Choosing Life

In a recent conversation about thrivability, population issues came up. Will co-creating a thrivable world mean that we control population and to what extent? I am sure some could make an argument for a radical altering of the human population as a strategy to get to a thrivable world, considering what a drain on resources so many people on the planet are. This is not what the person in conversation with me was suggesting. However, I can imagine it. And I can imagine the case for it. Do we all die from impending crisis, or do we make some difficult choices about who gets to live so that the species and the planet can continue. Let me be super clear, I do not think that particular choice is feasible nor worth pursuing.

However, something very clear emerged for me in that conversation. We are already choosing who gets to live and who dies. Sure we don’t usually use guns or put them in camps. Well sorta…if you consider refugee camps. And no, we don’t have their names and their ID numbers. But as long as we have the technology to save lives AND we aren’t using them because we claim money is a scarce resource…then we are choosing for people without adequate access to money to die. Maybe not all of them…but  far too many than we would like to admit and keep our conscious clear.

Sometimes people have to die for others to live. Sometimes war might even be worth having. I can’t feel right about making some unilateral claim that all death is bad nor that many should end up dying so that some other maintains their right to live. I think this is a messy business. I am talking about life and death here, but it is present in other less charged spaces too – the responsibility we are not owning collectively.

If we know what it takes to save a life, and we don’t save it… then we are already choosing life and death for others. If we know what it takes to save a life, and saving it won’t take anything away from our ability to live… then we have made an “interesting” ethical choice. And we better thank our lucky stars we are on this side of the equation.

Creating a thrivable world is not about becoming responsible for the lives of others and their well being. A thrivable world is about recognizing that we are already responsible for the lives of others and their well being, and then making conscious compassionate choices.

The big example that comes to mind here is malaria. The US used to have tons of malaria in certain parts of the country. Then DDT killed it off, mostly. But before DDT killed it off in Africa, we realized how horrible it was on the environment. So DDT is used in very limited circumstances in Africa (and elsewhere). And we run charity programs – voluntary programs – to disperse insecticide treated nets. In some cases we hope a market option will work (although we killed the DDT market option). Often the charities involved play on our pity and compassion. And it works and is true… Malaria is a horrible disease, clogging blood flow, preventing people from working and learning, weighing down the possibilities of large sections of Sub-Saharan Africa. But we try to hold it at arms length – them over there…those poor things can’t help themselves… Hello? We participated in this situation. Maybe not you personally, but the culture and country you belong to has. We are complicit in it. It is not them over there…the ones we…over here…are allowing to die…because there isn’t enough pity to go around. It is us over there, under a different set of circumstances – ones we are partly responsible for…and it is not pity, but our shame that pulls us under into inaction.

Do we hang our heads in shame, complicit in the collapse of humanity and evolutionary progress? Or do we shake off the malaise, acknowledge our responsibility, and leap forward to help ourselves and our kind? You have both a responsibility to do your part and a responsibility to make sure that others doing their part are networked with you to address the issue. You are one of the lucky ones future generations need most. You may not be able to change all your behaviors, nor live some pure life of no moral gray space. I know I can’t. Can we admit that while we strive for a thrivable future, the path forward is complex, and it requires us all holding metaphorical hands. Together, we can become less complicit in our own destruction. Together, we can hold our heads up high singing halalujah for our actions taken under our shared responsibilities. Together, we can co-create a thrivable world.



  1. Gus said

    ok, now that we’ve talked about it — what do we do? 🙂

    • Alex said

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  2. There is no single instruction for what to do beyond take responsibility and collaborate. Create more value than you consume.

    What does that look like?

    Likely, any one of us is taking actions already. What more?
    – How can you increase impact?
    – How can you network with others to amplify impact?
    – How can you be clear in naming what you can do, what time, energy, and talent you can offer?
    – Find a network weaver and project manager to help coordinate
    – Do community-based asset-development in your area
    – Mentor someone else to take the steps you have taken
    – Choose 1 new way to take responsibility each week, and be consistent for at least 21 days (to make it a habit)
    – Convene a small group with a similar purpose to help stay focused and be creative with (see earthcouncils)
    – Give attention to solutions (see worldchanging)
    – Support innovators (see Ashoka, Echoing Green, Skoll, Kiva, Starting Bloc, Unreasonable Institute, etc)
    – Do not turn away – be a witness to the droughts and famines the genocides and wars and collect a support network to keep your spirit up
    – Garden
    – Focus on what you can do in a very local way
    – Connect with people from around the world, reinforcing the sense of connectedness
    – Tithe – give a percentage of earnings intentionally and meaningfully to activists, change agents, care takers, story tellers, innovators, and emerging leaders
    – work to change mindsets
    – change policies
    – tell stories of other forms of society – ones that don’t sacrifice life for short term pleasures
    – laugh with children (and anyone else who will)
    – enjoy the nature we have now (it is not what is was and won’t be like this if we don’t change – your kids may want to hear stories)
    – cross some boundaries – of race or class or gender or belief – so you know more of what it is like from another perspective
    – make a conscious choice about what is important to your core being and be ready to give up or change everything or anything else
    – give a hug, a thank you, an appreciation to someone else
    – uncover a perspective that unmasks the issues we face
    – increase the visibility of an unheard voice
    – learn about something totally orthogonal to your usual interests
    – seek out your spiritual path
    – find the systemic opportunity for transformation
    – walk a new path and open your eyes in wonder at what humans have evolved thus far
    – Tell why you do what you do on
    – forgive everyone who has wronged you. Ever. At deaths door, it won’t matter.
    – work your way into leadership positions where you are the decision-maker
    – make a public commitment (to a specific change, actions, or gifts)
    – debate with your family and friends, not because you are right, but because debate is good for all of us
    – pay for someone else (their dinner, their toll, their train etc)
    – start a transition town movement in your community
    – seek deep spiritual practice
    – relish all the luxuries you decide to keep in your life as the precious gifts they are
    – donate your time to someone else’s cause
    – sign petitions and get counted on changing policies
    – stand beside someone for a cause that isn’t yours but through your care for them you can support
    – find ways to upcycle anything or everything you don’t use
    – your ideas here

    We add up. (oh yeah, get a shirt from and talk to anyone who asks when you wear it about why you wear it)

  3. josh said

    Just discovered your blog a couple days ago and am really connecting with your concept of thrivability (coincidentally I have a business called Thrive Design Studio and deal exclusively with sustainable, ahem, thrivable design.) Thank you for sharing your ideas…

    This is a great post and offers valuable insight to the bigger picture of humans as a species… about a year ago I went to a talk by the co-author of Cradle to Cradle, Michael Braungart, and took a really interesting idea home with me. He stated that the entire world’s biomass of ants is about equal to that of the human race. No one talks of ants needing to control their population because their system is designed with complete efficiency… there is no waste. This needs to be the model for humanity, not a line in the sand saying do not cross/too many… i believe a thrivable world looks beyond this limitation and sees the opportunity to greatly improve efficiencies/harmony… if we’re sticking to the world of ‘sustainable’, calculating a specific number might be appropriate.

    And great list in your previous comment… I might have to borrow that from you, with permission of course : )


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