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Why personal development should be the next SDG

Do you sometimes wonder “Why people do not do anything?”. That question is the reason why personal development should be an SDG.

I bet that, like me, the following question crossed your mind a few times during your lifetime and more than ever in the last couple of years: Why people do not do anything? Why are we still falling behind our global targets despite talking about climate change for several decades? Why do we still buy from businesses damaging our health and planet? Why do we still sacrifice the human rights and dignity of the mass for the short-term economic interest of a minority? Why do we not see strong opposition winning over the same spineless or corrupted politicians? Why do we let people at odds with our values access high positions of power and lead our countries to their downfall? Why do we not get up and stand up for our rights?

And when you did ask this question around you, what answers did you receive?

- "Well, what can I do? I am scared of public speaking, I cannot do protest, I don’t like politics."

People are surprised not to feel inspired to do things disconnected from who they are and what they like and can do. As if they were no other way to express themselves, be heard and create change by staying true to themselves.

- "It is in human nature. The world and people are bad anyway."

This is what they reply to you while sweeping through the trashiest content in social media, spending time and money on tabloids, and encouraging even more negativity from opportunist media looking for the buzz or populist politicians trying to capitalize on fears.

- “It is the society, system, patriarchy, media, capitalism.”

People create an invisible entity, personalized like a giant and overpowerful monster. So they can see themselves as small and convince themselves that the fight is impossible. They can comfort themselves in the role of powerless victim and choose passive acceptance over active resistance.

-“I have no money, no time, it is not that bad, there is no one else we can vote for, it will get better, I have more important issues, there is nothing else we can do…”

The list of excuses for not doing anything is endless. Yet, there is a common point: we do not see ourselves as part of the solution. And therefore, we do not understand that this is why we are part of the problem.

It is not them; instead, it starts from us. No one and nothing dis-empower us, except ourselves. In fact, others merely grow their influence when we surrender power to them. And we give away our power when we do not feel good or strong enough to do something.

If we want to see more people be part of the solution, we must understand how we are part of the problem, starting by reconnecting with who we are.

The importance of self-knowledge

Personal development refers to individual responsibility for one empowerment. Looking at the sustainable development goals (SDGs) proposed by the United Nations, at least 9 targets are rooted in human self-growth, but none mentions this inner work as part of the solution. Indeed, while more self-esteem, positivity or self-confidence may not be the easy answer for them, self-knowledge is, however, the cornerstone for all.

At this stage, you may think: the world is burning, some people have no food, no money, no jobs, poor health, escaping wars and disasters, and she is talking about teaching people to know themselves?

You would be surprised how little we know about ourselves and how this has heavy implications not just in our own existences but also in community and society. When we lack self-knowledge, we do not know (and own) who we are and our potential. Therefore, we become more receptive to others' values, narratives, paradigms, dogma, expectations, and possibilities and limitations. And we forget our uniqueness, what we can do and achieve for ourselves and the unrivalled things we can bring to the world. We silence our dissident vision, ideas, creativity, intuition and initiatives. We refrain from taking action or lack engagement because we believe that others are, know or can do better than us regardless of what we try to do. We lose our voice and role of equal co-creator and wait for others to tell us who we are, how we should think, our purpose and what we should do.

People alien to themselves cannot be self-motivated because they have lost touch with their inner drivers and power. The disengagement of hundreds, thousands or millions of individuals can create the inertia of a whole population: the change-makers we need now.

How does that work?

When you know, care about, and value who you are and your potential, you are more likely to feel enthusiastic about your opportunities to grow that potential in the world. Since you are positive about your prospects, you will be more confident using your skills and talents to improve your life. Knowing what you can do for yourself, you can trust more about what you can achieve in society and with others. When you know and are comfortable with your place and power on this planet, you do not fear others but embrace their different potential as your equals. Your differences allow you to complete and co-create with others as One. And when you reconnect and embrace your role of co-creator, it expands your understanding and appreciation of who you are and what you can do.

To sum it up, first, your self-knowledge and self-esteem nurture your positive mindset. Your positivity boosts your self-confidence, and your self-confidence fuels your oneness. Finally, your oneness amplifies your self-knowledge and self-esteem. That is the virtuous circle of the Spirit-Mind-Body-World connection.

The Spirit (values, purpose, identity, belongings, beliefs, passions, interests, talents, cultural background, spiritual health…) ignite the Mind. The Mind (intuition, ideas, mindset, feelings, creativity, mental health...) calibrates the Body (actions, energy, engagement, physical health..). Your Body, through your actions, shapes the World and the World that you build brings you more opportunities to discover more about your Spirit.

