How Many Steps to Connect a Boat Full of Refugees to Your Company?

When I drink my coffee, I drink the sun

Thích Nhất Hạnh, Zen master and founder of Plum Village, a Buddhist monastery in France that we used to visit, teaches ‘oneness’: everything in this world is connected. If I take a sip of my ‘cafe con leche’ on my neighbour’s terrace, I also drink everything that is connected to getting the boiling liquid in my cup. The sunshine, the rain water, and the minerals from the earth to grow the coffee plant, the man who picked the beans with his bare hands, the water to brew my coffee, the material of the cup, the electricity to heat the water, the milk, the food the cow ate, etcetera. Each of these elements is connected again to other elements. And so on.

We tend to forget these connections. We live as if everything is separated and try to solve symptoms. When people cross the Mediterranean, in order to flee from the war in their country, we build higher gates to prevent them from doing so. In many European countries, regulations have been introduced to prevent electronic waste (phones, tablets, and computers) being dumped in landfills due to its toxic content. The ever growing amount of e-waste is therefore exported to Asia and Africa, where these regulations don’t exist. And when Greece suffers from a financial crisis and can’t pay back its debts, we lend them more money so they can pay an outstanding loan …

We hardly ever explore the causes, neither realise that we are all connected to these issues.

Given the complexity of these challenges, it’s quite understandable we act like this. Most environmental, health, financial, or political problems just seem too big too handle. A symptomatic fix is all we’re able to think of. However, if I ask myself if our current behaviour leads to a sustainable world for us, our children, and the generations to come, I’m afraid I know the answer.

It seems that yesterday’s solutions are not sufficient anymore to tackle today’s problems. Let alone to address future challenges.

What we need is a new thinking, a new awareness, a new context for life, leadership and organisations. Not as a solution for the past, but as a possibility for an inspiring and sustainable future.

Companies and organisations can play a crucial role in this transformation. Not bound by borders, they have access to communities all over the globe.

Realising that every company is connected to everyone and everything that happens in the world – and therefore has an influence on the future, is a powerful starting point for change.

The Challenge

To train ourselves in becoming aware how everything is connected, I’d like to put up a challenge. Think of a random product, being, or issue – such as a surf board, a mosquito in the Amazon, or a boat full of refugees. Now take a piece of paper and see how many steps it takes to connect that product, being, or issue to your organisation.

Start by drawing a circle with the description in the centre (in my case I chose a boat full of refugees). Now write down all the connections that come to your mind related to the description: Libya, Italy, boat, war, Mediterranean Sea, smugglers. Then think of the next layer of connections. E.g. for war: politics, religion, arms, regime, history. And so on. Until you find a connection to you or your company.

At this point of writing I did the exercise as well, and it moved me almost to tears. I just realised that I swim every morning in the same sea where people – a thousand kilometers further away – are trying to get safely to the other side. Sometimes they manage, sometimes they fail. And even if we talk about molecular or atomic level, when I swallow a gulp of salty sea water while swimming, I am connected to the refugees that drowned last month. And I’m the founder of Actimpact Consulting Team, which defines my line of connectedness to this topic…

What’s your line of connectedness

If this resonates, and if you want to contribute to a growing awareness about how we are all connected with everything, please post your line of connectedness between a seemingly unrelated topic or item and your company in the comment section below. And if you need inspiration, try to connect one of today’s headlines in your (online) newspaper to your organisation. If you’d rather trigger others, you can also post a challenge, like ‘How is a mosquito in the Amazon connected to Philips?’.