Sunday, July 21, 2013

Three More Building Blocks: Spirituality, Philanthropy, Arts & Culture

Building Blocks of Intent, building blocks graphic
In last month’s five-part “Living With Intent” series, we looked at three underlying philosophies for creating an eco-intentional lifestyle: permaculture, cradle-to-cradle and feng shui. Then, last week we looked at three basic building blocks you could use to expand on that foundation and begin creating your own unique approach to living with intent. This week we’ll look at the remaining three (spirituality, philanthropy and arts & culture).

1. Spirituality

Let me be very clear in saying that it is not my intent to prescribe, in any way, the manner in which anyone chooses to pursue his or her spirituality. Whether that ends up being through formal religious affiliation and worship of whatever denomination, or one’s own personal practices or observances, that is best left up to each individual to decide.

However, what I do want to emphasize is the need to realize and understand that there are consequences to the actions we take, and we need to give them our mindful consideration, as much as possible. A spiritual base helps us to do that by infusing our thoughts and actions with a sense of moral respect and regard for the wellbeing of others and the world around us.  When coupled with an impulse towards service, you have a very powerful tool for building a life of intent.

2. Philanthropy

Philanthropy can be thought of as the material manifestation of one’s spirituality.  Unlike organizations in the private sector, consider the almost impossibly, contradictory imperatives under which non-profits (and more recently, social enterprises) typically operate:
  1. they address problems (both locally and globally) of often staggering magnitude or dimension, such as the alleviation of conditions associated with issues like poverty, the environment or injustice, to name just a few
  2. as a result they have limited discretion in the selection or make-up of the "markets" they serve, as dictated by their underlying missions
  3. particularly in the case of non-profits, they have relatively modest or uncertain sources of revenue, without benefit of market driven forces to ensure their ongoing viability, in order to meet the first two challenges!
Echo sculpture
Non-profits and social enterprises are often at the forefront of building, repairing and sustaining community. Therefore, supporting them affirmatively acknowledges and makes tangible the spiritual principles by which we aspire to live, and is an inherent act of intent

3. Arts & Culture

Finally, we come to arts & culture. Now, you may not have previously thought about the arts as being particularly green or sustainable, but they are an extremely important component of eco-intentionality. For one thing, cultural organizations and institutions are themselves often structured as non-profits or social enterprises, the significance of which we just looked at in the preceding section.

Additionally, as I have continually pointed out, economic health (see Center for an Urban Future’s "Creative New York", 2005) plays a critical role in a community’s vibrancy and resiliency, and the arts deliver that in spades. Earlier this spring the Municipal Arts Society’s (MAS) hosted Arts Forum: Building Resilience Through the ArtsMAS President, Vin Cipolla noted in his remarks that
Arts and culture unite communities—they provide the glue that brings neighbors together and are a key ingredient in the recipe of neighborhood pride, cohesion, economic activity and vibrancy,”  and that artists regularly “. . .cross disciplines, foster neighborhood growth, activate creativity and engage in social activism,”
You can view video of the full panel discussion here.

But most importantly, as McDonough & Braungart have also noted (see Living With Intent - Part 3: Cradle-to-Cradle), deprivation and austerity only get you so far.  Such an approach has little to offer in the way of long-term motivation or incentive for most people.  The artist, on the other hand, provides society with beauty and delight, which are far better incentives for keeping people happily engaged with the world around them.  Additionally, the unique perspectives that artists bring to living can also offer creative solutions to the persistent problems and challenges we face.  For this reason, more than anything else, I believe arts & culture to be as green a tool as any we might typically think of as such, when it comes to creating a life of intent.

The arts are truly the spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down!

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