According to the Global Wellness Institute, the self-care industry was a $4.2 trillion business in 2017 and has been growing at the average annual growth rate of 6.4%, nearly twice the growth rate of the global economy. It is clear that as a society, we have never invested as much of our time and money in our personal well-being. It seems that we invest in ourselves first and foremost, anchored by the belief that our personal happiness and fulfillment are the primary responsibilities we have on our individual journey; the only thing that is in our control amid a world that seems increasingly chaotic. So we read about habits, life hacks, and ways to improve our body, our productivity, our skills and everything in between. We spend on products that will increase our energy, we go to yoga, we go to spiritual retreats to explore the depths of our (grandiose) selves.
At the same time, the rates of loneliness, depression, and anxiety are on the rise, especially for young people. Chances are someone who is dear to you — or perhaps yourself — is suffering from one or more of these conditions. According to the American Psychological Association, the percentage of young Americans experiencing certain types of mental health disorders has risen significantly over the past decade, including psychological distress, major depression, and suicidal thoughts and attempts. For instance, the percentage of young adults reporting experiencing serious psychological distress in the previous 30 days jumped from 7.7% to 13.1% between 2008 and 2017, a staggering 71% increase. Moreover, in one generation, the number of people who say they have no one to share serious conversations with has tripled and the size of people’s average network has decreased by a third. What has been coined an “epidemic of loneliness” has dire health consequences as researchers have found that loneliness has the same effect on health than smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
It seems we now live in a society of hyper-individualization to the point of isolation with complete disregard to our deepest human needs for meaningful connection; a society that seems to have forgotten that personal and collective well-being cannot be dissociated. We cannot have large groups of people who are genuinely happy and thriving in a society that is not. If a society is sick, its members will get sick, and they will get sick in increasing numbers. And yet, the majority of our focus remains on ourselves. We perhaps don’t even stop to consider the underlying belief that motivates our behavior — the belief that we are separate and capable of happiness all on our own. There are more books that specialize in teaching us how to unleash our personal power than one can read in a lifetime. It is perhaps time to recognize that if we live in a society that causes us harm, focusing on self-care as a way to “fix ourselves” might be a futile exercise.Activist Chloe King writes “changing your attitude is not going to change or help to dismantle structural injustice and a failed and unsustainable economic model which serves only the elite rich of this world and exploits the rest of us.”
So it is not just that self-care might at times be misguided, but also that this hyper-focus on ourselves keeps us from collectively taking action towards breaking the status-quo. In their book The Wellness Syndrome, authors Carl Cederström and André Spicer argue that our “visions of social change have been reduced to dreams of individual transformation” and the obsessive focus on wellness has come at the expense of our collective engagement.
This is not to say that all focus on ourselves is futile. In fact, I strongly believe that societal transformation derives from personal transformation. The subtle difference here is that personal transformation is not dissociated from the collective. Rather, personal transformation is in service of the collective. Personal and collective transformation are intertwined in a mutually beneficial relationship. The goal is not personal happiness and fulfillment for its own sake; the goal is to become a more conscious being capable of connecting with one’s broader life’s mission. Gandhi famously said, “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” This is more than an inspirational quote for Instagram hip millennials to put as a caption to their travel pictures. It implies first thinking deeply about the world you would like to live in: What values does it stand for? What do people believe about one another? The vision for the collective comes first.
So, how do we redesign our societies with our collective well-being at the center?
There are many interconnected answers to this question but I would like to focus on the need for the development of a corps of professionals that are focused on collective well-being. The personal well-being industry is composed of a wide diversity of well-being professionals, from therapists to fitness and personal coaches. We need an equivalent on the collective level.
Indeed, I think that we generally grossly misunderstand what actually needs to happen for societal healing and transformation to occur. We focus on policy and governments and adopt a victim mentality of “this is not my responsibility.” Even for those in the social sector, we often see our role as remedial more than one of transformation and of co-creation. Any person who has gone through the real effort of self-improvement will recognize that it is far from a straightforward process and that we need to push through a sort of void somewhere in the middle before any long-lasting change actually happens. That is also true on a collective level. It is rare that we even get as far as this void as a group but when we do, we are not skilled at navigating through those situations to move to the next phase of the group collaboration. We need trained professionals who can lead us out of the opposition, out of the anger, out of the chaos, and into a deeper level of conversation from which we can start rebuilding and co-creating our new story.
