Social Sustainability

Social Sustainability

We had plenty of warnings about the need for a sustainable environment to save the planet. Our demands on the earth’s resources became excessive and nature’s rejective response is visible daily. Our efforts so far have, in total, been less than we expect of ourselves and less than they must be if we are to rescue our world before it finally disintegrates. 

Less frequently measured and discussed is our social sustainability. We know that we must get along reasonably well with each other if we are to survive the pressures of modern fast living and the high tech demands of today’s arm’s-length, screen endorsed communication. If we can’t live together we will surely die together. Law & Order used to be the touchstone of a socially acceptable society, but the law is a blunt instrument at best, albeit now a necessary component of our lives.

 Implementation of the law is adversarial, which turns out, perhaps, not to have been the wisest choice initially. By definition adversaries fight, if not physically then verbally. Words can become weapons and lead to protracted, often physical, conflict to the benefit of nobody. The consequences for the credibility of the law make front page tabloid press daily. Restraint on our behaviour has always needed to exceed what the law can impose and what clever lawyers can sometimes circumvent. 

Covid taught those of us involved in mentoring the significance of face-to-face meetings, at least some of the time. Not being able to ‘breathe’ the other person in a conversation is to miss many of the signals being sent – by both sides. A good example of this can be seen in the TV report on the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant disaster in Ōkuma, Japan in 2011. 

The basis of what became known as a British Gentleman was the Christian Religion. Its broadly social doctrine was seldom followed totally but it gave rise to the concepts of ‘My Word is My Bond’ and politenesses, not always sincere, that made a less tech-ridden world bearable. Religions of all sorts have been substantially responsible for good behaviour as well as for wars and conflicts to prove their supremacy of one over another. We tend to remember the conflicts. The good side of the Ten Commandments, or similar, are often forgotten or ignored.

Religions lost much of their power because, as human institutions, they became self-serving, seeking greater control to prove their omnipotence. As humans invented and discovered more they became wary of an almighty, benevolent God. Many retained their practice as a discipline of their behaviour. Some, like me, found it impossible to weekly recite a creed most of which they no longer believed in front of people they respected and who respected them. Most of those who “lapsed” – as Roman Catholicism has it – did not find a substitute God. Their religion-based rules often, therefore, drifted away. I was among the fortunate who found another God – all the people I meet, know and hear about. I believe they are good people who sometimes do wicked things, not sinners who sometimes repent.

In her excellent article in the Financial Times of 11Ju23 (‘Big tech is doing small talk no favours’) Pilita Clark points out the importance of ‘oracy’ – the ability to speak properly – and the role communications play in the business of social sustainability. The threat posed by yet more distancing from each other is a serious one, exacerbated by the, so far unfettered, exponential growth of AI. In the end it is only what each person can be taught as their own responsibility that can avoid the road to extinction.

The moral discipline needed for Social Sustainability is either sadly lacking in our processed world, or left to Authority, Government or Employer many of whom are themselves corrupt. To fight corruption with honesty is a tiring business with many lost forts. Disillusioning, for sure, but never a reason for quitting. However, there has to be a collective standard of morality where the punishment for misbehaviour is in the mirror, not the courtroom. Without that standard there can be no giving, only ‘gifting’, which is as processing as the word itself sounds.

Until society recognises that hatred breeds hatred it will not learn the fundamental lesson most needed now.

That is, that caring means service – the same as social sustainability.

Good morning

John BIttleston 

If we were each of us to think of one service, other than money, that we could give a bit more, it would make a huge rippling difference. A pebble of care produces a ripple of happiness.

Can you think of such a service? We’d love to hear about it at

 AD-endum: Caring is the heart of mentoring.

13 June 2023