The Conscious Creative: Practical Ethics for Purposeful Work (Excerpt)

Excerpted from The Conscious Creative by Kelly Small ©2020 Kelly Small. Published by House of Anansi Press

Jumping into action I’ve always loved manifestos: compact packets of concentrated inspiration dripping in idealism and dreamy declarations of possibility. Inspirational and encouraging as manifestos are, they also tend to conclude before giving readers any practical next steps to realize the messages they espouse. While providing an outline of the “how” may not bea manifesto’s job, its absence can mean that even the most widely shared texts can lose momentum before their values are implemented.

What I believe we require now are a set of simple, accessible, and most importantly, actionable resources to support us in actually living our values in our everyday careers. “Vision without execution, after all, is just a hallucination” — according to Edison or Einstein or an ancient Japanese proverb,  anyway. We could also say that taking ethical action is a lot like one of my favourite definitions of creative practice as “the application of intent”.

Many of us experience a desire or intention toward intersecting our inner values and our careers — that part is easy — but we struggle to apply that intention in any sort of practical way. Actionable and realistic ethical guidance is crucial if we are to translate our most optimistic ideals into the sort of behaviour that can satisfy our moral selves without compromising our ability to buy lunch (or pay rent, or order fancy cat litter — whatever you’re into). In my research, I delved into everything from manifestos to industry publications and countless blogs, articles, social posts, and academic papers, exploring popular and academic publishing in the areas of responsible practice, creative citizenship, and practical ethics. I also talked to a wide range of creative professionals. The result is a comprehensive collection of every relevant ethical action I could find. Each is distilled and refined to become a succinct parcel of wisdom designed to be easily implemented and support incremental change.

This is creative consciousness in action. These are real world ethics.

Real talk: Ethical practice takes effort. I urge each of us to acknowledge and be proud of the moments when we engage in responsible action toward positive change. But how do we keep it up? How do we establish an ongoing, long-term ethical work-life?

Let’s turn to the four factors we must consider when building sustainability into our creative practice: personal, economic, social, and environmental. Personal is about deciding what matters to us and establishing a strong set of inner values. It means creating a personal climate that fulfills who we are at our core, enables healthy self-care practices, and benefits our inner (spiritual, if that suits) lives.

One might say that without first determining what matters to us and establishing a practice that benefits our personal lives and values, we will have no road map for developing a long-term, sustainable ethical practice. Economic is about the necessity of earning a living and supporting a professional life where financial success can occur without significantly compromising our values.

It means functioning within (though I certainly support critique and action toward change of) the dominant, fundamentally problematic economic system and making the moderate compromises that may be necessary to financially support ourselves and our families within that system. It is a truth for many of us that without financial security, our abilities to positively impact each other and the earth may be compromised.

Social is about the actions that support positive change for pressing social challenges and our ability to maintain integrity as it relates to establishing equitable practices that benefit communities in need with a foundation of dignity and respect. Social considers how our work impacts each other and how a long-term, sustainable practice could not be possible without an effective, healthy social life that includes our local and global communities. Social encourages challenging biases, participatory action and community involvement.

Environmental is just as it sounds: action that supports the planet and its creatures. It means operating from a basic understanding that all life on earth has value and that nature

itself deserves a set of rights. By considering climate action and maintaining integrity in our work as it relates to our environmental impact, we will protect life and help to sustain a functioning planet — because without it, what do we have? Environmental considers intersectionality and acknowledges that social justice and climate justice are complex and deeply interconnected issues.

By engaging in one or many actions from each of these four factors, we increase our likelihood of achieving a holistic ethical practice that is viable long-term. Regardless of industry sector or the type of work that we do, many of the actions can be carried out immediately. They’re organized to be easily adapted to everyday working life and are listed loosely from the simplest and most accessible to the most challenging. I truly believe that every single one of us has a creamy creative centre as intrinsic to our humanity as our natural- born moral compasses.

It is my hope that these actions will inspire us to tap into that sweet core and enact change, and also to collaborate and support each other as we embark on our journeys as conscious creatives. And remember, conscious action doesn’t happen in a vacuum. By modelling the responsible behaviour we want to see in the world, we’re naturally motivating our clients, colleagues, suppliers, and families to do the same. I trust that, in time, our collective action will contribute to a critical mass that will make ethical practice a non-negotiable imperative for every creative career.

Now, let’s act.

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