My contribution to Anthropology and Sociology

After producing a paper for the Saprej congress it was published in Horizon Research open access publications.

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Leadership is never democratic

The majority of people want to keep things as they are. They are conservative by nature. To change something one needs guts, vision or a desperate need. Than leadership appears. The rest is powerful management of what has been.


Those focused on economic growth only fear chaos and stand progress in the way

So don’t expect leadership from your politically chosen representatives. They forcefully try to please the voting majorities. Leadership and change is always outside politics.

Life is always healthy

When we look at our natural surroundings we see many living species. They are all healthy. Life ‘s mechanisms are based on health. The unhealthy always disappears to make room for new health!


That is why I declared health a Sustainocratic core value, something to take responsibility for together, individually and as society. Our current societal and global executive model produces unhealthy evolution with just one ending. If we want to evolve in a healthy way we change our models and awareness.

Words and their meaning

We learn and use new words every day. Etymology for instance crossed my path for the first time today. I may have heard or seen it before but it has never entered my consciousness as it did today.

We pick up new words and even change the meaning of words over time. Etymology studies these patterns. This reminded me of a book about English language that I read once. It showed the study of migration of people in the middle ages from one area to another, through marriage, travel, war or other circumstances, by the sudden appearance of specific words in a region. Linguistic archeology! That facinated me already back then! Having lived in many places in different countries I developed even a special sense around the pronounciation of words and the origin of people. In Spain and here in Holland as well, the words and accents differ between adjacent villages, just a few miles apart.

The times in which we live today are just as exciting in linguistics as our past. Never before so many words have been reformated, screwed up or given a totally new significance as today. Internet, social media and the unique interpretation of words by our youngest generations has created a totally new vocabulary, giving new significance to old words, agreeing on commonly accepted new expressions, including even totally new words, expressions and letter combinations. My teenage daughter communicates with her friends through skype, Instagram, life streams, twitter and texting using a combination of images, short video’s, voice recordings, abreviations, emoticons and verbal emotions. When I see a written sentence she sees and senses a multidimensional storyboard.

Never before it has been more difficult to communicate and actually understand eachother. I even concluded that I cannot communicate anymore at my own level of societal resonance without introducing new words and images of myself. All old and current words often have a totally different energy and meaning to what I want to get across. Old words in a new jacket need as much cognition or explanation as new words in an old world. That is why I invent fresh ones of our own to resonate with, with their own fresh energetic charge. Back in 2003 I decided that I wanted to pass on a new reality to my children than the perversely dangerous political economic reality that we had created over decades or even centuries and that was destroying our habitat but also the harmony of our communities. With the decision to start creating a new society by being that society it never crossed my mind that such decision would end up into a new vocabulary too.

Words as energy carriers
Words carry meaning, history, culture as well as significance. A word transmitted by someone may not at all be the same word that the receiving part interprets. Context is part of the meaning, the communicative intentions of the sender charge it with part of him or her self. The receiver may recharge the word according one’s own resonance. Communication then becomes nearly impossible, especially when we develop new realities in a world of our own. That’s also the reason why I never dispute the old reality anymore in an attempt to convince people that it is obsolete and wrong for the times to come. I invite them to my new world and sense the energy, vibes and new communicative reality that grows in the new community that shapes itself and expands.

Parallel worlds
I simply use words and drawings, my teenage daughter combines words with emotions and foto’s. My parents use words and photoalbums and charge them with their own generational meaning. A conversation between grandmother and granddaughter easily becomes a Tower of Babel with remarks like “when I was your age” and a whole load of energy that is totally misunderstood by both. We are now living in parallel worlds and learn to deal with it through awareness.

A world organisation in extraordinary transit
Take the word “economy” for instance. What does it mean? We all use the word regularly or encounter it in our daily reality. But do we know what it means? Do we have a common understanding or an individual resonance? Or do we just use the contemporary public understanding of the term “money in my pocket to buy what I need”? Economy as a word has so many different formal and informal meanings and sensitivities that we first need to agree on the meaning of single word within a conversation before we can actually have a conversation.

