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Treading Lightly: The Hidden Wisdom of the World's Oldest People
by Karl-Erik Sveiby and Tex Skuthorpe


This book explores the fascinating and largely overlooked societal model of the Nhunggabarra Aboriginal people of northwestern New South Wales, Australia. The authors, Karl-Erik Sveiby and Tex Skuthorpe, argue that this ancient culture, despite being considered 'primitive' by Western standards, held the key to a truly sustainable society, honed over tens of thousands of years.

The book delves into the Nhunggabarra worldview, their spiritual beliefs, and their unique system of knowledge transmission through intricate four-level storytelling, where every story held layers of meaning. This system, combined with their eco-farming methods and a unique approach to leadership, allowed them to live in harmony with their environment and thrive for generations.

Key Themes:

  • Mission: The Nhunggabarra's central mission was "to keep all alive," encompassing the land, animals, plants, and even the spirits in the sky world (Warrambul).
  • Knowledge Economy: Their economy was based not on material wealth, but on intangible assets like knowledge, education, art, and spirituality.
  • Ecofarming: They practiced sustainable farming techniques, including fire-stick farming and fish traps, that maintained the delicate balance of the ecosystem.
  • Leadership: They had a context-specific leadership model where everyone held a role based on their expertise and knowledge, with a strong emphasis on respect and consensus-based decision-making.
  • Community Building: They lived in a network of interconnected communities, where kinship, marriage planning, and knowledge sharing fostered a sense of unity and peace.
  • Intangible Wealth: Their emphasis on intangible values like knowledge, spirituality, and community fostered a strong sense of purpose and identity.

The Book's Argument:

Sveiby and Skuthorpe argue that the Nhunggabarra society provides valuable lessons for our modern world. They propose that by embracing a similar holistic model of sustainability, focusing on intangible values, respecting diversity, and prioritizing community building, we can move towards a more sustainable and harmonious future.

Key Takeaways:

  • Respect: The Nhunggabarra placed a high value on respect for the land, animals, knowledge, and each other.
  • Community Over Competition: They fostered a strong sense of community and collaboration, prioritizing unity over individual gain.
  • The Power of Knowledge: Knowledge was valued above material wealth, and everyone played a role in its preservation and transmission.
  • Intangible Wealth: Intangibles like knowledge, spirituality, and community are crucial for a thriving society.
  • Lessons for Today: Modern societies can learn from the Nhunggabarra's emphasis on sustainability, respect, and community building to create a more balanced and harmonious future.

The book is a compelling and insightful exploration of a society that offers a powerful counterpoint to our modern, often unsustainable practices. It is a reminder that a world built on respect, shared knowledge, and a deep connection to nature can be a truly thriving and sustainable one.