Welcome to the S.L.O.W. blog! We are excited to share our thoughts and opinions with you on today’s topic: Stewardship in the Modern World. If, for some reason, this topic doesn’t interest you, feel free to check out some of our other articles on yoga, meditation, health, and sustainability. If you’re here to read this blog, on the other hand, let’s delay no longer!
To set the stage for talking about what healthy stewardship might look like in the modern world, we need to first define stewardship. Merriam-Webster defines stewardship as “the office, duties, and obligations of a steward” or “the conducting, supervising, or managing of something.”
For kicks, I also looked up that dictionary’s definition of the word steward in its noun form. There are five possible definitions to work from there: “one employed in a large household or estate to manage domestic concerns,” “a fiscal agent,” “an employee on a ship, airplane, bus, or train who manages the provisioning of food and attends passengers,” “one appointed to supervise the provision and distribution of food and drink in an institution,” and “one who actively directs affairs.”
For my money, I think the last might be the most applicable for our purposes, but I would still like to examine stewardship a bit deeper. According to the Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics, there are four principles of what they call ‘biblical stewardship.’ These principles are the principle of ownership, the principle of responsibility, the principle of accountability, and the principle of reward.
Ownership, responsibility, accountability, and reward. Religious preferences aside, (we are not here to discuss those matters at present) I like this model. For our purposes today, it is the model I will return to a bit later to break down how stewardship in the modern world might look. But, for now . . .
What is ‘The Modern World’?
We live in it! It’s all around you at all times. We are connected via energy cycles that we cannot see but we can certainly feel. We communicate with each other through a complex network of signals relayed from satellites orbiting our atmosphere. We travel great distances in metal birds with stationary wings (okay, I know they bend and stuff, but seriously, it’s pretty cool!).
As a result of the great technological advancements in recent history, our actions throughout our lifetimes have the potential to create an incredibly broad sphere of influence around us. The effect of these actions is no longer limited to our immediate community. Our definition of “community,” in many cases, must be expanded to include potential local, regional, national, international, and global consequences.
So How Does It Apply To Us?
In other words, “it’s a small world after all!” (And getting smaller by the minute!) Our potential for influence is larger, broader, and deeper than the potential of previous generations. Actions taken in rural Minnesota can impact the residents along the banks of the Mississippi in New Orleans, and while this has undoubtedly been the case since the time of the earliest Native American populations (and beyond), increasing populations mean that our destructive habits will have farther-reaching consequences.
Phew! That last sentence was heavy. But there’s always hope! And that’s what I’d like to examine from here on out. The question at hand is: How does stewardship in the modern world apply to us? In other words, how can we “direct affairs” towards a more positive course? Using the earlier model we discussed, I will now attempt to answer that question to the best of my ability.
A Model for Stewardship in the Modern World
Step One: Ownership
We need to take ownership of our current situation. This means accepting that we are all riding this planetary roller coaster together and letting go of the idea that it’s someone else’s fault. Those “if only we had the right person sitting in the Oval Office” or “if only our corporations weren’t so corrupt” thoughts aren’t serving us. We must own where we are if we wish to create the future we want to see.
Step Two: Responsibility
Once we own our current situation, the next natural step is to take responsibility for changing it. What does this responsibility mean to you? What changes can you make to your personal life, habits, and interactions with others that will help to bring about the future you desire? No matter how many times it is said, the old adage that says we must “be the change we wish to see in the world” still rings true.
Step Three: Accountability
Once we accept the responsibility for creating a better world and begin to take action, we need tools to keep ourselves (and others) accountable to this continued mission. It’s important that we not kid ourselves here. We are playing a long game against steep odds. But I wholeheartedly believe that odds are made to be broken. It was Desmond Morris (author of The Naked Ape) who said:
“Much of what we do as adults is based on imitative absorption [that takes place] during our childhood years. Frequently we imagine that we are behaving in a particular way because such behaviour accords with some abstract, lofty code of moral principles, when in reality all we are doing is obeying a deeply ingrained and long ‘forgotten’ set of purely imitative impressions. It is the unmodifiable obedience to these impressions (along with our carefully concealed instinctive urges) that makes it so hard for societies to change their customs and their ‘beliefs’. Even when faced with exciting, brilliantly rational new ideas, based on the application of pure, objective intelligence, the community will still cling to its old home-based habits and prejudices.”
We must be accountable to each other, and to our planet. As I said earlier, we are riding this cosmic roller coaster together. We are currently experiencing the extreme pros and cons of the individualistic approach to life. We must hold each other accountable to the continuous observation of how current actions being taken in the world around us impact our lives, as well as the continuous effort to take new actions that come with increasingly positive impacts.
Step Four: Reward (and Punishment)
Why do we want to create a better world? So that we can live in it, right? Or, so our children and our children’s children and their children’s children can live in it? This is my motivation. I strive to always leave places better than I found them. My success rate is not 100%, but this is my goal and underlying objective.
So what is our reward for taking ownership of where we are, accepting responsibility for making it better, and holding ourselves accountable to that continued mission? Largely, the reward is one that is to be enjoyed by those that will inhabit this earth long after we are gone. And in a world wrought with the need for instant gratification, it seems increasingly difficult to convince people (myself included) to do something simply because it will benefits others, especially if those others are not even born yet.
But I believe that there are intrinsic and intangible rewards for actions that leave this world a better place than the one we were born into. Whether we believe in an afterlife or the idea that there is an entity assessing and judging our every action and intent here on Earth, I believe that humans innately find happiness in helping others and that, in doing so, we instinctively help ourselves. In other words, the reward is internal, and it is a gift that only you can give to yourself.
In closing, I want to summarize what stewardship in the modern world means to me. It means investing time into your community. It means investing in yourself to create the best version of yourself that you can create. It means investing in your connections to learn and grow alongside others. I’ll leave this article with another quote from the late Desmond Morris:
“Lucky is the society that enjoys the gradual acquisition of a perfect balance between imitation and curiosity, between slavish, unthinking copying and progressive, rational experimentation.”
I hope you enjoyed this exploration of ‘Stewardship in the Modern World’. I’d love to hear your own thoughts on this topic and on how we can work together to create a better world for ourselves and for future generations. Thanks for reading and for supporting our mission of ‘Sustainably Living Our Way’. If you want to know more about our ideal future, check out our GoFundMe page!