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Feature - Strengthening the weak leg of the sustainability stool

Whistler celebrates a miracle of caring



If you’re reading this article you will soon speculate that the writer is some distant cousin to the local sage G.D. Maxwell, because I’ll take forever to get to the point. Except for those weeks when he’s in a self-professed writer’s cramp I, like Max, propose there’s an epiphany in here somewhere. So maybe I’ll just state it up front…

Every year for over a decade Whistler has engaged in a weeklong miracle of caring across the entire community .

Yeah – I know I missed it too, and that’s why I have to explain this epiphany.

Seeing there’s lots of talk about sustainability, and we’re all becoming experts on the topic, I’ll frame the miracle in that context. The first lesson in Sustainability 101 is that to get to a better state one must balance the three legs of the stool: social, economic and environmental concerns. In a place like Whistler that could mean creating a land bank drawn from crown land to relieve pressures on housing. Clearly this has legs.

But the further you get along in this course on sustainability you find that the truly flimsy leg of the stool is the social one. No matter how smart we are we seem not clever enough to really care for others. Me-centredness not other-centredness constantly erodes the social leg of the stool, threatening the whole structure to collapse.

Even one of the most empathetic tools the community has embraced, The Natural Step , recognizes this human paradox. Three of the System Conditions essentially say don’t trash the earth, and the last one say’s, oh and by the way, don’t trash people. This afterthought even has practitioners of the model discount the Fourth Condition as "the fluffy stuff."

It’s fluffy because we are great at dealing with process problems but fail to empathize with people problems. As the nightly news feeds real-time genocide into our living rooms we seem evermore inured to care for others and we begin to resign ourselves to a state of chaos.

Now we move to the advance course in sustainability and we learn how change occurs in Natural Systems – change, where higher states of order transcend out of the black whirr of chaos. Like the snowflake that triggers the avalanche, it takes little to move unstable systems to dramatic change. This spontaneous change is kind of messy because it is preceded by chaos. The system has to want to transcend to a higher value. Nature thankfully has that will to transcend. Communities, as part of this complex natural system, hold values that they too want to ascend to.