Amid the circus that is COP26, I’m beginning to notice small shoots of hope and optimism – not from the good and the great strutting their stuff, but in what is happening at the edges.
At the heart of it is the idea of “currency”. Investopedia defines it thus;
“Currency is a medium of exchange for goods and services. In short, it’s money, in the form of paper or coins, usually issued by a government and generally accepted at its face value as a method of payment.“
Maybe, not so much. Two hundred years of economic growth has conflated money with the medium of exchange, and it is that which I see being called into question.
Right now, just a few small things. Last night on Newsnight, leaden corporate “communications” spokespeople and politicians looking confused as they were politely but comprehensively outperformed by a young climate activist who not only knew her subject but radiated conviction and joy as she talked about it. People who turned up because it was their job overshadowed by someone dressed in values and purpose. The activist had resonance currency whilst the “spokespeople” did not. They only had money and an assumption of status.
Then there were a couple of local, instances, invisible to most. Firstly, an organisation that hired an adviser thought they could set parameters for that advice because they were paying money. However, the advice being sought was way beyond the reach of just money – in this case, education – and the adviser would not play. Advising is a relationship and involves responsibility both to the client and the subject. Both have a say in the matter. The client only had financial currency when the subject matter demanded relationship currency. Vocations are like that. People who rely on money get very confused when it’s not enough.
I’m noticing many small instances of this, and I wonder how much it is behind “The Great Resignation.” There is a point when money ceases to be a currency, and perhaps, when those in power so desperately misuse money as crude persuasion rather than a resource, we are reaching it.
I like the idea of rewilding organisations and letting those small vital things that keep them healthy – laughter, purpose, relationships, contribution and legacy emerge and thrive, on their own terms, alongside the grey, crumbling, turgid pursuit of shareholder returns.
It seems unlikely that those attending COP26 will solve very much at all because they lack currency with those who can make the difference we need. We can pass grand gestures about stopping deforestation, but those doing it have no currency with those doing the logging.
But, of course, those who can make a difference are us – what we buy, what we do, who we do it for, and why. Who we talk to, what we say. The stories we tell. A mycelium of connection that cuts out the intermediary of tired, self obessed politicians and extractive business models.
Alternative currencies are emerging in the wild – not just systems, like blockchain, but also ones that engage our emotions, senses and imaginations. The currencies of choice are conversation, relationships, responsibilities and sharing – currencies with life in them that adapt and grow in ways that money cannot. The very stuff on new, vibrant stories.
Beyond enough, money goes stale, and we need to seek alternative definitions of growth that will bring us more than lives in hock to a bank balance. When it comes to our lives, and those of our children, we are all activists.
I find the rewilding of organisations an attractive idea, and wonder what they might look like. It will take a while, but maybe not as long as we think.
I believe we will find out.