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May 2015: Sustain-a-fable: Sharing Inspiration for a Cracking Earth

"Tell me a fact and I’ll learn. Tell me a truth and I’ll believe.
But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever." 
Native American proverb

I have had an inspiring (and tiring) few days.

We have just held our ISSR event – “Cracking Earth 2015:  Building Sustainability Research with Foundations”.  With 23 Plymouth University speakers, 16 external speakers, 21 exhibition stands and about 240 delegates, the event was a fantastic success with most importantly – lots of good conversation and connections.

There were a whole host of things that I found interesting, informative and useful – too many to mention here.  However, looking back, for me, it was the stories, poems, pictures, jokes, anecdotes and quotes that I found inspiring and it is these that stick in my head.

This got me thinking.

In my previous blogs, I have included a short story that influenced my thinking – “The Blind men and the elephant” – December 2011, a collection of quotes that have influenced my thinking (from Winnie the Pooh to Aristotle)  (Jan 2014) and also poetry, quotes, metaphors and artwork that communicate sustainability to me (Sept 2014).

This also got me thinking – what do other people find inspiring and would they be happy to share this with others?   Hence, on the back of this blog, in the next few months, we will be launching a call about Sharing Inspiration for a Cracking Earth.  The call will be open to staff, students in the first instance and external partners who are connected to the ISSR.  It will not be an academic call for papers but rather a call for Inspiration.  Have you ever been to an “American supper” or “potluck supper” as it is sometime called, this is how I would like it to work, i.e. you bring your own inspiring story, anecdote, joke etc and share it with other peoples inspiring stories.

Inspiring short stories, quotes, poetry, jokes, anecdotes, metaphors, artwork, anything really – just aspects that inspire you and may also help to inspire others around aspects of sustainability.  Depending on the response we get, we would like to share this inspiration far and wide.  If you would like, we would also like you to explain in less than 150 words, what this means to you.  Although you can also submit items to be printed anonymously as well.   This doesn’t have to be life changing inspiration, just something that makes you think!

For example, a colleague recently recommended that I read the book, “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho.  I really enjoyed the book and it is a short story from the book that I recently found inspiring:

The Secret of Happiness – an extract from – “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho

“A certain shopkeeper sent his son to learn about the secret of happiness from the wisest man in the world.

The lad wandered through the desert for forty days, and finally came upon a beautiful castle, high atop a mountain. It was there that the wise man lived.

Rather than finding a saintly man though, our hero, on entering the main room of the castle, saw a hive of activity: tradesmen came and went, people were conversing in the corners, a small orchestra was playing soft music, and there was a table covered with platters of the most delicious food in that part of the world.

The wise man conversed with everyone, and the boy had to wait for two hours before it was his turn to be given the man’s attention. The wise man listened attentively to the boy’s explanation of why he had come, but told him that he didn’t have time just then to explain the secret of happiness.

He suggested that the boy look around the palace and return in two hours. “Meanwhile I want to ask you to do something,” said the wise man, handing the boy a teaspoon that held two drops of oil. ‘As you wander around, carry this spoon with you without allowing the oil to spill.”

The boy began climbing and descending the many stairways of the palace, keeping his eyes fixed on the spoon. After two hours, he returned to the room where the wise man was. “Well,” asked the wise man, “did you see the Persian tapestries that are hanging in my dining hall? Did you see the garden that it took the master gardener ten years to create? Did you notice the beautiful parchments in my library?”

The boy was embarrassed, and confessed that he had observed nothing. His only concern had been not to spill the oil that the wise man had entrusted to him.

“Then go back and observe the marvels of my world,” said the wise man.

Relieved, the boy picked up the spoon and returned to his exploration of the palace, this time observing all of the works of art on the ceilings and the walls. He saw the gardens, the mountains all around him, the beauty of the flowers, and the tasted with which everything had been selected. Upon returning to the wise man, he related in detail everything he had seen.

“But where are the drops of oil I entrusted to you?” asked the wise man. Looking down at the spoon he held, the boy saw that the oil was gone.

“Well, there is only one piece of advice I can give you.” said the wisest of wise men. “The secret of happiness is to see all the marvels of the world, and never to forget the drops of oil on the spoon”

Cracking Earth: What this means to me

This story reminds me of the two meanings of Cracking Earth.  For me, I am definitely more like the first time the boy went around the palace.  Focussing on an earth that is cracking, falling apart and the responsibility of finding solutions.   Unfortunately, this sometimes means that I forget that we live in a cracking earth.  The story shows me that as well as focusing on the task of finding solutions, it is also important to enjoy the natural beauty of our cracking earth and to have a cracking time whilst we are here.

Dr Paul Hardman
Dr Paul Hardman
Manager of the Institute for Sustainability Solutions Research (ISSR)

ps – if you can’t wait for the call to be launched, please feel free to email me with your inspiration –

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