” means safeguarding what we need from the past, while giving ourselves the right to move forward and evolve. It doesn’t mean neither a denial nor an idealization of the past, or of our traditions.
- As cultural pioneers, we must be brave enough to come to action, to work in the cracks of the system, to change our already stablished beliefs and terminologies (Amy Skillman thought us the importance of changing language!), working collaboratively, appreciating and supporting each other’s work, starting from where we are (our communities) and acting WITH, and not IN, communities we are not part of.
- Art, as one of the mediums of culture, is transforming cultures in very radical and powerful ways – not only as inspiration, but as social revolution. People need to know about that. Must read “Art and Upheaval!”, by William Cleveand!
- We must always, always be conscious of our personal bias, when doing our work and research. What and how we do is very influenced by where we are coming from. Locate ourselves in our work is essential.
- Accountability is a key word for doing ethical work. There is nothing more contradictory with Cultural Sustainability than using this concept to take information and life from people and cultures and not giving back what serves the community needs (instead of giving just what we want).
There are certainly much more learnings, from readings, assignments and from my faculty and cohort, but I’ll pause here, finishing with the way I framed what is Cultural Sustainability, during class, and edited with the help of my colleagues:
“Cultural Sustainability is the range of actions taken by people and communities to warrant them the authority, knowledge and tools to foster the intangible and tangible aspects of a culture that benefits all beings.”
If that makes sense to you, and if you are not connected to this field yet, maybe this is the time to also take this leap into becoming a pioneer of sustainable cultures and the world that is arising from them.