This is reflection of The Economics of Happiness Conference was written by Emily Zionts, who attended the conference. Her entry here is taken from the Woolman blog. Woolman is an education community in California which offers a semester-long, progressive, experiential courses in environmental science, peace studies, and global issues.
One year ago, I stumbled upon a documentary called, “The Economics of Happiness” and have been showing it to each semester ever since. The two-part film is strikingly similar to the way that I have organized my Global Issues class. The first half is a series of criticisms of the current form of globalization that is ruling our economic system, namely through top-down politics and giant multinational corporations. The movie strives to debunk several myths about this system, from the environmental perspective to the inner personal.
Just as Global Issues takes a turn towards actions and alternatives by mid-semester, so does “The Economics of Happiness”. As passionately as the ills of our current system are described, so then are the benefits of community building, local food systems, local energy, and more.
When I heard that the organization who created the film, The International Society for Ecology and Culture, were putting on a conference I was excited. When I heard that almost half of the presenters were folks that I use in my curriculum: Joanna Macy (writes prolifically about The Great Turning), Helen Norberg-Hodge (the creator of the Economics of Happiness film), Annie Leonard (creator of The Story of Stuff), Michael Shuman (local economies expert), Manish Jain (co-creator of Shikshantar, a learning community that we read about in “Walk Out, Walk On”), Charles Eisenstein (who writes about gift economies), Jon Symes (from the Pachamama Alliance), and so many more!
I am blessed with a very supportive staff and community at Woolman. I was feeling overwhelmed with work in the weeks leading up to the conference and friends at school both gave me the encouragement that I needed and took care of some chores that I had, in order to allow me to go. Woolman also helped pay my way as professional development. The rest of the cost was covered by a scholarship that I received from the organization.
My experience at the conference was so positive. I beamed (to myself) with pride about how aligned all of the innovative and inspirational work that was presented was with this crazy class that I have created from scratch and have poured my heart into over the last three years. It was so validating to know that what the youth and I were experiencing back at Woolman was what was being talked about in the frontlines of one of the most important movements today.
I also really appreciated that the conference had such an uplifting and empowering way of approaching the topic. All of us who attended know the scary facts and figures. When you only have a weekend, there is not enough time to dwell in the destruction and despair that we are well aware of. Because, the flip side of it, is that there is also not enough time to cover all of the beautiful and successful initiatives popping up worldwide that are effectively recreating connections between humans and also between humans and the natural world. There are so very many of these communities and organizations! And goodness knows, you aren’t hearing about them in the mainstream media or mainstream education systems!
There are a great many ideas that I took home with me and immediately began emphasizing more strongly in the classroom. One that I would like to write about now is the power of community. Over and over again, speakers drilled home the importance of human connections—not just as a warm and fuzzy way to feel good in your neighborhood, but as a survival mechanism.
It was very interesting to me when I first began teaching Global Issues. I noticed from the kids what I call the “localization movement backlash.” Students who had been raised in eco-friendly, liberal communities were well aware of these ideas. I think that for the most part, that is wonderful! However, one of the effects that this had on the youth is that some were completely fixated on only “acting locally” or were hyper-focused on the power of individual choices to create change. I am a huge proponent of acting locally and living the change that we want to see, but I also see a world that is increasingly interconnected. No longer can we just live our peaceful lives and feel proud to not be taking part in oppressive systems. We can diminish those negative affects through our personal choices, but those communities that are bearing the brunt of globalization, environmentally and socially, are nearly invisible to the mainstream American. It is my firm belief that it is the responsibility of privileged folks living in relative peace to examine the roots and then work to dismantle unhealthy economic institutions.
The Economics of Happiness Conference brought community ties back into the forefront of my mind. The challenges that the global community faces are insurmountable without strong local community connections. Repeatedly, it was said that part of the problem is that we have replaced our dependence on each other for monetized goods and services. Why should I go out of my way to get to know my neighbors? I don’t need them. I can pay people to fill my all of my needs. When I teach about The Earth Charter in class, we spend time talking about how the ways in which so many of our activities and relationships are facilitated through material goods. We use our foundations of Nonviolent Communication to examine what real human needs are being met through the use of our iPods, cell phones, and video games. Finally, we ask ourselves (me, too!) how we can work to meet those needs without those “things” that have unintended consequences such as child slavery and environmental injustice in other parts of the world.
These are hard questions to ask and can be overwhelming for some who have lived immersed in the culture of unquestioned consumption up until now. What I learned about strengthening local economies at the conference brought new energy and a wider context to these conversations that I was already having.