Sustainability: what’s love got to do with it?

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Today marks our annual celebration of romance and love. February 14th is a day of last minute restaurant reservations and heart shaped boxes containing single use plastic and the product of neo-colonial, modern-day child slavery.

Okay, I promise that was the last bit of pessimism you’ll read in this entry.

For today is a day for lovers, for compassion and deep feeling! But what does this have to do with sustainability?

To answer this question we have to explore two concepts: feeling and feeling. (Notice I’ve been very clever here and one of the ‘feelings’ is in italics.)

As people who have bodies and minds we interpret the world around us with our senses, which in turn provide our minds with information about what’s going on around us. We feel (no italics) by interacting with something physical, like hearing vibrations in the air or touching a loved one’s hand. This is feeling.

Feeling (in italics) on the other hand is something different entirely. We don’t feel with our senses. We feel with our minds and in particular a part of our mind that we rarely credit: our gut.

When we hear vibrations in the air, say, by hitting play on the video above, we use our senses to feel. But we feel the information that our senses deliver to us deep within our bodies. The goosebumps I feel at precisely 1 minute and 55 seconds aren’t a product of my body feeling, but my gut feeling Ella and Louie’s voices dancing together.

This feeling has been a mystery for humankind since we began thinking. The best way to think of it today is gut feeling: associations and signals that we can’t quite put our fingers on but fill us up with intense compassion, meaning and a sense of rightness or wrongness.

Louis Armstrong once said: “If you have to ask what jazz is, you’ll never know.”

Here I think he’s talking about feeling jazz rather than just hearing it and the same is true for love.

Love isn’t the sensation of touch when out walking with your significant other. It’s something beyond explanation, deep in parts of the mind that we only explore in our dreams.

So what’s this got to do with sustainability? A lot actually.

I have no way to prove this apart from personal experience and a lot of thinking, but the deep part of our mind where our gut feelings come from is exactly the same place where our true feelings of sustainability lie.

You can’t arrive at feelings of interconnectedness with the world around you through our immediate front-of-mind senses. To understand this truth of compassion, togetherness, and ultimately sustainability, we have to listen to our guts, because they know a lot more than our limited rational minds can compute.

I actually believe that we will only see an end to the destructive spell in human history over the last few centuries when we begin to trust what our guts tell us, when we begin using our feelings to inform decisions instead of rational thought alone.

When we discard excesses of food, drive down the road for some milk or walk past someone in desperate need, I think there is a small part of us that feels the wrongness of these acts – past any rational argument.

So when you have that uncontrollable feeling, tonight or any other night, that makes you understand your place on this earth a little better, listen and trust it. It’s a wealth of unaccessed understanding about our world that we can only begin to make use of if we turn off the music and listen.