If you've thought about your impact as a human being on our planet, you've likely come across the question "What is your carbon footprint?

It's nearly always a negative thing. Something to be made smaller, to minimize.

The logic seems to be:

  • We humans have behaviors and ways of living our lives that have a lot of negative externalities: pollution, food waste, emissions. We hurt and harm one another directly and indirectly.
  • We would be better off if we could minimize all this harm by minimizing our activity and methods we use to do our activities.
  • Therefore, the message seems to go, human activity is broadly "bad".
  • In fact, it might be better if many of us were never even born! There are just too many of us to figure out this whole sustainability thing! Let's reduce the complexity of this problem by making ourselves small!

This doesn't seem to be a great way to spur the creative thinking that will help us think and act innovatively to solve problems, whether they are social, environmental or strategic problems.

I've never enjoyed using negative messaging to aim to motivate, and I've never enjoyed being on the other end of someone else's attempt to motivate me through fear. "You don't want to die of global suffocation, do you?" Threats and implied punishments. I think it's a purely temporary motivator. It's uninspiring. Messaging fear has limited effectiveness.

It was with some relief that I read more about architect Jason McClennan's working definition of "handprints".

Handprints are the positive actions and interactions we create because of how we live our lives.

Handprints are the habits we engender that create openness to see other individuals as worthy of care, respect and dignity.

Handprints are the result of decisions we make in our lives that seem everyday: recycling, saying hi, giving innovatively, investing differently, problem solving creatively.

Handprints are powerful as actions, but perhaps even more powerful as a mindset or orientation.

Whereas footprint indicates harm, handprint reveals healing.

When footprints indicate aggression, handprints offer compassion.

This shift in orientation can be freeing. Without restrictive, fear-based limits that "footprint" can imply, in thinking about handprints, we are inclined toward creativity. Taking moments to explore that creative thinking then leads us to possibility. This is where solutions to our significant challenges will arrive.

We acknowledge and know that the footprint is there: it is real; it is to be respected. But to expand our thinking and our selves, think handprints.