Another word that gives rise to many hours of confusion is “sustainability”. An Italian student actually made a study and asked people of different cultures what that word ment for them. The report was shared with us through this blog.

Then people ask me why I introduced this word? The reason is simply that all other words that were already taken never allowed me to express myself because they were interpreted by my audience through the energetic programming of our current reality. When I wanted to talk about sustainable human progress from a humanitarian and evolutionary point of view I lost my audience because their mind was programmed to understand “Sustainable human progress = technological measures to assure energy supplies”. The same happens when I use the word “democracy” in the context of freedom of choice and required self-responsibility while my audience hears “government dependence and elections”.

So by introducing Sustainocracy I could capture the open mind of people who spend time getting a feeling by what I want them to feel rather than having to dispute the type of resonance around an already existing word. When saying Sustainocracy I am always right in its interpretation because I coined the complexity myself. When I say the “democracy of sustainable human progress” I get disputes around every word. An energetic chaos appears while we never get to the essentials of feeling the new energy of harmony and progression. Using that single word “Sustainocracy” I instantly bridge chaos with the opportunity to develop awareness and cocreation.

Our world of perception is governed by energies. If we voluntarily or intentionally change the resonance we change the perception. This is an extremely interesting field of societal research when dealing with the complexity of our evolution and the challenges we face because we managed to manoeuvre ourselves into a erroneous field of destructive resonance. Being able to remediate that with just one word, a word that carries the entire energetic DNA of a new global human society in harmonic relationship with our surroundings, is an unprecedented quantum leap in our own evolution. A new type of energetically sensitive humankind is born.

From perverse to healthy city management

In my own region of Brabant and the city of Eindhoven (the Netherlands) we have been working together on the concept of `healthy city` for over 5 years now. The first initiative taken came from myself and my own STIR Foundation (City of Tomorrow), using the Sustainocratic work format. Our work became a confrontation with ourselves and the way we manage our cities and communities. And still is. The learning process is however unique, exciting and worth sharing.

This is a long blog again as it describes a process of awareness and a solution of common understanding and need. I describe first the issue, the impossible solution and the workable one from a core human values point of view. The latter works.

A unique dinner
Twice a year the political councillors of the five big cities of this region join for dinner, the so called `diner pensant` (dinner to think), together with the hierarchical representatives of the province. They discuss the practical issues related to their temporary jobs (every 4 years we see new executive faces after the elections). They are accompanied by their top civil cervants who run complex programs in the city.  This time the leading topic of the evening was `health`. I was invited to speak.

40 people gathered, mostly political city executives

40 people gathered, mostly political city executives, to listen to my story about historical `perverse` city management and our Eindhoven solution.

My speech is not an easy one. Despite the noble purpose of the evening and the practical commitment of the region to work on health we need to face the potential impotence of the venture.

Cities have never been envisaged from a health point of view. Doing it now we face a confrontation with a reality that is engrained into our city management and the democratic structure of our system of governance and societal steering. For 5 years we have been working with a solution developed by my foundation in cocreation with the organizing (of the dinner) city of Eindhoven. This solution is a source of inspiration for other cities but at the same time a challenge without presidence as it questions everything a city has ever stood for.

My opening slide is already a challenge even though I present myself as the inviting party to a safer reality, for human kind but also city management

My opening slide is already a confrontation. I present myself as the inviting party towards a new reality, a new societal format even.

Perverse old city management
The 5 years of experience in Eindhoven has become a practical voyage and proof of principle. It also became of tremendous academic interest for me to investigate the process through backward analysis. It gives modern insight on the practicality of transforming city management, sustainable leadership and societal awareness. Above all it is a research issue about human awareness development, executive blocks and hierarchies, and the human courage to break loose and co-create a totally new way of developing society. But before that we need to be aware of the current historic and ruling perverse reality of unhealthy city development and executive.

