What we talk about when we talk about a wellbeing economy
By Claire Sommer for the Wellbeing Economy Alliance
There’s a famous book of short stories by American author Raymond Carver called What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. Published in 1981, the book is an impressionistic whole created from 17 short stories about love.
The title captures the challenge of talking about something truly undefinable, by offering 17 stories with differing perspectives.
In the same way, our Wellbeing Economy Alliance community faces the challenge of describing a wellbeing economy and how to talk about it.
Earlier this year, Lisa Hough-Stewart and Katherine Trebeck asked for my help to distill key points from content developed by members into a simple set of high-level statements. These “anchor statements” are meant to help align our website and brochure, and create stronger pathways to all of our resources and content.
We started with three key assumptions:
- We need simple, easier-to-understand language that helps people see themselves in our work, and want to know more. These points open the door for conversations and understanding.
- We need bullets that help us all succinctly articulate what a wellbeing economy means, to the greatest number of people – in short, easy-to-understand language.
- The perspective we used is that WEALL says the What and our members create the How with campaigns, asks, and actions. WEAll supports our members.
The first draft turned into a fascinating conversation with members of the WEAll Narratives cluster via Slack, with members contributing suggestions and improvements from all over the world. It’s my pleasure to share just some of the wonderful contributions from the community below.
First, here are the five key points we landed on.
Dignity: Everyone has enough to live in comfort, safety and happiness
Nature: A restored and safe natural world for all life
Connection: A sense of belonging and institutions that serve the common good
Fairness: Justice in all its dimensions at the heart of economic systems, and the gap between the richest and poorest greatly reduced
Participation: Citizens are actively engaged in their communities and locally rooted economies
While quite simple, we believe that these points are a sturdy set of wheels to help convey the Wellbeing Economy Alliance members’ initiatives and scholarship to more people and where we wish to go together. As Chris Riedy wrote, “When we faithfully carry these principles through into actual policies and programs, we do end up with proposals that are very different to what we have now.”
The first quality of Dignity came to mind from Donna Hick’s 2011 book of the same name, and Michael Pirson’s application of dignity as a pillar of Humanistic Management. In Slack, Martin Oetting added another nuance by noting that “dignity” is the first article of the German constitution: “Human dignity shall be inviolable. To respect and protect it shall be the duty of all state authority.”
The second point about how to include Nature, or the natural world, grew from contributions by Dan Feldman to help us remember to seat ourselves as inextricably part of Nature, rather than separate from human society. We hope that “We all need nature” does this in an intuitive way.
Connection came into the list as an improvement on the less inspiring “collaboration” and helped us raise up “belonging”-ness as essential to wellbeing.
In the last point, we thank Juliana Essen as well as others for helping Participation enter the conversation. “Participation signifies active engagement, and there’s lots of research, for example in the field of deliberative democracy, that talks about how to create truly participatory processes that value difference and negotiate power differentials,” she wrote. “That’s the kind of participation we want.”
Keeping ourselves to a handful of statements was a challenge. We hope the inclusion of “happiness” in the first point is flexible enough to embrace meaning-finding, art, and whatever else people may need to enjoy life. We invite your reflections and comments about these five points on Slack, to lisa@WellbeingEconomy.org, or me at firstname.lastname@example.org.