Knut - Be genuinely kind to yourself

Knut helps us consume more consciously by considering consumption beyond our physical consumption. He helps individuals and organizations align what they do with their purpose. Read on to find out more about his journey and thoughts on consumption.

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Where are you from and what brought you to Shanghai?

I'm originally from Austria, I got most of my education there. At age twenty-something, I realized that China might be an interesting place to go. I'd mastered English and Spanish to some extent and thought it might be a good idea to learn Chinese as well. A friend of mine knew of an opportunity to work with SOS Children's Village, an Austrian based non-profit organization. In Austria, you're either drafted to the army or you have to work in social services. I opted to work in social services to help set up this program and teach at a University in the North of China. That was in 2000, after a year and a half I realized that it wasn't enough time to learn Chinese, so I stayed.

What does sustainability mean to you?

It's a too broad term that nobody really understands. It a good term because it creates positive vibes, but when trying to be precise with terminology it's difficult to define. We also don't really know where we go with it. Whatever concept we come up with for change we need to have a target and with sustainability, we don't have a target.

What are you passionate about?

I think passion is over-valued because life isn't just about passion it's about purpose as well. So I'm probably passionate about purpose. I think we all need to find purpose in our lives, even if it's just a temporary purpose. I'm passionate about defining organizational and individual purpose.

How do you consume consciously?

Being conscious of my consumption starts with what I eat. I've been vegetarian in a very broad sense since the age of 24. I still occasionally eat fish, but I don't eat mammals. I don't consume sugar and refrain from consuming caffeine and alcohol. I don't want to be a fundamentalist in regards to this. If I'm having dinner with friends I'd drink some wine. To me, consumption is about what I consume, and also who I consume with. If you're drinking alone or eating Mars bars alone, I'd say there's probably something wrong. It's a consumption disorder. If you're with friends and family and occasionally drink some wine, I don't think there's anything wrong with that.

Apart from food, I also reduce my carbon footprint in the way I travel. It's a difficult task but considering that a big part of your carbon footprint is commuting it's something you have to think about. I have to travel internationally sometimes, but when I travel in China I take the railway. I usually take public transport in Shanghai.

What else could you do to consume more consciously?

When I talk about consumption I immediately dip into the psychological issues around it. I've been practising meditation daily for two years. It's about awareness to me, being in the moment, asking yourself if something is meaningful, does it have a purpose and do I really need this right now? When I'm at home and my daughter needs help with her homework, for examples. I have to ask myself at that moment, is it important that I consume online junk on Facebook or Wechat or wherever, or is it important that I spend time supporting her. You can apply it to your colleagues at work or your partner. It's about being in the here and now. Physical consumption is often the result of a spiritual void.

When did you become more conscious of your consumption?

I start becoming more aware of my consumption when I was living in the north of China. When I arrived in China in 2000, I started to have serious reoccurring nightmares. I was walking through a slaughterhouse filled with cows. There was blood running on both sides and at one point there would be a cow's head on the ground, cut off from its body. Its eyes would open and say 'Why do you do this?'. This was in a period where I had a lot of problems sleeping, I had this reoccurring nightmare and I couldn't make sense of it. At that time I was experiencing this cultural immersion, eating a lot of meat, it changed my diet a lot. I'm not naturally a meat eater, so I felt weaker and weaker, stranger and stranger. I started to think that I had to stop eating meat.

How would more people becoming conscious of their consumption change the world?

I started reading a great book recently, The Abundance of Less by Andy Couturier. He describes ten Japanese people who make everything themselves by engaging in crafts and trades. They basically don't have a carbon footprint. It's a collection of stories of people who live a lifestyle that's abundant in things that we've actually lost in mainstream consumption societies. If more people consumed consciously we would have more joy and less solitude. Everything that we're generally concerned with like pollution, something that comes as a byproduct of consumption, would automatically be less. The important thing for me is that we focus on the advantages of consuming less. You have more joy in your life, you have more bliss with the people around you, and it’s just a better life.

What’s the easiest part of consuming consciously?

I've developed a coaching session about how to guide your own life in terms of consumption and major decisions and came up with a traffic light to help illustrate it. In the traffic light the red is when we focus on power, yellow is when we focus on pleasure and green is when we focus on purpose. It's related to three schools of psychotherapy. Red is based on Alfred Adler’s work, he describes people as biological algorithms who just want more power in their lives. Yellow is based on Sigmund Freud who defined people as being instinct driven, pleasure-seeking beings and the third one is Victor Frankl who believes that we are to some extent power and instinct-driven, but that life is really about purpose.

If you can imagine this traffic light in front of you throughout the day and you ask yourself, ‘Am I doing this as an experience of purpose, pleasure or power?’ I think the traffic light makes it quite simple. It's always about the shared experience versus the singular experience. Choosing to do something for or with others as opposed to watching TV alone for pleasure. I think it's actually quite hard to implement in your life, but as a concept, it makes a lot of sense.

What’s the hardest part of consuming consciously? 

The hardest part is that we're constantly distracted from the here and now. That's basically why I started to meditate. About two years ago I was still in my corporate life, and I was trying to exercise to keep my body in shape, I was reading to keep my mind and my intellect in shape, but it still wasn't working out. Since I was atheist and did not believe in any form of intelligence that's not comprehensible through our five senses, I resolved to meditation, it seemed like a very practical approach. Meditation helps you stay in the here and now, but staying in the here and now is definitely the biggest challenge. We're in an environment where we're constantly distracted.

What are your top 3 practical changes?

  • Breathe more, breathe slowly. Take time during the day to focus on your breath, whether that's through yoga, tai chi, meditation or just sitting and contemplating.

  • Get enough sleep. Everyone's unique, everyone needs a different amount of sleep so figure out how much you need.

  • Understand your diet. Be aware of everything you eat, everything you ingest.

    What are the biggest challenges we face today in consumption?

We need to change the way we educate people and we need to change the way we learn. I think this is a big challenge because our education systems are a result of our economic systems. If you have an industrial economic system, then your education system is also automatically an industrial education system and this needs to change.

I believe there's also a crisis of consciousness. The psychological side of the ecological problems we have is grounded in a misunderstanding of who we are. We're not just me or you, we are part of something bigger and once we realize that, we'll change our habits of having and being, producing and consuming.

If the whole world was listening, what would you say?

Be genuinely kind to yourself, only if you are kind to yourself you can be kind to others, including the environment, animals, and everything we consume.

What do you do?

I'm an organizational consultant. I help the management of organisations get their strategy right. I'm actually balancing my work with a lot of pro-bono work for non-profit organizations.

Cornelia BlignautComment