Cities have never developed around health, on the contrary. Cities developed around self declared land ownership, trade routes over sea and land, logistics, industrial processes, market places, public events and protection against the aggression of others. 5000 years of city development show us that everything turns around the hierarchy of power, the speculation with services and goods, consumption and all of this eventually translated into money driven executive management. Money leads in cities because the city hardly produces anything of itself. It interacts with its surroundings to purchase all it needs to continue speculation with the people who are attracted to this perceived abundance of real estate, shops and services.

Nothing in the city sustains health. Every executive decision made to develop the city is related to money driven choices that generally produce more pollution and health problems, not just in physical sense but also in the mentality, culture and behavior  of people. Economic growth through inflation prevails while the problems are remediated through costly regulating bureaucracy and expensive care systems. There are at least four big reasons why a city is not at all healthy:

  1. A city consists of tarmac, cement and glass, eliminating every reference to nature or living species in an ecosystem. When something is not perceived by people than it does not penetrate our sense of reality. People in a city don´t identify with life and develop a mentality of so called `frozen ego´s`, emotionless for the problems of our living surroundings simply because those surroundings do not exist in their daily interaction. There is hardly any empathy, no sensitivity, no awareness. At the same time the materials used to sustain the city and its growth are extremely polluting, producing unhealthy dust and fumes.
  2. A city is based on the trade and consumption of goods producing a psychology of greed and hoarding rather than an attitude of productivity for wellness.
  3. The dependence of the city on goods from outside the city makes it a decadent negotiator for volume, purchasing as cheaply as  possible whatever it needs to sell it as expensively as possible within the city. The effect is that the city contributes to the decadent way of treating our sea, soil and air producing all the problems that we face in the world that lead to huge catastrophes.
  4. The entire city is based on economics of trade that structurally rewards the systems that pollute (traffic, logistics, consumption, etc) while those who take responsibility are often do this as volunteers or get blocked by the official system.

The city inhabitants and users hardly identify themselves with issues such as climate change, acidifying seas or the invisible air pollution. The population does however show direct interest in sources to make money (through labor, social security, loans or pension schemes) to pay for all the services that a city provides. 90% of all city´s executive decisions are dealing with sustaining, rewarding and enhancing these patterns. The city’s transactions are being taxed and this sustains the bureaucracy, the investment in economic growth and the financial reserves to repare local damage. This damage repair is seen as a cost, not as lack of original responsibility.

Cities have developed around power, dependence, money and decadence

Cities have developed around power, dependence, money and a decadent blind consumer mentality

Never ever the city or its population has seen or considered itself beyond its own city confinement, empathised with nature or the city´s own natural surroundings. The city invests in tarmac, cement and glass, more logistics and mobility, causing the pollution to even grow further. When I was introduced to this powerful audience of this unique diner the presenter used this video of air pollution in the Netherlands referring both to the challenge we face, the problems we caused ourselves and the responsibility I try to take through sustainocratic ventures in Eindhoven.

This video was placed on YouTube in 2013, two years ago, and has been watched just around 1000 times. Any teenage or adult video on fashion or music will receive such amount of views in mere seconds. It shows where the public interest goes. Health is not in the minds of city people as they deal with other mental priorities and choices. Health hence can never be a democratic issue, nor part of a political campaign. Health is a core responsibility, a key value of life. But this responsibility has been made subject to the political and economic system that defends other priorities and prefers to remediate damage rather than prevent it. Country level executive work is largely a copy of the city´s management culture.

As the city consumes it parasites on the sea, the land, the air and all life on planet Earth. The exponential growth towards 7 billion human beings, of with 70% have populated the cities, delivers a life threating situation managed by hypocritical, perverse city politics and economics. We can hence conclude that all current humanitarian and ecological problems on Earth can be related directly to the sum of all cities and that cities hardly identify themselves with their responsibility due to intensive self interests and a political and economic system that stands health in the way. The countrywide government floats on top of the consumption in cities and the logistics to supply them. The results are catastophical for all life on Earth, including human awfulness as humankind is too kind.

