The Relationship Between Awareness and Action: When does awareness become action?

By Leah Culver, Shared Value Solutions Ltd.

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of attending two very different events that both got me thinking about awareness and action. The first was a conference, Toward Sustainable Partnerships: Canada’s Aboriginal Communities and the Resource Sector, put on by the School of Environment, Enterprise and Development at the University of Waterloo. The second was the world premier of the ballet Unearth at the National Ballet of Canada, choreographed by Robert Binet with music by Owen Pallett. Both experiences forced me to consider how humans act once they are aware, and to explore what awareness and action look like.

At the conference I listened to Paul Martin and Phil Fontaine speak about the need for both awareness and action in response to issues in Canadian Aboriginal communities (and albeit aboriginal communities worldwide). There were three main points that stuck out to me during these keynote presentations. The first was the call for more effective engagement, which can only be achieved through greater understanding/ awareness of the issues affecting Canadian Aboriginal Communities. The second is that development in Canada (whether it be social or economic) needs to be responsible and consider the environment. That is, development at all costs is not the only way and rather the environment, social and cultural traditions, and political issues need to be included in the development process in order to create longer-term sustainability. This in itself will require a greater understanding and awareness than is already held by the general public and by decision makers. And finally, the question of “where do we go from here?” is one that needs to be asked more often. This, I think, is where the awareness campaigns often fail – awareness is necessary, but is useless without action.

I skip ahead a few days where I am sitting at the Four Seasons Centre experiencing Innovation, a four-piece ballet created by four contemporary choreographers. One of these pieces, Unearth, really stuck out to me. Unearth explored the idea of how civilizations, after reaching a certain level of advancement, can become inert. Through the art form of dance, Unearth examined the process of the inertia of civilizations, or rather the processes and structures that keep civilizations from moving forward and pursuing change. In his written explanation of his piece, Binet noted that to move past the inertia stage we must “find ways to listen to one another, to trust, to question, to push, to support, [and] to exchange”. A challenge, I’d say. It resonated with many of the themes from the conference and made me think about the steps that need to be taken to build meaningful, respectful, and mutually beneficial relationships between the resource sector and Canadian Aboriginal communities. How do we listen, trust, question, push, support, and exchange within these relationships? And how will this bring awareness?

I end this thought by asking the question: when does awareness turn into action? When do we, as humans, as Canadians, as local community members begin to act? Well, I think that awareness does need to come first. There needs to be better education about both positive and negative issues that are affecting Canadian Aboriginal communities. But this needs to be followed up with voices that call on the government and decision makers to have better policy that forces them to be accountable and responsible, to work with industry to make more positive relationships with the aboriginal communities they work in, and to recognize the potential for profitable and sustainable collaboration. It takes energy for communities to be inert, so why not use this energy for more positive change. So when should awareness turn into action? I would argue that action needs to begin the moment you become aware.


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(c) Shared Value Solutions Ltd., 2013

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