There has never been a shortage of great initiatives promising to tackle some aspect of the human condition. Where we consistently fall short, however, is in their implementation. Will the Inner Development Goals be any different?

One of the most ambitious and far-reaching initiatives in human history is arguably the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a comprehensive plan to turn the tide on some of the greatest social, economic, and environmental challenges affecting the globe. Since their beginnings in 2015, the SDGs have experienced intermittent progress in some areas, to much applause. But the latest Sustainable Development Goals Report 2022 has now confirmed that nearly all targets are in jeopardy, blaming in part the cascading effects of COVID-19 and the Ukraine conflict.

Only halfway to its 2030 deadline, it’s still far too early to write-off the SDGs as yet another “great initiative” that has failed. But it is sobering to see that despite all the knowledge, resources and corporate and political “buy-in” of the SDGs, humanity can barely turn the needle on solving basic needs like food, clean water and a healthy ecosystem. Why can’t we get it together?

That’s why I perked up when I first heard of the Inner Development Goals (IDGs).

Yes, it’s yet another “initiative,” but one with a twist: The reason we are doomed to making the same mistakes, its logic suggests, is because we are the exact same people. The IDGs were developed to supplement the ailing SDGs, and aim to help change the way we think and act, empowering individuals with science-based skills and qualities that help them to live purposeful, sustainable and productive lives. The framework focuses on 5 dimensions – Being, Thinking, Relating, Collaborating and Acting – and 23 core skills and qualities.

I signed up for the very first workshop I could find. Before long, I found myself surrounded by strangers in a guided meditation, tasked with the quest of finding a fictive whale in the deep blue sea.

It’s not you, it’s me

I found the whale. But left with a nagging sense of unease.

Could it be that there is something awry here? Do we really just need to focus on ourselves? Or does this just take the spotlight off the negligent corporations and the politicians in their pockets? I didn’t see any of these representatives present at this workshop…

Or maybe what bothers me is that this is just another form of the classic “blame the individual” approach, reminiscent of the corporate mindfulness movement a few years back and “Wellness Chambers” in Amazon’s warehouse facilities for stressed-out staff. It’s like blaming poor home recycling routines for the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It’s saying that it’s not the system that’s the problem, it’s you.

Before digging any deeper, I jump to the conclusion that we simply don’t have time to work on ourselves – we need to act now!

I’ll take both, please!

I like to think that there’s always space for critical cross-examination. But I also think it unwise to dwell there too long. And I’ll admit that while simplistic either/or dichotomies are fantastic when choosing something from a dinner menu, they are worse than useless when engaging with something as complex as the human predicament. In fact, one of the cognitive skills promoted by the IDGs is complexity awareness.

So, I began looking around to see how the IDGs are actually being used to see if my prejudices were justified. I know of several outdoor actors that are already pioneering IDGs within their organizations. I also see that they haven’t stopped there, but continue to actively promote cleaner and fairer production and engage with policy-makers to effect systemic change.

The answer to the human condition may actually be quite simple: Yes, the system is broken. No, I’m not particularly well-equipped to deal with it. Yes, we can work on both at the same time.


Photo: Inner Development Goals

Jonathan Eidse
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