For this blog post, I wanted to share an edited version of a letter I wrote recently, to some climate change activists whom I know and love. I’m thinking that its contents may be relevant, beyond those for whom it was originally intended…
I am writing to you in response to some of the winds that have been blowing… not just the winds that have fed the fires in California, but also, and related to these, the winds of urgency that are arising as more and more people are waking up to the realization that our world is in great danger from human-generated climate disruption…
But first, I want to begin with a verse, a poem by Deena Metzger that you have surely heard before:
There are those who are trying to set fire to the world,
We are in danger.
There is time only to work slowly,
There is no time not to love.
How do we do this? How do we stay in our hearts, when a situation appears to be becoming more dire? (Some urgent parts of us might wonder, why would we even want to do this… why not just move full steam ahead, as fast as we possibly can?)
It’s true that often, challenging situations can bring out the best in us. Yet the anxiety that a challenging situation provokes, can also bring out the worst in us. We may feel so much urgency to get others to listen to our point of view, that we forget to listen first and connect. We may be so concerned about negative outcomes, that we attempt to logic our way through, rather than attending to people’s feelings, including our own.
I believe that deep down, we all want to contribute, we all want to make a positive difference. Yet sometimes, when stakes are high, it can seem that “others” are the obstacle standing in the way to a positive outcome. We can start to feel that if only he or she were different, or if only they were different, we could accomplish so much more… or, we could do our work so much more effectively and smoothly…
Part of our anxiety may be that, as much as we might want to, we can’t control outcomes — and we certainly can’t control others. We can only offer our best, as we continue to treat others with as much kindness as we can muster– and as we hope for the best, even while grieving and mourning for all of the damage that has already been created. It may help to remember, as we seek to continue our efforts while remaining open to outcomes, that even when we humans manage to achieve exactly what we set out to do, our actions can often have a host of unintended consequences… our entire civilization being a case in point.
So if we hold our work as ultimately being about bringing more love and clarity to our understanding and actions – including our collective understanding and actions, not just our individual ones — it may help to remember that we are part of a much larger movement of people, of initiatives, of projects, of organizations. Within that larger movement, which is just beginning to awaken to a consciousness of itself as a network, we each doing our part, to create clear understanding and loving actions with regard to our shared dream — the creative challenge of giving birth to a carbon-free world.
This brings up a question for me, of how might we work in a way that honors and celebrates more deeply, what others are doing? Not just for others’ benefit – but also to benefit ourselves, for our own “enlightened self-interest”. Some recent experiences have led me to wonder — if we were to dedicate a percentage of our efforts toward promoting others’ initiatives along similar lines to our own, might that help us feel less isolated and embattled? Less like “it’s all up to us”, and more able to collaborate… both with others externally, as well as internally, within our own projects?
I may be biased in my perspective, given that the work I do involves supporting effective collaboration within teams and organizations. Yet it seems to me that the underlying roots of the climate crisis have as much to do with the climate of separation and competition that is created by capitalism — which divides ends and means, placing profits over people — as with our extractive technologies…
And so I see a key part of our work as activists, as extending beyond a narrow focus on “how much can we accomplish”, to what kind of culture we are creating – starting within each of our projects, our planning circles and communities… and then radiating out into the larger network of change agents…. and beyond that, to our shared world
And yes, creating a new culture can sometimes feel like slow work. Learning how to hold that sense of urgency, embracing it gently while grounding it through our bodies and hearts — so that we can act with energy and focus, instead of spreading the energy of alarm — can be such a big challenge. Yes, there is SO much that needs to be done… and still, we need to breathe… otherwise, the faster we try to go, the more tangles we can create, and the less effective we end up being. The more anxious we ourselves are, the more that energy is communicated, the more resistance can be triggered in others…
This is all stuff we already know — and still, it can help to remind ourselves of it…
Along similar lines, I am concerned about the larger collective grief that is in the field. When we are not able to be present to it, grief can so easily turn to anger and blame… and sadly, we often turn that anger and blame toward one another, even though we know that “divide and conquer” is the oldest game in politics. How can we not allow ourselves to be divided, and instead, recognize the challenges we face… both internally as well as externally… as an opportunities to heal and grow?
As I see it, we are all continually being called to grow in our ability to speak our truth with clarity and kindness, to witness and heal our own internal triggers, to offer facilitative leadership to others…
and so, this Thanksgiving season, I want to close with the following question…
Are we willing to consider the possibility,
that we might learn to be grateful,
for those very challenges, that are stretching us toward this growth?
I don’t mean to say that we should be grateful for climate disruption, or for unbridled capitalism, or for sexism or racism or any of the other isms. Too many people are being hurt by all of the spiritual malformations that are at the root of these poisons, for me to suggest that. What I do mean is, are we willing to consider the possibility of being grateful for, the messy and imperfect people, with whom we are attempting to work together, to collaborate with, in order to heal these poisons?
Might we be willing to consider the possibility of being grateful for those sometimes difficult and challenging “others”, those very same ones who are stretching each of us into growing as strong and facilitative leaders?
with much love,
well, that’s it for now… I wish each of you a meaningful Thanksgiving, and welcome your thoughts below.