Cities are responsible and need to take responsibility

Cities are responsible for all the damage and need to take responsibility

If this can be explained by pinpointing the executive problem of a polical and economic steering format and hierarchy why then did Brabant and Eindhoven accept my invitation back then, in 2010, to start cocreating  the first healthy city of the world, using air quality as guiding principle?

The executive layer has become a problem because it blocks the public motivation from taking responsibility.

The executive layer and hierarchical format has become a problem because it blocks the public motivation from taking responsibility.

Motivation differs, goals converge
My own motivation was and is still to initiate a society that takes core human values as leading dots on the horizon thus producing a self reflective and correcting society. By doing so one continuously challenges reality to see if progression can be made by engaging with such values (eg. Health, safety, self-sufficiency, self-awareness, basic needs fullfilment) and the continuous threats against it produced by life itself (human or nature). This would produce a continuous stream of innovation while we carry our responsibilities all together as a population. But it requires a different relationship with the executive steering.

Eindhoven had the courage to accept that challenge but the motivation goes step by step.

The motivation of the political partner at the city council was not yet challenging the political system that, in my reality, would disappear and be replaced by a new democratic setting. She was primarily interested in the potential of producing smart innovations as well as the production of insights that help her define her own executive policies around the air quality norms that come from the political hierarchy above the cities. Still now, after 5 years, the political partners introduce me and the cocreation efforts through AiREAS as a `measurement system for air pollution` rather than the beginning of a societal alternative in which we have taken responsibility together. I don´t push the situation as I see it as a gradual process. To accept my proposition immediately would mean political suicide in the perverse context of our present day systems. The story of perverse decadence can only be told by me as independent viewer of our realities but not by the city executive who is elected to uphold the system. We can however work together and need space todo so.

This evening session was the very brave first public setting organized by the executive of Eindhoven, accepting the total turn around of regional governance, with all the consequences of such move. The proof of principle of 5 years cocreation has developed enough arguments for the executive to adopt its challenge and present it to their colleagues as the best option forward. It has become a choice now, a serious executive option and this evening the choice was presented to the entire executive world by Eindhoven. The second part of my presentation was to explain this solution to get to cocreative health responsibility without political or economic suicide or chaos in between.

Health cocreation 
Socrates once said: “You can spend a lifetime fighting the system or put all your energy in creating a new one”. Sustainocracy is a commitment to create the new using the key values of our existence. For our traditional city executives it is hard to accept Sustainocracy when one is still in between two realities, professionally in one, humanitarian or intellectually in the other. Half denial and half acceptance is hence the safes way forward. Often we still hear the remark that “health has to become a business case” while in reality we realize and show that health is a basic, core responsibility, not a trade or something you can buy. Health is on the other hand so abstract that people generally do not understand, until we face the absence of it. That may also be the explanation why health never became an executive issue before.

Nature provides wisdom
When we look at nature we realize that it is always healthy and health driven. Life itself is by definition healthy. The natural living ecosystem that surrounds us is always healthy. That what is not dies or is eaten. The unhealthy always disappears to make room for new health!

De natuur is altijd gezond want anders gaat het dood

Life is always healthy otherwise it dies. Healthy cities will live too.

A human being is also a healthy creature of nature. When we produce unhealthy situations in our surroundings we do the equivalent with ourselves. A process of elimination starts until our responsibility reaches our awareness. We have never acknowledged this responsibility because we only became aware when it was too late. The individual dead do not complain. But the collective threat of death does make us react as a group. We have let ourselves be governed by our (equally natural) greed and competitive mentality around power and control. The consequences manifest themselves because the health thriving living reality confronts us with the shortages we created ourselves through exhausting life that does not automatically recover with the development of new life. The lack of natural group empathy with nature has shown that we don´t know what we really are. We are presented with a mirror by nature through the appearance of catastrophes, illnesses, crises and chaos.

