After nearly a year of putting my regenerative higher education thesis on hold for work, other classes, teaching, and sustainability club pursuits, I am back at it. The next step in the thesis journey is primary research, something I have scoped about a dozen times since last fall, only to hit practical or motivational dead ends. For example, I had planned to visit sustainability centers at various universities to see what is already working towards a regenerative model and what still could be improved by incorporating regenerative theories and tools. However, the COVID 19 Pandemic caused changes in plan for more than just my own flights and research. The entire hasn’t changed in every way, but everywhere, all people in ways we could not have imagined as 2020 began have changed.
As someone who has been in various sustainability fields for nearly a decade, sustainable behavior change or any behavior change is a perplexing challenge that we constantly strive to manipulate in order to mend our global ecological and social commons. Behavior change and lifestyle change often seem elusive and slow. Yet, here we are in a Pandemic, here we are in an era of unprecedented natural disasters from Climate Change. Behaviors have changed very fast.
Without dismissing the backlash to science and justice nor the pain everyone is feeling and the healing that is needed, it is clear that a lot has changed. People have started wearing masks on a daily basis in the United States and offices lie empty as millions work from home. Streets are being reserved for restaurants, walkers, and bikers. Most people have made some sort of sacrifice for the common good, many have stepped up to provide for their communities, and incredible multitudes are using the privilege of new found time to learn, grow, and advocate for social and environmental causes. Yet, one thing that seems still elusive is the idea of rest and self-care in combination with all this change.
The call for rest and self-care seems to have increased exponentially. There are entire social media accounts dedicated to the idea such as The Nap Ministry where rest is promoted as a form of resistance to social & racial injustice (through not as a replacement for other forms of resistance work). “The Rise of Rest and Healing” is even included as one of “Six Shifts” in Design Impact’s recent COVID 19 and Racial Equity report. In the US we are collectively experiencing a trauma, and collectively learning how to respond. Rest and self-care are of course not new, but it often is portrayed as a meme.
Some of us feel constantly unworthy of self-care—telling ourselves we need to do more or work harder and at the same time feeling guilty for not doing it or feel guilty when hit a wall and have to take a break.
At the same time, we can also use the name of self-care as an excuse for doing something that may be seen as unwise or frivolous: shopping, taking time for a bath or other grooming rituals, eating out, or binging a TV show.
Although I believe these things could fit well into a self-care and self-development routine, I think these things are often the superficial manifestation of a deeper search for healing, growth, and kindness for ourselves and others. It is clear we have not yet normalized practice of self-care.
In assembling the principals and theories of Regenerative Design, I originally overlooked signals towards self-development and self-care. It was not until nearly the end of my literature review that I discovered this common thread. Then, while diving into the idea of regenerative cooperation, I made the discovery that multiple texts cite by my foundational authors point to self-development and self-care as crucial to the path of regenerative cooperation. Regenesis et al. (2016) claimed that, “developing oneself,” was one of “three agents that are required to support and sustain regenerative work,”—arguing that self-development is required to develop the capability of a team or community. According to Hes and du Plessis (2015), a major part of self-development is learning self-care. Self-care allows us to build the empathy and energy needed to do complex regenerative sustainability work (Hes & du Plessis, 2015). One part of regenerative cooperation that is as important if not more important than self-development is building the capabilities of others by promoting equity in the systems on which you are working. Other seminal sustainability authors are also surfacing as advocates for self-development and/or self care as I dive deeper into this topic, including Peter Senge, and Otto Scharmer.
In this current time of pure uncertainty and loss—loss of security of the objects, systems, and values we took for granted—I feel it is appropriate to turn my attention to the important aspect of all social and environmental sustainability work, that I believe will be essential to truly achieving a regeneratively designed society: self-development through Regenerative Self-Care.
Hes, D., & du Plessis. (2015). Designing for Hope: Pathways to Regenerative Sustainability. Retrieved from https://www.routledge.com/Designing-for-Hope-Pathways-to-Regenerative-Sustainability-1st-Edition/Hes-du-Plessis/p/book/9781138800625
Regenesis Group, Haggard, B., & Mang, P. (2016). Regenerative Development and Design: A Framework for Evolving Sustainability. Retrieved from http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/scad-ebooks/detail.action?docID=4627926