The first barrier in that cycle is the lack of self-esteem that obstructs the Spirit from igniting the Mind. Next, negativity prevents the Mind from activating the Body. Then, the lack of self-confidence freezes the Body and restraints you from taking action for yourselves and with others. Since the lack of oneness discourages you from co-creating with others, the lack of purpose/involvement in your communities and countries fuels, even more, a lack of self-esteem.

People are responsible for their Spirit-Mind-Body-World connection and must individually care about their self-esteem, positivity, self-confidence and oneness. That is the point of personal development. Yet, businesses and policymakers can create an environment that helps people nurture them and further sustainable business, economic and societal growth.

The SDGs linked to personal development

The reason why the SDGs do not mention personal development as part of their strategies is that our human relationships globally are still attached to wealth, trade, finance and capitalism. So it is not surprising that the UN keeps the status quo and does not question the flawed foundations of our systems. They push forward things that do not work for any of us, such as:

- Distrusting popular wisdom and the power of people

- Overlooking the importance of spiritual health and human empowerment

- Intellectual hegemony that gathers people around the same values, views, reasoning, and solutions (and lack of clues) to reach the same goals instead of welcoming different approaches that complement each other to achieve those goals,

- Promoting the pointless and damaging economy of consumption

- Building wealth in the quantitative and limited natural resources rather than qualitative and harnessing the infinite human potential.

- The splitting between the spiritual and science that separates the human identity from the solutions to our global crises.

Here are the 9 sustainable development goals that should include personal development objectives, specially self-knowledge work, to generate a lasting change in human behaviour and guarantee success in their missions.

GOAL 3: Good Health and Well-being

The targets emphasise our physical health but forget that human health is holistic: Spirit, Mind and Body. Tackling the problem of mortality through external help such as medicines and health infrastructures is as crucial as improving people’s mental and spiritual health and supporting them in taking care of themselves. Those two elements are pivotal to preventing addictions and risky behaviours. They can also raise awareness about how, as entities part of Nature, our relationship with ourselves impacts our holistic health.

The word spiritual belongs to every human being and no religion. Spirituality is about knowing who we are, which goes much further than our beliefs. Our spiritual health plays a fundamental part in our mental and physical health. Regardless of their origins, people need to be in touch with who they are as individuals. Indeed, when we know who we are, we think and act in alignment with our true identity. So why does self-knowledge matter? To remind us that:

- Biologically, we are living creatures part of the natural ecosystem. We can better understand how Nature impacts our health and change our self-harming relationship with it when we stop seeing ourselves as a separate entity.

- Spiritually, we need self-awareness of our values, identity, differences, preferences, interests, purpose, qualities, strengths and potential. We can include our beliefs and relationship with a Higher Power. The point is that together, they are a combination unique to us but are powerful anchors to sustain good mental and physical health. They influence our life choices and support our discernment, relaxation, emotional management, ways to cope, self-care, self-motivation, resilience, energy level, and much more. They all play a critical role in our holistic health and well-being and as a foundation to reach the current SDG 3 and even more together.

GOAL 4: Quality Education

Even though we unanimously can agree on the need for infrastructure to provide education, we must also reflect on the content of this education. While literacy and numeracy are fundamental, quality education involves much more than knowledge based on logical-mathematical intelligence that is already well widespread. Human intelligence is multiple, so education must celebrate that diversity.

Depending on the culture, other types of human intelligence are equally valued and, instead of being excluded, should have a broader place in curriculums. Self-knowledge, otherwise called intrapersonal intelligence, is the most fundamental one for two main reasons:

- When people do not know who they are, they may invest time, money and energy in activities alien to their potential. They may study subjects unsuitable to them, pursue unappealing careers, and develop skills they will likely drop when the job market changes. All along their learning path, they may miss opportunities to grow their true potential in positions where they could be happier, more engaged, and make a higher impact. They will be at the mercy of the employment markets (decided by others) rather than having the choice to influence those markets with different offers.

- Self-knowledge is the basic to develop other types of intelligence such as interpersonal, cultural, emotional, practical, leadership, intuitive, psychic, naturalistic, verbal, spatial, psycho-motor and much more. Those soft skills bring a real difference to our technical abilities. In the West, we made a mistake by overlooking them but are now reintegrating them into business to improve creativity, productivity and human cooperation. Equally, at the scale of our society, we must value and nurture our different types of intelligence. So, people, communities and countries can raise alternative approaches and complete each other.

