In our Summer 2021 issue, Davie Philip shared some insights into how we can begin to embrace a more inclusive and sustainable worldview. We are in the process of moving from an ‘ego-system’ paradigm to an ‘ecosystem’ paradigm. Enjoy his words below.
Transcending a Paradigm of Separation
Embracing an ecological worldview
by Davie Philip
We all behave according to assumptions that we hold about how things work and how society functions. Our lives are underpinned by paradigms that help us make sense of the world and are the sources of our beliefs and values. People rarely, if ever, question or challenge these sets of ideas and are oblivious that a different way of seeing the world is possible.
We tend to operate from a paradigm of separation. This contributes to the increasing epidemic of loneliness, individualism, social atomisation and a ‘growth at any cost’ economy driving the continued destruction of our natural world.
Buddhism says that suffering occurs when people are detached or isolated, identifying this as the cause of most of our problems and the world’s troubles. When Buddha gained enlightenment, it was the realisation that interconnectedness is the true nature of all beings.
In their book ‘Leading from the Emerging Future’, Otto Scharmer and Katrin Kaufer state that although our world is interconnected, in many cases our awareness as individuals, organisations or nations is still limited. They propose a deep shift in consciousness that would enable us to begin to care and act in the interests of the entire ecosystem and not just for ourselves.
They call for an internal shift from an outdated “ego-system” awareness, focused on what is good for ourselves, to an “eco-system” awareness that emphasises connection, relationship and the health of the whole. This transformation, they say, needs us to nurture an open mind, an open heart and an open will.
An open mind is the capacity to see the world with fresh eyes and to suspend old habits of thought. An open heart enables us to empathise and see any situation through the eyes of others. An open will is the ability of letting go of old identities and being receptive to a new sense of self and to what transcendence makes possible.
At the very end of his life, Maslow added self-transcendence to the top of his ‘hierarchy of needs’, describing this as “the very highest and most inclusive or holistic levels of human consciousness, behaving and relating, as ends rather than means, to oneself, to significant others, to human beings in general, to other species, to nature, and to the cosmos.”
People who make this shift tend to value empathy, care and community, and are more likely to express greater concern about bigger-than-self problems. Whereas people operating from a paradigm of separation get stuck at an individualist, ego-driven level of development and tend to value self-enhancement, status and competition.
According to Donella Meadows, a pioneer of whole systems thinking, “It is in the space of mastery over paradigms that people throw off addictions, live in constant joy, bring down empires, get locked up or burned at the stake or crucified or shot, and have impacts that last for millennia.”
To ensure a resilient and regenerative future, we are now urgently called to transcend the paradigm of separation and embrace an ecological worldview. This is the shift in thinking and way of making sense of the world that is truly transformative.
Davie Philip is a facilitator and trainer with a focus on community resilience at cultivate.ie and a network weaver at ECOLISE.eu, the European network for community-led initiatives on climate change and sustainability,