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Collaborative research for sustainability: An inside-out manifesto

Dr Ash Brockwell
09 October 2020
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2 mins read

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Author:  Ash Brockwell (LIS Faculty)
Artist, writer, and consultant working on issues around education, sustainability, and wellbeing. PhD, Wageningen University and Research Centre.

(venturing outside our comfort zone) we recognise that if we ever want to promote ‘sustainable development’ we must first learn how to sustain and develop our listening skills, and our ability to participate in true dialogues

listening to the forest should be the first lesson,
a courageous and radical act
that flies in the face of convention

we listen to the robin’s song
and the rustle of leaves, not as detached
observers of objects, but guests observed
by hosts in their homes: hearing their peer reviews
of our well-meant efforts, their plaintive questions
demanding responses, calling us (as so-called experts
who thought our truths self-evident) to revise and resubmit

we take the time to map out the known and unknown;
to hear the spoken, the sung and what is left unsaid;
to understand what is called for, with or without words,
to know what is being offered and to accept the gift

too many ‘dialogues’ are monologues in disguise:
pretending to listen, people only hear
what their brains are pre-programmed to hear, and speak
the words they already rehearsed. our manifesto
calls for a pause, a breath, a stepping-back
and switching off the auto-complete. radical enough
when we talk of other human beings; what, then, of the rest
of the biosphere, or the living earth itself?

the ancients knew that each river carries its tune,
each tree its rings of time, each flower its map
directing the bee to pollen, each stone its unique
vibration; but these are tongues that we never learned
to translate. we have to be free to be small
again: throw off our hard-won gowns
of expertise, and blow the seeds from a fluffy dandelion clock,
roll down a hill till we’re dizzy, giggle, spin
in spirals, sit by the fire, and listen. deeply listen
to each other, the stars, the night, and the spaces between;
and know even then we are only learners, not knowers:
all that we are, and all we profess, is always incomplete.

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