Cities are the first structures that develop this awareness because of the vulnerability that now appears and the responsibility that has long been denied. It is not at all strange to see that the large trade centers along the seashore are the first that need to deal with the rising sea levels caused by air pollution and climate change that has been produced by those same trade centers. It is not strange either that cities at cross roads in the country side are feeling tremendous fluctuations in their economies because they eliminated local self sufficiency and productivity and became totally dependent of the economic variables of the rest of the world. When Eindhoven realised this in the 90´s it tried to find a way to become more productive itself and came to the powerful conclusion that it could present itself to the world as key innovating city. Brainport was born as a concept of cocreation. It gave the city a sense of productive ownership of something it could control rather than being victim of economic fluctuations from elsewhere.  The acceptance to my invitation can be seen in that context.

As stress builds up the awareness in the cities grows because they are now affected themselves in multiple ways by nature, shortages and the local crises. Responsibilities manifest at executive level and tension arises between this new sense of responsibility and the persistence of the old executive system, sustained also by powerful local lobbyists. Recogizing the problem is the first step towards a solution. That is why this diner and the possibility to speak openly about this tension, became a huge step for humankind, a burst of true healthy executive mentality, guts and sincere desire to solve such critical issues. But the old world is still dominant as the new world shows itself.

To provide room and space to develop itself the old executive is asked to step aside.

Volutarily stepping aside is a brave executive decision

Voluntarily stepping aside is a brave executive decision. The open space, together with the purpose of key human values, is refered to as Sustainocracy if organized proactively

It is of course not the executive itself that steps aside. Their act is a demonstration of guts and sense of responsibility. What is set aside is the dominance of the political and economic steering system to provide space for the development of our key values that otherwise would remain trapped by the system. The executive then steps back into society to address the issue together, not as a boss but as a partner. For this we need to create the right conditions.

Sustainocracy is change driven always towards the key value that is placed in the open space

Sustainocracy is change driven always towards the key value that is placed in the open space

The transformation starts outside the hierarchy of interests. Players are looking at creating patterns to fullfil the higher purpose that is placed in the open space left behind by the retreat of the steering mechanisms. The open space itself now needs to be managed too to avoid chaos or anarchy. That is where Sustainocracy comes in as concept and way of working. We introduced the figure of the ´sustainocrat`, an independent professional that has the task to create a table based on equality instead of hierarchy, invite the many players in this multidisciplinary arena and assure that the higher purpose (health in this case) remains leading. Together the participants, in which government still plays a key territorial role, share the health driven responsibility with social innovation through its citizens, technological innovation through value driven entrepreneurship and applied knowledge through science and education. As the process develops and cocreation ends up into value driven projects with measureable results every participant is confronted with the need to address change also in their own organizations. But these changes can be addressed effectively because of the powerful arguments developed in the sustainocratic settings.

The example that is most used is AiREAS, the sustainocratic venture to produce health in relation to air quality. In AiREAS the sustainocratic space is now filled with various multidisciplinary teams that are producing an overwhelming amount of practical and scientific insights, social and technological innovations and concrete advice about legal and executives obstacles that stand sustainable progress in the way.  AiREAS is providing a continuous stream of proof that can be used to start initiatives around every key issue that demands our attention fast.

Key conclusion is that, when the lid is off the dominance of political and economic steering, an explosion of creativety appears that addresses health and other core human values as a natural phenomenum. By structuring this creativy in the multidisciplinary format of Sustainocracy we can address any complexity because we introduce change not just through product innovations but also, all at the same time, by removing the blockage that the hierarchies created. The new sustainocratic society exists. It resembles an ecosystem in which all participate to shape and maintain a wellness based community in close resonance we our surrounding nature and natural resources. Sustainocracy is still relatively small on the global scale and hence still vulnerable but the ideology and practical outrole has proven itself, has been documented and now simple finds its way to the rest of the world as its seeds are being carried by the enthusiasm of all participants.

