What has the Māori world view got to do with sustainable business?

By Andy Kenworthy

Some work days you remember for the rest of your life. Last week Andy Kenworthy and others in the SBN team had the privilege of spending a day at Ōrākei Marae. It was revelatory.

Since last year the Sustainable Business Network (SBN) has been working on its GulfX project. The aim of the project is to stimulate businesses to assist in the protection and restoration of the Hauraki Gulf.

The project received funding from Gulf Innovation Fund Together (GIFT). GIFT is a Foundation North initiative. From the outset the GIFT team emphasised the need to improve the “mauri” of the Hauraki Gulf. Initial meetings included meditations. And we took the opportunity to share what this concept might mean for us.

The Te Aka Online Māori Dictionary has this definition of mauri: “life principle, life force, vital essence, special nature, a material symbol of a life principle, source of emotions – the essential quality and vitality of a being or entity.”

Reading a translation is one thing. Understanding is quite another. This is especially true of people, like me, who were not raised in New Zealand, let alone in the Māori tradition. So the GIFT team organised a day led by Precious Clark of cultural competency consultants Te Kaa.

For me this was a point of entry into another world, or at least another way of seeing the world. I had done a basic Māori cultural course shortly after arriving in New Zealand in 2007. But I am not a Te Reo speaker.

What I came alive to during the day was the importance of a consistent relationship with our origins. The vital connections between our ancestry and our connection with a particular landscape. I realised how often I had mentally skated over Māori concepts I had come into contact with. For example Ko au te awa, ko te awa ko au – I am the water and the water is me. I had responded to them as some kind of scenic poetry. But they are actually statements of fact. They are expressions of the awareness of those facts.

I realised how discordant, disrupted origins, or ignorance of them, impacts our mauri, our wellbeing. Every broken connection undermines our ability to live harmoniously in our own skin and in the real world. I got a sense that this is why there is such emphasis on these origins and connections in Māori life. It is because that is what creates the person and underpins that life.

I saw too how the security of such a structure can relieve the constant need for personal security and autonomy. Our individualised, industrialised and atomised ways of living are too often driven by fear.

The question then is, especially for those outside of such a community, how can we embody these values? Concepts like this can only find true expression through action.

We could start by reducing our dependence on the industrial way of life. We can do this by spending less money. By claiming our time back when we can. By spending less time immersed in a consumerist way of being. We can increase our immersion and connection to these deeper values and with people who embody them.

This means taking a step up from consciousness, to conscientiousness. We might know something of the right way. Now we must actually walk it consistently, with discipline.

Embodiment is not display. We can get lost in the displaying of aspirational values we may not have much of a grasp on. We take Instagram photos, do some Facebook posts, and move on.

One of the most important pieces of guidance our teaching team gave us on the day was not to ‘cherry pick’ what we had learned. Discipline is when values trump our personal preferences. Every day in our work on sustainable business we make these choices. Do what is right, or what we might prefer, what is easier.

We often lack clear value guidance and senior people who can explain it to us. How many of us have real, deep access to a coherent system of wisdom? How many of us can tap into a value based worldview with horizons greater than our own? So many of us have been stripped of such things.

I used to think this was about blending or fusing two different cultures. Now I am not so sure. I am not so sure that the overpowering consumerism I have been brought up with qualifies as a culture at all. It may be simply what is left in the absence of culture. Am I just cobbling together a personal worldview from whatever bits of learning I have encountered and agreed with, however partially understood?

We may have thought of so many indigenous cultures as broken by colonialism. But for many of us our break with these connections was longer ago and further away. Our mindset, even our very minds have become industrialised and machinelike. How else to explain the world we have created?

But at this very moment another way of being is biologically programmed into us. It has been part of human existence for tens of thousands of years. It is applicable and available to us all, if only we take the time to reconnect.