Have we broken through the fences?

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After a week and a half in Auroville some of the question marks have been ironed out, only to be replaced by more questions. Questions are always going to arise when travelling to new countries or places where one is being confronted with new people, places and cultures.

The What, Why & How? Are more often than not connected to the ‘others’. The ‘others’ being the people belonging to the place and culture in which we are the visitors. Less frequently are the What, Why & How directed at oneself. What should I do now? What is expected of me? Why do I react in this way?

It is so easy – almost too easy, to look at new experiences from a Eurocentric perspective – to use ones own culture as a measurement for what we consider to be right and normal, to think that there is a proper way to go about things and the way one is most familiar with is often considered to be the ‘only’ way to approach issues.

The questions attached to ‘the right and only way’ are important to keep in mind in the context of positive change and sustainability.

Too often, development, or the new term – positive change, has had a Eurocentric framework. Meaning that we in the global North believe that we sit on all the right answers and solutions. Not often enough are the people that will be affected by the change actually asked what they need, want, wish or are in need of.

Recently development workers have started to realise that local people know perfectly well what they need and how to achieve it – if they had the means to do so – all we need to do is engage in a dialogue!

The more I learn about environmental and social development, I realise that in order to make it sustainable, we need to make sure that the project, skills, ideas can be continued by the local people themselves. Also ideas and values need to be given the space and time to be developed by the people themselves on their own terms.

But. For a substantial sustainable change to be able to take place on both a local and a global scale, that will enable projects, local NGOs and entrepreneurs around the world to reach their goals and realise their vision, the inhabitants in the global North need to get better at engaging in dialogue. We are also the ones that should be prepared to answer some questions regarding our own outlook and values.

The global North needs to be willing to reassess our views of local cultures and change. We are the ones that need adopt positive change and maybe realise that development is not equal to the ability to upgrade to the latest model of iPhone.

So maybe we are the ones who have to be prepared to reflect on our lifestyle choices and answer the questions What, Why & How? in order to make positive change sustainable.

Angela Fjordmark, Linnaeus University, Sweden

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