By Madhura Gune, - B.A / B.Sc 19-22 /SIAS
Talk on ‘The Inner Dimensions of Sustainability Transformation’
Sri City, November 25, 2019:Krea University invited Dr. Christophe Woiwode to deliver a talk on The Inner Dimensions of Sustainability Transformations. Dr. Woiwode is a visiting facility at the Indo-German Centre of Sustainability (IGCS) at IIT Madras and is affiliated with the RWTH Aachen University in Germany. His area of research is urban planning and social anthropology, with an emphasis on the transformation of our ‘inner’ or spiritual lives in our journey towards sustainable development.
Titled ‘We are all Hummingbirds: The Inner Dimensions of Sustainability Transformation’, Dr. Woiwode opened the talk by narrating how he got interested in the subject. As a student, Woiwode had observed how among the weaker sections of society in areas like Ahmedabad and Jamnagar, faith and religion was a valuable ‘resource to deal with uncertainty and danger’. These were people who worked as casual labourers and were particularly vulnerable to exploitation. This made Dr. Woiwode realize that religion and spirituality are things we do not take into consideration when we talk about development.
According to Dr. Woiwode, our failure to integrate inner transformation into the model of development we have adopted has led to a ‘crisis of consciousness’: in other words, the values on which we have progressed towards development are now outdated and in conflict with contemporary values. Dr. Woiwode reasons that the only way of overcoming this crisis is a profound paradigm shift to focus on introspection, and emphasize the process of ‘know thyself’. This, according to Woiwode, will help us overcome alienation not only from ourselves but from each other too, and progress from an egocentric to a ‘world-centric’ or even ‘cosmo-centric’ view of humankind.
This ‘new spirituality’ essential for human development, according to Dr. Woiwode, must not preach passivity: on the contrary, it must help people cultivate an understanding of their role and duty in their society and the world at large, and promote action. Every human’s role, according to Dr. Woiwode, in lessening the current environmental and social crisis can be likened to that of the hummingbird in fighting a forest fire as related in an African myth. When a fire breaks out, and the other animals think it futile to even try and put it out, a hummingbird goes back and forth from a stream to the fire, carrying a single drop of water and pouring it on the fire. The importance, stated Woiwode, is focusing not on the impossibility of individual action in solving today’s crisis but on what one can do to lessen it.
“The talk was very insightful,” said Parvathi Kosuri, Student, SIAS. “The crisis Dr. Woiwode talked about was relatable in a broad sense and introduced a different perspective.” Dr. Woiwode talked about his research on the role of socially-minded individuals working at the level of their community to promote sustainability, chiefly in Bengaluru and Chennai. He collected positive testimonies from persons who participated in social initiatives such as organic vegetable bazaars and neighbourhood composting, many of them to the effect that these initiatives had made them aware of their role in the transformation to sustainability, and helped them introspect. This, says Woiwode, is the ‘new spirituality’ that is the need of the hour, a practical, alternative ‘religion’ wherein everyone contributes what they can to the common good, and finds satisfaction in the same.
“The idea of using spirituality to achieve sustainable development might seem far-fetched to many people,” said Jahnavi Chandramouli, one of the students who attended the talk. “But after hearing Dr. Woiwode’s talk, I think the idea could be brilliant if it is implemented.” “While there is much talk in the world about sustainable development, there is little about how it can be achieved in a manner that benefits society best,” said one of the students who wished not to be named. “Dr. Woiwode’s talk focused on a novel, almost eclectic means of achieving sustainable development. I think there is a lot that can be done in this field of ‘alternative spirituality’ to move towards a more sustainable future that not only aligns with our values but also focuses on inclusivity and introspection.”