In a way, there are two forms of enlightened self-interest: the personal and the structural.
Personal Enlightened Self-Interest
The personal form comes about through an experience of interconnections: Realizing that my own health and well-being – as a human being is intimately connected with the health and well-being of the larger wholes I am embedded in, and with the smaller wholes embedded in me. Existence is a seamless fluid whole, and my human self is an intrinsic part of this whole.
From here, I seek to find choices which are good for myself as a whole, for my parts, and for the larger social and ecological wholes.
Fortunately, there are many choices that support health at many levels. Simple living reduces consumption, gives me more time for family and friends, and increased well being. Supporting local farmers gives me organic, seasonal and inexpensive food, and is good for my body and the local economy and ecosystems.
Still, my choices are made within a certain social and economical system, and this limits which choices are realistic on a daily basis. In our current system, these choices also require a level of clarity and commitment embodied by just a few.
Structural Enlightened Self-Interest
Our current social and economic system grew out of a mechanistic and fragmented worldview. It made sense at the time, with a much smaller population and less developed technology, but it does not make sense anymore – with a much larger population and higher levels of technology.
For instance, our economic system does not take into account the full cost of products and services, and assumes access to unlimited resources. Due to the mindset behind its design, it very often sets up a conflict between what is easy and profitable in the short term and/or for a small group, and what is beneficial in the larger term and for the larger whole.
This is not inevitable, and just an artifact of our current system. Other models and systems are available which comes from more of a systems and transdual view. Here, there is more of an alignment of what is profitable and easy in the short term and on an individual basis, and what is good in the longer term and for the larger social and ecological whole.
Only a portion of society needs to have this vision, if they also have the ability to transform the system. The rest only need to function within the system, as they already do. And there are many signs that we may be on the verge of such a transition.
The pull or carrot includes our new vision of the Earth as a whole, our global communication system, and systems theories. The push or whip is all the problems our current system is creating for us, including widespread environmental toxins, unraveling ecosystems, increased gap between wealthy and poor, multinational corporations bypassing democratic processes to change international and national laws and regulations, and much more.
It may be seen as utopian, but what is truly utopian is to believe that our current system can continue to serve us for very much longer. It is an inherently suicidal system, aimed at destroying itself, and it will bring us with it or not. Life is resilient and finds new solutions. The amount of suffering inherent in this particular transition depends on our collective choices in the coming decades.