Measuring What Matters, Part 2

By Scott Lewis,  Brightworks CEO

Some words worth considering (not my own):

Let us be clear at the outset that we will find neither national purpose nor personal satisfaction in a mere continuation of economic progress, in an endless amassing of worldly goods. We cannot measure national spirit by the Dow-Jones Average, nor national achievement by the gross national product.

For the gross national product includes air pollution and advertising for cigarettes, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors, and jails for the people who break them. The gross national product includes the destruction of the redwoods and the death of Lake Superior. It grows with the production of napalm and missiles and nuclear warheads and it even includes research on the improved dissemination of bubonic plague. The gross national product swells with equipment for the police to put down riots in our cities; and though it is not diminished by the damage these riots do, still it goes up as slums are rebuilt on their ashes. It includes Whitman’s rifle and Speck’s knife, and the broadcasting of television programs which glorify violence to sell goods to our children.

And if the gross national product includes all these, there is much that it does not comprehend. It does not allow for the hearth of our families, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It is indifferent to the decency of our factories and the safety of our streets alike. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate of the integrity of our public officials. It allows neither for the justice in our courts, nor for the justness of our dealings with each other. The gross national product measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to country. It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile; and it can tell us everything about America, except whether we are proud to be Americans.


When Robert Kennedy spoke those words at a speech in Detroit in 1967, he anticipated by forty years a problem and opportunity essential to our aspiration to chart a course to a truly sustainable or regenerative future.  For as long as we measure “success” merely in terms of economic development narrowly defined (and GNP/GDP are narrow definitions), we will find ourselves hobbled by policies designed to produce outcomes with limited correlation to human well-being or ecological sustainability.  Fortunately, a growing body of economic and psychological study on what really constitutes human well being, and on how to measure progress towards greater happiness at a national level, has emerged in the last decade, providing a new and powerful lever for re-aligning our economy in the direction of true lasting prosperity for all people and species.

More on that, here…

3 Comments to “Measuring What Matters, Part 2”

  1. Thought provoking! Thoughtful. Time to get outside of our comfort zone(s) a little. Looking forward to the continuation of your thoughts. It seems I am finding more voices such as yours. How do we bring them together in action?

    • Perhaps they are already coming together in action. See Paul Hawken’s book Blessed Unrest.

      The movement can’t be divided because it is so atomized – a collection of small pieces, loosely joined. It forms, dissipates, and then regathers quickly, without central leadership, command, or control. Rather than seeking dominance, this unnamed movement strives to disperse concentrations of power. It has been capable of bringing down governments, companies, and leaders through witnessing, informing, and massing. The quickening of the movement in recent years has come about through information technologies becoming increasingly accessible and affordable to people everywhere. Its clout resides in its ideas, not in force. (Page 12)

  2. Thanks Scott for sharing Robert Kennedy’s speech. His message echoes a timeless reminder that we must be intentional about the communities we seek to develop. That “good” doesn’t just happen, but needs to be pursued with conviction.

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