We must stop repeating the easy mistake of believing that thinking differently and bringing different things to the table scatter our energy and actions toward the same goal. The point of the SDG 4 is not just to raise talents but also to diversify our collective intelligence.

And as we will see with the next SDG, intrapersonal intelligence is also the basis for gender equality.

GOAL 5: Gender Equality

Gender equality is a matter of human equality. Both men and women should be involved in freeing women and girls because it is about the empowerment of humankind. Both men and women should equally deal with the human insecurities that allow this prejudice to create deep and lasting change.

Institutionalized or cultural discrimination comes from a divide inside humankind, where one part believes that it is acceptable for a category of human beings to dominate the other. That debate goes beyond men versus women because we may have witnessed some men advocate for gender equality and some women being the strongest opponent of women's rights. It is about tackling the narratives creating hierarchy, domination and ownership between human beings.

Humankind is one in diversity, we are all born from women, and all complete each other. Human potential does not rely on its biological features or physical strength. Whatever the culture, men should not have to be dominant to feel worthy or significant but rather accept that there is no threat from or competition with others. Women should not have to downplay their potential to heal others' insecurities but rather accept to see themselves as equal and powerful. For both men and women, it all starts from that intrapersonal intelligence, including knowing our self-worth and feeling secure with who we are, our potential and others' differences too.

We must instil equally to men and women the values of self-esteem, self-worth, self-respect and respect for others, equality, diversity, and complementary to change that flawed perception of human relationships upstream. Otherwise, all the work to tackle gender inequality will miss the opportunity to change consciousness amongst the men and women gate-keepers of that institutionalized discrimination. We will reach the SDG 5 by putting back humans together and uplifting them together.

GOAL 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth

Economic development should focus on people’s growth. It must be human-centred and thrives from human empowerment. Governments and businesses can create positive economic environments and conditions to nurture human potential. Yet, individual self-growth is an inner work which starts with self-knowledge.

First, self-knowledge opens options. Knowing their skills and potential gives people a choice between working for someone else or tempting a venture on their own. Then, self-knowledge brings self-esteem to both employees and entrepreneurs.

As employees, people can set higher expectations for the purpose and quality of their work and working conditions. Far from being purely transactional, a job has to be rewarding and sustain self-esteem and mental health. At the scale of a community or nation, that can reduce the availability of the workforce for low-value work and force employers to upgrade their offers.

As entrepreneurs, knowing how we are different, see things differently, and have singular talents help bring new products and services to markets while facing little competition. Being in touch with themselves and having self-esteem means that entrepreneurs do not just try to please others at their expense. Instead, they would offer something aligned with themselves that uplifts both the seller and the buyer.

Additionally, self-knowledge and self-esteem community-wise encourage the population to value and support local producers and fuel local innovation and economy instead of relying more on importation and losing the nurturing power of their capital.

Self-knowledge is a game-changer in the SDG 8 because it plants the seed of what can disrupt the economy for the better at the micro and macro-level: a human-centred growth based on people’s aspirations for themselves rather than compliance to foreign inclinations.

GOAL 10: Reduced Inequality

Wealth inequality between people and countries starts from human inequalities. And human inequalities are the result of actions, policies, mindsets and values that promote human competition and polarization. While it is normal for individuals to have different life situations, people should stay equal in rights and have unobstructed opportunities to improve their lives if they wish so. Inequalities in our societies emerge from putting other interests before human life, well-being and potential, and we will not reverse that trend until we challenge that paradigm.

Not only does capitalism put money before people, but it has also indexed the value and rights of human beings to the amount of money they possess. According to their wealth, people belonging to the same human race and deciding to live in another country will fall under the umbrella of expatriates or investors if they are rich, but migrants or refugees if they have less money. Capitalism, a model that institutionalizes inequality, has been promoted globally and is even set in stone in our so-called "universal" SDGs. A globally dominant paradigm created by a minority makes it omnipresent but not universal. That includes the widespread of “global” financial markets and system of debt when overspending does not belong to most nations’ values. If those approaches were universal, it would work out for everyone. Yet, the reality is that it often just benefits a handful of elite, the system's gatekeepers, and leaves the majority of the global population behind.

As history showed, a communist model that values the community but gives the same means to everyone regardless of their potential and erases individuals’ aspirations was not the adequate answer either. The solution to reducing inequalities is not just a better wealth distribution because it still indexes human lives and prospects in life to money and materialism.