AiREAS results are impressive

AiREAS results are impressive

The local and global acknowledgment is equally impressive

The local and global acknowledgment is equally impressive

Most impressive is that it works and is adopted by more and more regions around the world

Most impressive is that it works and is adopted by more and more regions around the world

Van Gogh inspires

We all know Vincent van Gogh from his extremely valuable paintings. However, the way the human being Vincent inspires people with his character, world changing views and talent to perceive and describe his surroundings, is less know. That’s why a group of passionate entrepreneurs came together this day to highlight this element in particular while suggesting a relationship with the unique characteristics of the mentality and landscapes in the Dutch province of Brabant. Van Gogh inspires because he himself was inspired which can still be recognized from the creativity, paintings and unique style of Vincent.

Start in Eindhoven
We gathered in the old characteristic Park Hotel of Eindhoven. During the lunch, offered by the new owner of the hotel, organizer Jan Karel Felderhof explained the “Enjoy Van Gogh” program and objectives. We then spend some time to get to know each other in the group as well as the individual motivation to participate.

It was a lovely sunny summer’s day. Park hotel had organised a light lunch after which we would go by bike to the “Van Gogh village” Nuenen. Van Gogh had only lived there 2 years but they were significant for many of his paintings, conflictive relationships and worldview development. The 10 km bicycle ride took us through areas of Eindhoven and Nuenen which one would normally not see when any other means of transportation is used. This made the tour already a pleasant exercize.

At the Vincenter in Nuenen we were received to get some insight in the life of Van Gogh, listen to some real, recorded testimonials of people who actually had met him personally, and see an exposition of his time. We then walked to see the actual places with a guide. She compared visual landmarks with the Van Gogh paintings, showing how Vincent interpreted what he saw and practiced techniques on canvas. We learned things about the person, his personality, his perseverence and struggles with dogma’s of a protestant elite family and his free and often troubled mind. The many letters he wrote to his brother Theo are a well documented remainder of the way he interpreted and analysed himself and his relationships or work.

Despite his family struggles Vincent described his relationship with Brabant as “the place where your dreams appear close to reality”. It was this sentence among others that linked his mentality to the one we also felt ourselves. The land in which we live and where we do our own creative work, where Philips once found fertile grounds to grow, is worth viewing to try to explain the typical value driven mentality, the community building around quality of life and powerful innovative entrepreneurship of our region.

The group consists of entrepreneurs, visionairs and executives in the field of paradigm shifts, hospitality, export, art, productivity and healthcare. Each with his/her own leadership mentality, determination and fully aware of the challenges we face as a species. In essence we could sense to be little Van Gogh ‘s in our own talented way. What would the sum of this unique group bring and what can we bring to the world.

Gradually this became the topic of our conversation as we cycled back to Eindhoven with a stop at the 11th century watermill to enjoy a Vincent beer brewed by one of the participants.

Vincent beer

Vincent beer


Enjoying the afternoon stop at the watermill

We then continued our return to Eindhoven with a small detour to get a feel of the Van Gogh bicycle path, an ingeneous night time experience of light reflection based on one of the paintings of Van Gogh.

Bicycle path resembing the milky way of one of the paintings of Van Gogh

We then continued to the center of Eindhoven for our evening meal en open dialogue at Mr. Frits (the way the general public referred to Frits Philips, former president of Philips after the founders Anton and Gerard) restaurant.

Excellent dinner

Excellent dinner

We were received with an excellent three course meal during which we had ample time to share ideas, insights, ideology and feelings about Vincent, the day, our group of beautiful people and what we could do together in cocreation.

Great group of local entrepreneurs ready to make a difference like Van Gogh did.

Great group of local entrepreneurs ready to make a difference like Van Gogh did.

