Working to Sustain a Holy Ground: The Art of Questioning and Sustainability

In our last writing, we began to explore the intricacies of sustainability. While it may seem to be overwhelming when we seek to understand the social, economic and social changes in our world, it is critical that we realize that these changes are taking place because of decisions that are made by persons in institutions, in corporations and in governments…persons just like us. Underlying these decisions are sets of values that individuals apply to the situations and problems set before them in their various work situations. Often there seems to be a dichotomy between the persons and the decisions they make at work…and the personal values by which they live in their personal lives.

As we seek to understand the issues of sustainability that face us all on a personal, communal and societal level, it is important that we expand our ability to integrate our own experiences with the information that we receive from others and from the media. One of the quests that are ever before us is the ability to integrate, to make a whole, of what we are trying to understand.

Key to the ability to understand is the art of questioning. Raising questions can often seem to be uncomfortable. There is a "politeness principle" that seems to operate in many situations that prevents us from being comfortable when we ask questions. Yet the art of questioning is a form of truth-seeking. It is an art form in which we are all called to be artists. It is the truths that are uncovered through questioning that often provide the missing pieces necessary for us to work for a sustainable future for all.

The concept of work and the issue of jobs provide us with a way of practicing that integration. Isolated factoids abound: Companies downsize. There is outsourcing, rightsizing, etc. Jobs are lost. Jobs are created. We are told that the economy is re-bounding. The market is up. The challenge amid all of this is to understand these factoids and to weave them together into a whole picture of what is happening in our own communities and throughout the world…and to see what we are being told and what remains beneath the surface. There are many places to start this weaving together.

Starting with the concept and issue of jobs, we must ask ourselves what does anyone have to right to expect as a result of working hard, working well and for the whole work week. Are there not basic standards of living that anyone should be able to expect as a result of working: adequate housing with light and heat, etc.? Adequate nutrition? Appropriate and adequate clothing? Health care and heath insurance? Job security? Decent working hours? The ability to plan for the future? How does work sustain the worker and the worker's family?

When we are being told that jobs are lost and then jobs are created, we need to ask whether the new jobs have equal compensation and benefits as those that have been lost. Are the new jobs full time or part time? Are two or more part time people being hired instead of full time staff in order for the employer to avoid paying benefits? Are the jobs created jobs within the company or organization, or are they contractual positions with no security…and no benefits? If the jobs are transferred or outsourced to another country, is the purchasing power transferred with the work position?

If a company announces that it is downsizing, what really is downsized? Has the company's work gotten smaller? Is there less work? Does the company cover less ground in its company operations? Or is it simply that the numbers of people doing the work is smaller. And so the hours are longer and the pressure is greater to complete the work when it is needed. This phenomenon is seen among both salaried and hourly workers. For salaried workers/employees, the work hours and work week can seem to be endless as the work load carried by individuals has expanded to cover that

which was formerly done by many others. For hourly workers/employees, the emphasis becomes productivity, that is, doing more and more in less and less time. The question MUST be raised as to work loads and work hours and what is being sustained within these schedules.

As workers at all levels are required to work longer and longer hours, what happens to the rest of their lives: To their families, their community, the ability to rest, relax, renew. Are we saying that the only purpose of workers is to sustain the company, the institution, or any other place of work? Or does not sustainability require that we examine how work is being done as well as the places where the work is being done? Are not families and communities also what we are seeking to sustain?

As any community seek to sustain itself, a continual, sufficient tax base is critical. Taxes are Common Good money. It is this Common Good money that provides the funding for the social and physical infrastructure that allows communities and societies to function. So often, when there is protest against taxes, it is really a protest against the policies and programs on which the tax monies are being spent. If our communities and societies are to be sustained, how do we demand the use of our taxes for the Common Good? Added to our tax monies should be the tax monies that corporations should be paying to support the communities in which they operate. So we must question where corporations pay taxes…and how are the profits defined as the base for those taxes? If a corporation operates throughout the world, either through where it produces and/or sources as well as where it markets or sells its products or services, how do each of the communities involved receive the benefit of the taxes that are paid?

At the same time, there is the move towards the privatization of numerous systems that have been the responsibility and domain of community and society. Whether is it the educational, health care, water or other systems within a community, privatization means that the monies generated from these systems and services become profits, profits that most often leave the community where they are generated. Privatization moves the purpose of a system from serving the Common Good to the generated of profit for the owners/investors. Therefore critical questions include: who is calling for greater privatization? For whom is privatization designed? Who benefits? And who is harmed? When any system is privatized, for whom will the system function: for the good of the community or for those who receive the profits? The questions continue.

We are called to be questioners as part of our call to be truth-seekers. We are called to be question-hearers, to create spaces where questions are possible and there is openness to hearing new answers. This is easier to when we are with people of like heart and like mind. The challenge is to become proficient in the art of questioning no matter where we are. This is much harder and can sometimes be a lonely way to walk. Yet if we truly want a sustainable future for each and all persons and communities, then we must continue to grow in the art of questioning and calling for the information and ideas that are needed for a truly economic, social and environmentally sustainable world.