Reducing inequalities involves transparency and fair wealth distribution but also empowering people to make the most of it. Material wealth is a complement to the inner potential we all have. It is how we use the latter that makes a difference in people’s lives and the world. Yet, we can only powerfully use what we know. So, besides bringing back our faith in humankind's potential at the top of our collective values, individuals should also be on a path of self-knowledge of their own possibilities.

GOAL 12: Responsible Consumption and Production

Responsible and even “sustainable” consumption and production keep consuming and producing as the central roles and ultimate goals in our human life and economy. There is little point in becoming responsible and sustainable if we do not make a radical change in how we approach the relationship between humans and the economy.

People are not consumers but purposeful human beings. Consuming is just one limited action that should not reduce the infinity of who we are. Our purpose, for a day or our life, defines who we genuinely are and how we give meaning to our existence. Linking the economy to consumption is similar to reducing the potential of a country to what its citizens consume. This short-sighted vision has little faith in both society and humankind.

However, seeing people as purposeful human beings open more opportunities for individual and societal growth. We do not just measure what people consume and produce but what for and how it drives them and our society upward.

An economy of purpose does not exclude consuming and producing but breaks the cycles of pointless production and waste. Destroying resources to create low-value offers and mass-producing merely to reduce costs only serves to feed our landfills. Companies should produce rationally in quality and quantity to positively impact individuals and society. And people should consume goods aligned with their truthful and specific needs: becoming a better version of themselves, nurturing their potential and fulfilling their purpose.

But it starts with empowering people with self-knowledge and reconnecting people with who they are and what is their potential and purpose. Since the demand drives the supply, conscious and purposeful demand from people will create more opportunities for conscious, purposeful, and down the line, responsible and sustainable businesses. The SDG 12 will allow change only if it climbs a few ladders more in Maslow's pyramid of needs and put self-actualization at the motor of our economic development.

GOAL 13: Climate Action

Actions to reverse climate change will be significant only when the inhabitants of the rich countries responsible for this phenomenon will change their relationship with Nature. And that change needs to be internal before expecting any effectual actions in citizens' lives and our societies.

So far, the continuous and large amount of data and news about climate change has not led to the expected radical change in human behaviour. There is a missing link between information and engagement, and that missing link is the connection to people. We keep making climate change a material issue about our living conditions, not a personal one questioning our human identity and purpose. Therefore, people do not connect with the information upstream and do not have incentives to take actions downstream. The alignment is broken in the middle, showing that the solution must be twofold.

First, people do not connect with information about climate change because they are estranged from their biological identity as living creatures part of Nature and the ecosystem. Materials that only highlight scientific facts about Nature without appealing to our own natural identity are likely to miss their target and not resonate with many. Stories should also emphasize the effect of climate change on humans' spiritual, mental and physical health as they all rely on Nature, and not just highlight the effects on our living standards.

The reconnection between information and people requires our self-awareness about our identity as an element interconnected to and dependent on Nature, and not the saviour of Nature as if caring for it was merely a performative thing to do.

Then people do not feel motivated to take action because the dynamic is top-down and not bottom-up. We solicit citizens to comply with regulations and policies but do not encourage them enough to take initiative. We perpetuate the mistake of thinking that coordinated actions require that everyone should do the same thing, meaning attending to the same issues and overlooking the same ones. The only way to have a 360-degree understanding and tackle climate change is by the amount of individual and independent actions inspired by people’s consciousness, lived experience with Nature, or even intuition. Those personal insights are the critical missing pieces of the puzzle.

Here also, self-knowledge and awareness of our natural identity are keys to connecting our inner drivers to action. To make the SDG 13 a success, we should be mindful that information and policies on climate change alone do not necessarily create more engagement. It must channel the motivation and determination of people already self-aware of who they are, their relationship with Nature and their potential to create change.

GOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong Institutions

Both peace and justice in a country and the world critically rely on people’s level of self-growth. Eradicating violence requires an honest look at the roots of this issue. That is a problem of human relationships with others, but first also with ourselves.

The original state of human beings is quietness. Anger and violence are outbursts that temporarily disrupt our peaceful nature. But preventing those disruptions is an active inner work at the individual and collective level. Self-knowledge aims first at recalling people of their serene nature and allowing them to channel their negative thoughts, feelings, and behaviour productively or into something good. It is personal work, but institutions can create an environment and policies that facilitate inner peace and promote mental well-being.

