The Hare and the tortoise: Metaphorical lessons around sustainability

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McGookin, Connor
Ó Gallachóir, Brian P.
Byrne, Edmond P.
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This chapter examines the Aesop’s fable of the hare and the tortoise, its companion classical Roman proverb “festina lente”, and the role that the moral of this story may have in informing contemporary narratives around sustainability. In doing this, four narratives are examined. The first is that of environmentalism as a social movement. This looks at the roots of the contemporary environmental movement since the 1960s, which despite some early promise and (speedy) successes, ultimately left many disappointed in the pervading context of an ever-increasing consumerist society. The second narrative compares climate change experts, who have consistently advocated for acting now and fast, but find that action is held back by overarching socio-economic forces of neo-classical economics, which favour either the status quo or very gradual behavioural change, or profess faith in an ultimate reliance on techno-optimistic “solutions”. The third narrative considers niche activities versus mainstreaming and seeks to demonstrate that though isolated niche initiatives can have their value in demonstrating what works, or doesn’t, it is only through mainstreaming of transformational practices, which necessarily requires more patience and takes longer, that ultimately whole systemic change can occur. Finally, a fourth narrative uses the metaphor of evolving human civilisation as a maturing process; heretofore we’ve acted like children and adolescents, rebelling against old (pre-modern) wisdom, in our need to move fast and party (on cheap energy), but we are now at a stage where we need to metaphorically grow up, get wise, and slow down. To conclude, it is noted that sustainability is not a sprint but a marathon, as with the natural flow of evolution, in which a slow and steady progress (of iteratively learning, making mistakes, and relearning, all as a function of context) may in many respects work for the better.
Sustainability , Societal change , Environmentalism , Transformational practices , Metaphor
McGookin, C., Ó Gallachóir, B. and Byrne, E. (2022) 'The Hare and the tortoise: Metaphorical lessons around sustainability,' in Hughes, I., Byrne, E. P., Mullally, G. and Sage, C. (eds)., Metaphor, Sustainability, Transformation: Transdisciplinary Perspectives, Oxon: Routledge, pp. 151-166.
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© 2022 selection and editorial matter, Ian Hughes, Edmond Byrne, Gerard Mullally and Colin Sage; individual chapters, the contributors.This is an Accepted Manuscript of a book chapter published by Routledge in Metaphor, Sustainability, Transformation: Transdisciplinary Perspectives on July 30, 2021, available online: