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The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.

—Gandhi

The practice of sustainability and social change relies upon our willingness and ability to make the invisible visible. Whether we are opening the opportunity for voices to be heard that are too often silenced, or providing alternative models for how our organizations and communities might look, we must uphold the unspoken and unseen to allow the potential of a new era to emerge.

There are always dynamics that go unacknowledged in groups which, if addressed skillfully, can allow breakthroughs which can be transformative. The opportunities held in surfacing conflicts or simply verbalizing patterns that go habitually unaddressed can often be the first courageous step in leading change.

In many instances, not only do our organizations and communities effectively render people and issues invisible, but this is supported by new technologies such as e-mail and smart phones which can create gaps in communication despite claims of connection because they separate us from the visible and the present. Sherry Turkle of MIT’s Initiative on Technology and Self asks: “What is a place if those who are physically present have their attention on the absent?”

It is not only in our interactions that we have the opportunity to make the invisible visible. In our communities, there are numerous individuals who too often are treated as the invisible among us and we must be vigilant in holding up the voices and the rights for those who have not had the same access to housing, services, healthy food, education and economic opportunity.

The environmental educator and innovator David Orr, among countless other architects and designers, has brought attention to the idea of the “pedagogy of architecture”—what our buildings teach us by the way they are built. Unfortunately, these lessons from our buildings, our communities, our landscapes often go unheeded unless we pay attention and take the time to make the invisible visible.

There are numerous “invisibles” that we must embrace and make real if we are to create lasting change. Marge Piercy implores that we “Weave real connections. Create real nodes. Build real houses.” In his poem “Keeping Quiet”, Pablo Neruda writes: “Perhaps the earth can teach us, as when everything seems dead in winter and later proves to be alive.”

In the work of creating a better world—whether that is in our home, within our workplace or community, or through broader efforts—there are hidden but very real possibilities waiting to be discovered.

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