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What is Sustainability?

‘Sustainability’ isn’t just about the environment. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the definition of ‘sustainable’ is ‘able to be maintained at a certain rate or level.’

‘Sustainability’ isn’t just about the environment. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the definition of ‘sustainable’ is ‘able to be maintained at a certain rate or level.’ If we think about this definition with regards to our personal lives, this could mean making choices that will make us happy and able to maintain a level of satisfaction we might otherwise miss.

Tim Cole is Professor of Social History at the University of Bristol. He is Director of the Brigstow Institute, which brings researchers from different disciplines together with a range of partners across the city and beyond to experiment in new ways of living and being.

For a lot of people, having a ‘purpose in life’ is central to gaining long term happiness. In this video, Tim gives a European historical perspective on how purpose and meaning has changed in modern times, and the impact of this on us personally and on wider society.

One of the key points he discusses is how our sense of purpose in European societies is more varied and self-chosen now than in the past. After watching the video, consider this collection of quotes about purpose and meaning and use the comments section to discuss them.

  • Which of these resonate with you, and which definitely do not?
  • Why?
‘There is no experience from which you can’t learn something. When you stop learning you stop living in any vital and meaningful sense. And the purpose of life, after all, is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.’
Eleanor Roosevelt, Politician, Diplomat and Activist
‘We live very close together. So, our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.’
The Dalai Lama, Spiritual leader
‘The Wizard of Oz is my favourite. It explains what life on this planet is about. Although Dorothy reaches Oz, she finds she had what she needed to go back to Kansas all along, but the Good Witch tells her that she had to learn it for herself. All of the answers to the meaning of life are there.’
RuPaul, Drag Queen and Performer
‘Pana-pana in ancient times meant everything was harmonious. If something bad happened to a family then it became everyone’s problem. I think if you were to turn back time and have people live within the pana-pana system again, everything would be different.’
Bans Lopez, La Moskitia, Honduras
‘Productive work is the central purpose of a rational man’s life, the central value that integrates and determines the hierarchy of all his other values. Reason is the source, the precondition of his productive work—pride is the result.’
Ayn Rand, Writer and Political Thinker
‘Being human means throwing your whole life on the scales of destiny when need be, all the while rejoicing in every sunny day and every beautiful cloud.’
Rosa Luxemburg, Writer and Political Thinker
‘For me life is continuously being hungry. The meaning of life is not simply to exist, to survive, but to move ahead, to go up, to achieve, to conquer.’
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Actor and Politician
‘To live is to choose. But to choose well, you must know who you are and what you stand for, where you want to go and why you want to get there.’
Kofi Annan, Ghanaian diplomat and seventh Secretary-General of the United Nations
‘The territory is our body. It is also the location of the natural resources and social wealth of our communities. We are the guardians of the territories, of the rivers, of the continuity of life. We understand the cycles of the moon, the spirituality of grandmothers, and the secrets of all the rituals of our communities. So when a corporation comes in and tries to destroy that social fabric and symbols of the community, the damage done is very deep. We are there to prevent this. Women defenders are making a lot of contributions and often they are not recognized.’

Ana Maria Hernandez, land defender and director of grantee partner Consortio Oaxaca, a coalition of feminist activists in Mexico

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