It was an excellent day. We don’t know yet what will come out of it all other than all kinds of positive intensions to show the people some of our history, the way we live and take commitment around issues that generate positive vibes. Vicent van Gogh was the inspirer who opened our eyes to how inspiring we and our region is and worth showing to the world.

Laudato Si and me

When I published my Dutch book “Geheimen van echte welvaart” (Secrets of true welfare) in 2009, local Catholics repeatedly came to me with their surprise that “the Pope says the same as you”. This unintended allegation that the Pope would repeat my words rather than the other way around, was amuzing me. It is not at all strange that the patterns of evolutionary thinking between me and a theological institution like the Catholic Church show alignments. After all we both look at humankind from the long term existential point of view rather than the short term economical and political reality that is displayed continuously in our surroundings. Since 2009 this alignment has grown stronger as the current Pope, Francis I, dropped the tradition of dogmatic imposition of church laws to open up for a transparent, epistemological learning dialogue and action driven exercize to address the current humanitarian and ecological disharmony in the world. The first real encyclic of this Pope is called “Laudato Si” (Praise be on you) with the subtitle “On care for our common home”. The subtitle suggests a call for ecological awareness but the publication is much more than that.

Many converging viewpoints
The message of the Pope is clear. He formulates a learning dialogue in which he describes, in well chozen arguments, the firm beliefs, observations and theological foundation of the Catholic church. He invites other viewpoints to converge, not to dispute each other in competition or single dominant hierarchy but to open up in dialogue to actually solve the enormous issues we face together. The encyclic as such becomes a source of inspiration, no dogmatic ruling, yet an invitation to take responsibility as one would expect from a species that was created specifically by God for that purpose (one of the fundaments of this religion). The Pope analyzes the current situation of global economics, the throwaway culture, the lack of overall empathy to the destruction that we produce and seem so reluctant to deal with. He openly acknowledges that he nor the church has all the answers but hidden in the open dialogue, commitment to address the issues and diversity of standpoints, we can find the way forward.

I personally see this encyclic as a first sign of a new global force that sets aside the bureaucracy of dogmatic rules and inspires to open up to the spiritual inner quest for true meaning. The Pope may be critical, steering in some occasions with very firm statements but always underpins with arguments and analysis. One can agree or disagree (see media humor below when discovering the political hypocracy) with statements, arguments or analysis yet by giving the right example this Pope invites those who emphasize with the challenges to come up with better alternatives or take action with the same sense of responsibility as displayed by the Pope.

Three human levels
Theologist Eduardo Echevarria produced a theological analysis of the encyclic which was published in a national Catholic paper in Holland. People in my surroundings tend to share this with me to reenforce or put in perspective my own work. He expresses his worries that the huge diversity of complex issues (ecological crisis, climate change, poverty, apocalyptic risks, capitalist dominance, etc) expressed by the Pope may cause that “through the trees we do not see the forest” anymore. Echevarria tries to simplify by relating the build up of the encyclic to three theological levels of the architecture of human development (Compendium of Social Doctrine of the Church) :

  • Fundamental level – the level of motivations
  • Steering level – the level of establishing norms to form society
  • Consideration level – the level of reflection and consciousness

When he started to elaborate on this it immediately gave relevance to the different interpretation and usage or positioning of those three levels. The word “level” suggests a “hierarchy” as levels tend to lay on top of each other, like this:

A hierarchy of levels?

When interpreting the levels as such we find that the level of motivations becomes mediated by the steering efforts of the norms of society if we want to access the level of consideration and reflection. This is probably the simplest illustration of the dominant position that the steering level can develop over our motivations, blocking us deliberately from reflection and the consciousness. It is not just the political and economical reality that wants to steer us this way. For a long time the church itself has considered itself as sole mediator between the religious interpretation of the conscience, translate it into dogmatic impositions referred to as the norms of Catholic belief and taking a dogmatic standpoint. Other religions do the same in their own way, sometimes producing even violent interpretations that influence the layer of motivations of those who are deprived from thinking for themselves and act through manipulation of “belief”.

