Mac Macartney is an author and speaker on values-based leadership. Over a period of twenty years he was mentored by a group of Native Americans, which has deeply influenced his worldview and informs his work with everyone from corporates to communities. He is the founder of Embercombe, a social enterprise located in Devon that seeks to inspire people from all walks of life to contribute their gifts and energy towards a just, peaceful, and sustainable world. Joshua Malkin interviewed Mac about his work and his perspective on wellbeing, leadership and nature. This post and video are part of a series we are sharing in the lead up to World Environment Day.

Blog post by Joshua Malkin, Network of Wellbeing

When you first arrive at Embercombe, as you walk down the path towards its ‘centre’, through fields edged with woodlands, along paths through planted areas, by yurts and barns and surprisingly creative constructions, you are greeted by breathtaking views across the valley.

Some say it is a magical place and many of the ‘alumni’ of its courses have been changed by the uncompromising but loving vision that its founder Mac Macartney offers. Mac says he originally called Embercombe, “a garden for growing people”, but has now reframed that because, like the concept of leadership, it begs the question – to what end? So today he calls it, “a training camp where we seek to catalyse leaders so that they can go into the world, and through their influence, make it into the sane, safe, more beautiful world we long for”.

For Mac, leadership is a key to our personal and collective wellbeing. For him a leader is someone who talks and walks the truth as she or he sees it. “There is no one who cannot be a leader. There is nobody for whom there is not a place in this work. We welcome the whole range and diversity of gifts that people bring.”

When I ask Mac about our relationship to nature, he highlights that, “people long ago, did not just appreciate and revere nature, they were nature”, and he emphasises that this is also true for us today. Central to Mac’s vision, is that we are simply one of the threads in what we call nature. He suggests our attitude to it should be no different from our attitude to family. If we aspire to a more whole and happy world, he says it is fundamental that we must see nature as an inseparable part of who we, and our loved ones, are.

Mac likens our society to an adolescent who, after a family disagreement has left home wanting to avoid expectations and responsibilities. But later they/we come to realise that our family is part of us and that our responsibilities are part of the process of becoming who we are. He says we have to undertake a journey; a journey home to become more ourselves, to become more appreciative of life as well as of “the mother of life” – nature.

In taking this journey Mac proposes we ask ourselves three fundamental questions:-  What do I profoundly love? What are my gifts? What are my responsibilities? In answering these questions he suggests we find our place in the world, our contribution to it, and thereby experience wellbeing as a process rather than an end state. In many ways his world-view echoes some perspectives in psychological wellbeing. Through realising our autonomy and recognising our capability, we can develop and deepen our relatedness.

In his work with business leaders Mac recounts that some have questioned whether a commitment to the rational world of business can allow them to embrace feelings for nature in the way he speaks about it. In response he asks what rational creature would foul the ground that gives it life? Yet he also highlights that he is hopeful we have the capabilities to adapt our interpretations of what it means to be rational, in order to tackle the challenges we currently face. He adds that like many traditions across the world, our own culture is filled with so many stories of those who refuse to submit to a despairing story.

Mac’s forthcoming book is about his personal quest to try and find a way back to re-discover, sense and imagine some semblance of cultural traditions which seemingly had long been lost, and thereby in restoring something of them to retrieve who we have always been – truly human beings as a part of the family of nature and all life. This new book is provisionally titled, “The Invisible Path” and will be published early next year.

To find out more about Embercombe, visit their website here.

To read other posts in our World Environment Day series click here.

Huge thanks to Mac for taking the time to share his views with us in this interview. 

Photo used in this post is credited to Embercombe