Creating a Culture of Kindness, Human Dignity and Caring

Ellen Kahler, Executive Director of the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, was awarded the inaugural Con Hogan Award for Creative, Entrepreneurial, Community Leadership in October, 2015. Here is an excerpt from her acceptance speech, words that seem especially meaningful in light of recent and upcoming events in Europe.

...Con’s passion has been about the quality of the human condition from a social service perspective. My passion has also been about the quality of the human condition, although from an economic perspective.

We’ve both come at our respective work by trying to change systems and structures.  The longer I do this work, the more convinced I am that we need to change the very foundation of our society and culture.  Fundamentally, we need to build a culture of care, kindness, abundance and connection, rather than perpetuating a culture of indifference, fear, scarcity and disconnection.

Cultivating a culture of kindness requires us to understand a fundamental truth – that we are interdependent. My life and leadership has been dependent upon many causes and conditions and people who have informed and influenced me, loved me and opened doors for me over the years. 

Let’s face it, we ultimately all want the same simple thing out of life – to be happy.

What enables real happiness in our lives?  Loving others and feeling loved by others, feeling a connection to others and to place, feeling worthy to be a human being, having the confidence that you can live your life with dignity and make a contribution to your family and community.  In short – happiness is generated when we get off “the me plan” and get on with “the we plan” as Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche likes to say. ...

Sometimes the “we plan” is hard to focus on because we are facing a lot of uncertainty. Climate change, shrinking state budgets and rising health care and social safety net costs, increasing opiate addiction, physical – mental – sexual abuse, random mass shootings, the largest income inequality we’ve ever faced as a nation. There are so many other issues I could name and it’s easy to feel despair.

I invite you to consider how our culture of fear and greed has been built and what this has led to.  And then think about the desire we all have to be happy and to live from a place of hope and optimism for the future.  What will most enable that?  Will a culture of fear and greed lead us to be happy or to solve the incredibly complex challenges we face as a species today?  Or do we need a culture of kindness to help us get to happiness and a feeling of all-rightness.

I think we need to have a conversation about re-defining wealth in this country.  We need to shift the definition of wealth from a level of accumulated money to a feeling of well-being. A feeling that you have “enough.”  What would that take?  What would the metrics be to gauge kindness, care and enough-ness in our society?

Just think about it, if a person has a sense of well-being and “enough-ness” and lives in a culture that reinforces this, then that person will want that same feeling of “enough-ness” for others. It just works that way. How might that affect our societal structures? Our human services system, our economic system, and how we treat and interact with the planet and other beings who call earth home?

... As Vermonters, we are well on our way towards creating this culture of kindness, human dignity, and caring for others and our planet. The question is, how do we expand this so that there are more of us living and acting this way?

Whether your view is from a social service, economic, environmental or other perspective, remember the power you possess to affect real change.  Within each moment contains the possibility that our actions can be sufficient to shift the scales towards kindness, equity, inclusion, and happiness.