In fact we see this wall of dominant steering determining today still the type of education our children receive, what we watch on television, how history is registered or how news is brought to our attention in a manipulated way. This brings me to this beautiful fragment of the movie “Dinner with Andre” (1981) (A conversation about reality) in which a city is described as a prison in which we are both the guards and prisoners:

The Pope’s mayor breakthrough
The mayor breakthrough of this particular encyclic is the Pope’s voluntary repositioning of the layers. Voluntarily setting aside its dogmas, the church is opening up to the overall redefinition of our steering mechanisms that form society. By doing so the Pope opens up to the critical self-reflective dialogue between the diversity of dominant and upcoming systems in relation to the challenges we face. Setting the example he invites other dogmas (economic, political, technological, scientific) to do the same and open up to reflection by involving directly the layer of motivations at humanitarian and ecological level.

By stepping into the global societal group the Pope does not reduce the message of the church, he actually re-enforces it by placing it in overall perspective. The church is not the only truth anymore as other dominant realities are equally or often even more influential. It is one reality now among many others that reign today, yet one that is equally worth argumenting by analysis and interpretation in face of the huge human challenges that we need to deal with.

The Pope’s message is powerful because of the humility. Accepting different points of view and opening up the epistemological dialogue (What is knowledge? What is belief? What is real? What is responsibility?) the Pope `sacrifices` fragmented dogmatic dominance to achieve equality and purpose driven dialogue with others. By doing so he can focus on the powerful inspiration that the church provides while allowing for the influential contribution of technology, science, politics, education, humanitarian and ecological awareness and the involvement of the masses “because we are all in this together”.

Analogy with the City of Tomorrow
When I started the STIR Foundation (City of Tomorrow) in 2009 we worked very hard on awareness development, organizing congresses and establishing working groups. We provided a kind of critical message and structural DNA to work things out in purpose driven communities. Always we asked others to do the work, based on the inspiration we offered. The groups however formed around me as initiator of the processes and always looked at me with the question: “Jean-Paul, what do we do?”. This felt like a new hierarchy in which I was owner of a process and others had become my slaves. This was exactly opposite the ideology that I had for myself. I had no problem with taking the initiative for change but could not be asked to know how to produce it. If I could I would have done it long time ago. The fact that “we are in this together” also means that we have to “solve this together”. At one point I deliberately and openly decided to step back and let the group become a community with authority rather than puppets under my command. This process of pulling forward and letting go to achieve a combined forward action is key and extremely difficult in real life. While pulling the participating people (and institutions) feel the comfort of individual leadership that stands upfront (the Pope and his encyclic, or me and “JP what do we do?”) but when letting go (“we are in this together”) the group is asked to take a leadership attitude individually and together. The issue is leading, the sum of individual talent that deals with it produces the action in open dialogue and determination of priorities, not one single figure telling what to do.

That is why I feel highly identified with the way this Pope deals with the complexity of breaking through the barriers of the many dogmas that block our progress. He describes them all, including the church its own, and places them all in perspective to the challenges we face. Rather than “church ego” (religion says) he develops a “human eco” (including the church). He does not want to say what we need to do, he just explains the standpoint of the church in very clear wordings, and invites all others to do the same while focussing at the common issues at hand. “Laudato Si”, Praise be on you, is then a clear acknowledgement of the guts and commitment to think for yourself, gain access to the level of (self) reflection and join the group that redefines society by addressing the issues at hand together.

For me it is a further reassurance that the path we set out and developed over the years with STIR, AiREAS and the STIR community, as living examples of multidisciplinary group commitments, is now gradually finding fertile grounds to fractally spread around the world as practically proven multidisciplinary little engines of integral change. The papal encyclic has shown humankind that we have more choices that just the financial or technological dominance for our long term perspectives. And it is up to us to open our eyes and mind to make our choices.


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