Violence is also a problem in our relationships with others. Countries invest in what they want to nurture, and some spend more on the defence budget and weapon industry than on education, health, culture and all the areas that support good relationships with others. It fuels more polarization instead of putting people together and can tell a lot about the level of distrust that some governments have against seeing people coming together. Self-knowledge of our oneness with others would create more human movements of reconnection that bypass warmongering governments and build lasting peace between citizens and nations.

Justice is the institution that guarantees peace and human rights within a country. But its effectiveness depends on citizen confidence in this institution and its awareness of its roles in protecting it. The strength of the judicial authority does not come from its coercive power toward people but from the trust that citizens have toward it. That trust is fundamental to maintaining peace in society. The legal institution can become even more solid if supported by empowered people.

Activism from citizens plays a critical role in increasing the effectiveness of institutions. We saw the emergence of citizen involvement in the estates of democracy with citizen journalists and citizen leadership in civil rights. When human rights and the rule of law are under threat from authoritarian governments, only empowered people conscious of their potential and knowing how to channel their energy for change can be the true defenders of justice. We saw it with grassroots movements against discrimination, bribery and corruption and for transparency and advocating for a top-down change. The SDG 16 should not underestimate that human self-knowledge of their potential and use of that potential through activism are cardinal assets to transform each citizen into agents for peace, justice and progress.

GOAL 17: Partnerships for the goals

The focus on partnership will be genuine if we bring more attention to how countries can equally uplift each other. There is currently a strong emphasis on finance, trade, economy and technology and, therefore, development indexed on material and money. In reality, this kind of partnership creates polarization and domination through the divide between developed (rich) and developing (disadvantaged) countries. True partnerships are not about one side lecturing the others but an equal relationship that enriches each party. Restoring that equilibrium between countries requires a focus shift the focus toward the true roots of human interconnectedness. Here, it is also about self-knowledge but, this time, at the country level. When countries are aware of their intrinsic equality with others, it can disrupt the international partnership game for the best and the benefit of all.

First, good partnerships among countries depend on nations’ relationships with themselves. And a country's relationship with itself starts with its self-esteem. The self-esteem of a country manifests through its relationship with its environment. That is the place where dwells its heritage and which nourishes and empowers its inhabitants. Countries with self-esteem should see themselves with equal rights, responsibilities, and voices as others toward Nature regardless of their level of wealth. This principle should be the 1st bedrock for international cooperation. Since countries are equal in their relationship with Nature, there are no reasons to let Western / North countries push their visions and agenda on other countries, overlook others' contributions and priorities, and widespread solutions that do not work for everyone. When equality is restored at the existential level, true partnerships between countries can happen in other areas.

Next, when countries have self-esteem and care about their inhabitants, it manifests in a positive mindset and trust in their citizens’ potential. There is a healthier relationship with power, used to direct the population upward and not to control citizens because of fear. The second principle for equal international cooperation should be to promote trust toward human potential and nurture the diversity of our collective intelligence. An equal global partnership involves more grassroots leadership in the decision-making process other than diplomats, scientists and scholars.

Then, when countries have a positive approach to people's power, it impacts their perception of wealth creation. Money and technology hand over the stage to the actual source of wealth of an economy: its workforce. The third principle for equal international cooperation is to create economic policies focusing on something that every country has in abundance: people with potential. And that places human creativity (organic and infinite), no longer money (artificial and limited), at the centre of economic partnership and global wealth. Equality means international development based on human-centred economic alternatives that work for all. Countries will then stop sabotaging their growth by trying to fit into ill-thought economic systems decided by others, not working for them and benefiting only a few same.

Finally, when countries are fully aware that their own power lies in their people, they can better grasp what their citizens can achieve for and with others on the world stage. International social policies should nurture our Oneness and free individuals’ power to impact the community and the world. The fourth principle for equal global partnership is to focus on our common purpose: empowering individuals so together they can drive humankind upward. What makes humans thrive can differ from one country to another. But added together, we can reach a 360-degree understanding of our human condition. Equality means that each country is conscious of how individual growth of each citizen matters to uplifting humankind and that inner development is the root of our shared global development.

Incorporating personal development into SDG 18 is not about giving a Life coach to everyone. People should be their own life coaches and find their breakthroughs while walking along their unique journey. However, international institutions, governments and businesses must create and promote an environment ideal for inner growth. It involves nurturing people’s potential but also tackling what exacerbates human insecurities. People can always use their free will to step on that path or not. But those willing to do so will be empowered to become the change-makers we need and trigger the revolution we want to see.

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