A Coherent Compass for Charting Toward a Salutogenic Culture

Alison Malisa
8 min readApr 27, 2022

--

‪”The most powerful tool in economics is not money, nor even algebra. It is a pencil. Because with a pencil you can redraw the world.” — Kate Raworth

Kate Raworth, creator of the Doughnut Economics model and author of Doughnut Economics, 7 Ways to the Think Like a 21st Century Economist deserves the title she has given herself as ‘renegade economist.’ The quote above speaks powerfully to the liminal space we are in of cultural transition. And if education and economics are the cornerstones of culture, economics education has a pretty central role in that transition… at least according to this economics teacher. Me.

If, as Raworth challenges, we can redraw the world, can we emulate Harold with his purple crayon? Can we map the course to flourishing?

Harold and the Purple Crayon envisions and draws the world he wants as he walked through it.

It is time to support other economics teachers and students to update and uplift the economic curriculum and ideology that is over 100 years old. We can do this.

While the world is inundated by crises, catastrophes, and chaos, most economics and history teachers have minimal training in how to think about economics from a life-aligned system design perspective. Current economics education dominates our thinking more than we realize, and its basic assumptions remains mired in tired tropes of scarcity and profit maximization, reinforcing division and cognitive dissonance. This leaves little room for the stories and skills of cooperation and creative problem-solving that reflect both the wisdom of our heritage and our optimal potential. Overemphasizing competition and financial gain has not resulted an efficient society of human ingenuity and prosperity.

Harmony and flow is efficient, not war and poverty. It is time to pivot and shift our focus toward what we truly want to be accountable for: peace, prosperity, regeneration, and wellbeing for all. To me, that is being human, and harnessing any agency we have to direct cultural evolution toward the best, most profitable (read: beneficial) for all of Life.

When I began teaching, I was concerned about the mental health crisis. It is now a mental health catastrophe. With mental health spiraling downward amidst economic insecurity, a warring culture, and ravaged environment, what isn’t Economic Trauma?

How can we teach the economy and the state of the world without worsening the mental health of our students? Healthy brains are compassionate, creative, problem-solvers. If we start with that as the goal, we need positive workable models and measurable outcomes.

Yet, some of our most valiant and popular pro-planet images cause me to question what messages are being communicated. These, I’m sorry to say, include Raworth’s Doughnut and the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals. That’s right. I’m questioning whether they are good enough mental models to chart a path to peace, prosperity, regeneration, and wellbeing for all.

The U.N. Sustainable Development Goals

Across the globe, the visual image of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals has helped to chart the course for companies, charities, communities, and more. The goals communicate critical challenges. And there, right in the center of all the world’s problems, is economic growth.

How could the classic arrow of an infinite and exponential upward trajectory of global wealth creation not be seen for the ahem, phallacy that it is?

Is economic growth necessary to solving the world’s problems? Or is it simply just another one of the world’s problems, loosely related to the rest? Is it true that it may be part of the problem? Or even a central cause to all the rest. We have to stop associating economics with money and growth, and recognize that the role and opportunity for economics to be our system of cultural accountability. So we don’t start in service to growing the system. We begin with the end in mind- what do we want to acheive with it? Peace, prosperity, regeneration, and wellbeing for All.

Does a Growth-Oriented Economy Incentivize Greed?

It is a tired question. We know the answer is yes. The economy is not neutral with a few bad apples. The fundamental flaw is not human nature. Multiple studies agree that the study of economics increases greed. Since the only doctrine that is taught is also the only game in town (town being our little blue planet), humans aren’t just learning to be greedy in the classroom.

Human behaviors on a community scale are called culture. If economics describes the basics of human relationships, what we create, share, need, and desire, it is the unacknowledged driver of culture.

Doughnuts can be (Mental) Health Hazards

Renegade feminist economists like Kate Raworth are welcome voices! Changing the ever-upward arrow of economic growth to a sweet circle is a critical need to support a new way of viewing and accounting for economic practice and policy.

