One key to sustainable development is a renewed attention to the idea of holism and to the inter connections that are a part of systems thinking. “I see ESD as a process, rather than as a thing.” But these viewpoints can also be daunting as one grapples with the intricacies inherent in the complexity of such wholes. It requires a need to work with both what appear to be oppositions and contradictions.

“So many oppositions!” For example:

  • On an upbringing that values miserliness: “A negative upbringing trait [that has led to] being a bit more caring about not wasting stuff”
  • “Independence and self-sustainability?: a paradox?”
  • “A can’t be bothered attitude and not consuming too much – [it] works both ways.”
  • on reducing waste and consumption: “Are recycling services letting people off the hook?”
  • “Be mindful, but keep moving – mindfulness may miss opportunities.”

One can become lost in despair when one realises that a holistic view does not represent not a neat and tidy single essence, but rather a complex system: “Society is scared of complexity – wanting simplicity [and to] de-mystify complexity.” However, by seeing both sides of the coin, our propensity to think in dualities can move from an inherently limiting approach of either/or to a more creative both/and approach.

More difficult is the need to “move into the pain, regardless, to achieve change/progress”, even when its “often painful when you care too much.” But movement into the “shadow” side of things also gives the potential to be more tolerant of others, an important attribute in the process of leading by example (Pattern 11): “…being accepting of whatever level people are at and gently creating a rapport and then just seeing what happens after that, which invariably makes greater change then when I come in making people wrong. None of us like to be made wrong…”.


Brave the pain to better the gain. Learn to love all aspects of an issue in order to find solutions. Then it can become a whole solution.

Greg Paine is an urban planner interested in sustainable development.  These articles draw on his research work in the field.

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