A couple of years ago, I first met a group of people, the Weaving Lab, who have the ambition of identifying and training a worldwide corps of collective well-being professionals who they call “weavers” and who practice the art of “weaving” of our social fabric back together. At its core, weaving is a collective process of systemic healing. It utilizes collaborative actions as a way of changing mindsets. Practically, weaving is also the act of thoughtfully bringing together people, organizations, knowledge, and sectors that were previously siloed from one another.
The Weaving Lab aims to create weaving standards and a curriculum to support weavers worldwide through capacity building and peer-to-peer learning in service of a shared vision to have “every neighborhood, network, and organization woven into a thriving learning ecosystem where everyone — self, society, and nature — is living for universal well-being”. One of the many weavers who inspired me with her journey is Catalina CockDuque who, through her work with Fundacion Mi Sangre, supported the training and empowerment of over 1.5M young people as peacebuilders in Colombia. Her next boldly ambitious project is the Medellin Social Lab, a city-wide prototype to collaboratively find, co-create, and support systemic solutions that address the root causes of youth violence.
About two years ago, I was invited by the Weaving Lab to a one-year training as a “junior weaver” for my work in education at WISE (World Innovation Summit for Education). The training consisted of three in-person 4-day learning journeys in 3 different cities with a group of about 40 other education weavers from around the world. That year made me grow in ways I would have never imagined possible. It humbled me but also expanded my view of what I wanted to achieve. It made me recognize that — without meaning to — I had at times been perpetuating the very injustices I was claiming to be working against. From a participant, I became part of the founding team of the Weaving Lab, alongside weavers I admire and look up to. More than that, I became part of a supportive and loving community of passionate people who give me the hope that societal transformation is possible.
As a society, it is time for us to change our belief that fulfillment is an individual journey and start recognizing that we cannot thrive in isolation. It is time that we collectively spend more time, money, and care on cultivating our relationships and standing up for what is clearly broken. It is time for us to come together and co-create the collective vision that will drive us forward and relentlessly go after it.
Sources & inspirations:
- “Life-Hacks of the Poor & Aimless” by Laurie Penny in The Baffler
- “The Politics of Conspicuous Displays of Self-Care” by Jordan Kisner in The New Yorker
- “Loneliness Is as Lethal As Smoking 15 Cigarettes Per Day. Here’s What You Can Do About It” by Amy Morin, in Inc
- Documentary “The Century of the Self” by Adam Curtis, broadcasted by the BBC
- “Chicken Soup for the Liberal Soul” by Chris Maisano in Jacobin
- “The Dangers of Radical Self-Love” by Chloe King in Open Democracy
- “Why the Self-Help Industry is Dominating the US” by Marschall Sinclair, on Medium
- Book “The Wellness Syndrome” by Carl Cederström and André Spicer
- “Weaving 21st Century Servant Leadership for Systemic Health” by Christian Daniel Wahl on Medium
- “What does it Mean to Be a Weaver” by Christian Daniel Wahl on Medium
- “A Nation of Weavers” by David Brooks in the New York Times
Originally published at medium.com
Passionate about education and social change
- Co-Founder of the Weaving Lab: http://weavinglab.org
- Twitter handle: @ZinebMouhyi
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/zinebmouhyi/
Zineb is one of the co-founders of the Weaving Lab, an international NGO and network of weavers, i.e. social leaders pioneering new approaches to collaboration and ecosystemic transformation.
She also works as the Community lead at Galvanizer, a start-up incubator with the mission to encourage more women to take the leap into entrepreneurship at the Staford Graduate School of Business, and volunteers with a variety of organizations including the Open Mind School Silicon Valley Social Innovation Lab, a school lab that tests and promotes innovative approaches for accessibility and inclusivity in the classroom.
Prior to that, she was the Policy & Partnership Development Officer at WISE (World Innovation Summit for Education), at the Qatar Foundation in Doha, where she mainly worked on education development policy research and on bringing different education stakeholders together to bring forth collaborations in education.