“The ideals which have lighted my way, and time after time have given me new courage to face life cheerfully, have been Kindness, Beauty, and Truth. The trite subjects of human efforts, possessions, outward success, luxury have always seemed to me contemptible”.
A few months back I had the opportunity to listen to the Global Head of Sustainability for a major multi-national company talk on its great plan for sustainability. The presentation was excellent well framed and articulated in a genuine and solution-orientated manner. However what left me with a hollow feeling was the global outreach and dominance of its products – aka exponential growth - how could this be decoupled from sustainability I asked myself?
Twenty-three years ago I made my first trip to India, travelling down from Delhi to Trivandithran. I had a romantic idea of its vast rich tapestry in mythology religion and culture however this could not be reconciled with the media at the time of its third world and hence primitive status and as compared to the West. What left a deep mark on me was my arrogance in thinking that I knew better because I had grown up in the Western world. My English friends said they too had experienced a similar journey – the inability to reconcile the conditioned mind with the wisdom of recognizing the similarity and difference which created the extraordinary fabric of human kind in all its shapes sizes textures and color and what we could learn from each other. However we were in a different time and there is no sense in making the past right or wrong but learning its lesson. We had not been taught the world view.
During my travels I remembered the humble Neem tree from whose branches my nephew gently and with great reverence snapped a twig and provided to me to clean my teeth. I remembered his calm temperament at my positively primitive and thoughtless response. I was aghast. However I remained open I was without a toothbrush and was used to the regimental regime of twice brushing my teeth and with a gargling agent and now any paltry alternative would do. What emerged was my surprise at these nimble twigs extraordinary properties; my teeth were extraordinarily clean, as was my tongue and with a slightly astringent aftertaste. I was about to express my contentment but my nephew’s expression said it all. His genuine KINDNESS at my ignorance silenced and embarrassed me. I guess I still carry the ghost of that expression. That said the next product I encountered was “fair and lovely” a skin whitening cream used by Indian women to lighten their skin. A tinge of guilt and sadness for whatever came up for me then was why was a Western company selling products which were encouraging the age old adage of fair skin imparts the impression of a women’s beauty. I needed a sun factor to protect my skin not a cream to make me fair? Why was BEAUTY being defined from a primitive paradigm?
As I drifted back, my thoughts triggered a question to the speaker – it was too from the gut to be framed. I could not understand why toothpaste was being sold in tubes and packaging and to consumers in a country, which did not need it? Was it not possible for this global company to utilize its brand to commoditise local products and support the local community as instead of homogenizing the planet with its products which did not take into account the local’s physiology culture and thousand year natural sustainability initiatives. Why were we imposing this madness? Where was the TRUTH in all of this?
My journey has been synthesizing my values and conditioning with how I live. I believe many of us ask these questions yet very few trust their wisdom, instead relegating it to someone else knows better. We need to start questioning ourselves – if enchantment can only be found in consumer goods, which encourage our further disillusionment with the world, how are we going to ever exist in a peaceful world. I am aware of my own hypocrisy of consumerism and unsustainability however by sharing my inquiry, I hope this allows me to stop pretending that everything is ok.
Ruby Sandhu | RS Collaboration Limited
Sustainability. Mediation. CSR. Business & Human Rights
Lawyer, Accredited Mediator & Facilitator
LL.B, LL.M, MSc., MSoM, FRSA