Running a good race in the short, medium, and long term

Reflections from the reading of Pope Francis’ Laudato Si, Chapter 4, “Integral Ecology.”

I gave up on competitive sports too early. A friend of mine told me too late in life that I was focusing on the wrong sports, that I should have focused on sports such as throwing the shot put or javelin. However, as an observer of relay races, I was always excited to see the burst of energy each runner puts into their leg of the race. I also saw how the runner held on to the baton and ensured to hand it over to the next runner. It would be a failed race if the last runner arrived at the end of the race without the baton.

The individual runners in a relay race do not lose sight of the teamwork that running the relay race is. They know that true success is attained when the team wins and not when one team member succeeds alone. Each runner in the race runs well because of their commitment to the team and respect for each team member’s contribution. The team works together to overcome challenges. Individual team members support each other with the things they struggle with during trainings. The team is connected in their resilience as they work towards a common goal. During the relay race, the team members do not forget that they are a team. They guard what connects them and the race, the baton.

As much as I wished it were so, the global system finds it hard to imbibe some of the principles of success that it can learn from a relay race. Even national and other lower levels of governance find it hard to find a common goal that they can all agree on and decide how to get there. Public participation forums in devolved communities experience situations where more powerful or vocal groups in the community try to steer resources to projects that advance their groups’ interests and not the good of the larger community.

This leads to the question; for global environmental governance, what are the main challenges that stand in the way of integral human ecology and development? How can the international system with all its various actors and interests begin to converge at a common goal that positively serves all people and the planet and not just one part at the expense of the other? We, humans, are “connected by the commons we share” and have an obligation “to protect the common good, for the generations to come for which we have the earth on loan” (Pope Francis, 2015). This is not a river where pollution and degradation flow from the upstream to the downstream portion of the river. This is a river with just one stream. An integrated approach that addresses poverty while protecting nature (Pope Francis, 2015) is the best long-term approach to sustainable integral development. We must give considerable attention to “each ecosystem’s regenerative ability in its different areas and aspects” (Pope Francis, 2015).

We should not go to the end of our race without our baton. We are one race. We are connected. We already know many of the things that connect us; our shared humanity, the earth we all share. Now is the time to reorient ourselves and let our knowledge reflect in our actions. We can choose integrative thinking. We can stand together and build effective institutions that support a good quality of life and protect ecosystems. We must run our race well. We must clean up after ourselves. We must work together and use our collective intellects and energies for what is good in the short, medium, and long term and not just what is good in the short term.


Pope Francis. 2015. Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home [Encyclical].



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