Raworth’s model of the economy is round like a doughnut, and Doughnut Economics has been a leader in bringing new models and visuals into classrooms and boardrooms. The focus, however, is on precisely what we don’t want. So ultimately, the doughnut visual feels as alarming as a nuclear hazard.

However sweet the dough-nutty center, it looks alarmingly like a precarious, and possibly impossible path between the hazards of social and environmental collapse. Valuable and true as it may be, the overall effect of seeing the economy pictographically represented in a way that looks like a nuclear hazard symbol creates a stress and anxiety-inducing emotional response reported by students.

The Doughnut, as we lovingly call it, is perfect for illustrating some key indicators of environmental and social collapse, and talking about some of the pain points we are suffering across the globe. Acknowledging pain points is a critical part of both the design, and the healing process. Doughnut Economics then “unrolls the doughnut” to explore social and environmental factors and solutions at the local and global scale. It is a good model and a helpful thinking tool. Yet, I am worried that the continuous reminder of our precarious situation, making it look like we are walking a tight and restricted line between increase conditions of social and environmental catastrophe may have a tightening and restricting impact on thinking.

A Coherent Compass: Charting a Path to Peace, Prosperity, Regeneration, and Wellbeing for All

It is macabre that we are well-familiar with the word, pathogenic, but salutogenic sounds like is speaking a foreign language with a mouth full of food. If pathogenic is what causes suffering, salutogenic causes health, which is most accurately described as resilience.

If we are to use a circle, and focus toward collaborative thinking, The compass encases four overlapping spheres. This is nothing new. The self is held by the community, which is embedded within society. All are nested within the ecosystem. The vertical axis illustrates the upward trajectory of a life in a virtuous cycle. A healthy individual can benefit their community, prosperous communities co-exist in trust and social harmony. Each of these spheres tend to a flourishing ecosystem.

Life is either creating, healing, decaying, or degenerating. Only degeneration is marked by disease. The downward trajectory indicates the vicious cycle of degeneration in a pathogenic economy. Here, isolation, burnout, depression and distrust are just some of the common concerns in our collective mental health crisis. These and other negative health conditions are caused by and exacerbate poverty in communities. Poor, disempowered communities who are resource scarce are at odds with surrounding communities, eroding trust, trade and creating social enmity and war. None of these bode well for the ecosystem, which bears the burden of our human story of economic trauma. The path downward can and does go far.

However, like life itself, we are either headed toward healing or away from pro-generative forces. This means at any point in time, we can pivot, and learn to navigate upward, toward a clear economic purpose. Endless growth doesn’t mean sacrifice and consumption. It means life continues.

As with the measures of pathogenic outcomes that the Doughnut delineates, the goals of a salutogenic economy are not being adequately measured, if at all. For instance, we do a better job of identifying and measuring mental illness than we do mental health. One place we could begin to make a salutogenic shift is in school.

While the word may be, the desire to embrace salutogenic goals as a return on investment is not new. But social impact investing has a long way to go, as do the efforts of the blockchain-based upswell among the Web 3 and refi (Regenerative Finance) communities.

Salutogenic Economics is an endless Design Challenge. And when we zero in on what it looks like at the individual level, it is an invitation for endless growth, personal growth, cultural evolution. Economics is our social capacity to support and be accountable for it.

The Intersection of Self-Interest and Salutogenesis

Centering in the self, and our central nature as nature, this compass for coherent thinking and communication creates infinite space for meeting our infinite needs.

Navigating this compass is admittedly complex at a glance, but in practice, it provides a cognitive compass for classrooms to think about our global system in relationship to what matters to them and to Life. The framework allows us to view history with equal acknowledgement to past injuries and successes, and draw out the lessons learned that can be applied today. It allows us to voice our fears and recommit to a loving vision of the future, share that vision and be held accountable to it. This is the true work of economic understanding and creating coherent, compassionate cultures.

--

--

Alison Malisa

EconoWitch||Stirring the pot of Economics Education & Research 4 Peace, Prosperity, Regeneration, and Wellbeing for All. Prosocial||Nature||Salutogenesis