In UW-Madison’s magazine EdgeEffects, I recently wrote about Al Gore’s climate change documentary sequel, An Inconvenient Sequel: Speaking Truth to Power. In it, I suggested that we who focus heavily on climate change need to listen to those with worldviews different from our own. And that we need to find stories of positive change to engage people in building better futures.
The problem for most of us is that we do not know what these activities look like in practice. What does it mean to listen to other views? How does that get us somewhere? Where can we possibly find stories that really draw us into taking action? Besides, too many of the actions we feel able to take on our own feel small and inconsequential in the face of the great challenges we face.
I wrote a post a while ago about actions we can take individually and as citizens. Yet, even having all of these ideas at my fingertips, I still often felt powerless.
But over the past six months, my mindset has begun to change. Rather than feeling a burden of responsibility to be a “good environmental citizen” on my own, I am finding ways to work with others.
I rarely wrote letters or called congresspeople on my own. It intimidated me, but even more importantly, I felt like tiny toad trying to call out to all the other species in the Chihuahuan Desert. Yeah, a few other toads might hear and understand me, but most of the other toads and other species could not even hear me. So, I croaked to myself and my friends and family.
Now, however, I belong to a group that takes political action. We call and write and hold one another accountable for that work.
What has been most important to me, though, is finding people who want to collaborate to create positive stories.
I have been in academia for a while. And that world, for all its power to analyze, understand, and spread new ideas has a downside when it comes to working for change. It is competitive. It can sometimes be hard to find the people who want to collaborate rather than compete against you. And to find people who want to build something together rather than deconstruct (metaphorically, of course).
So, I have put a toe into other waters without leaving academia. I continue to believe analysis and critique are extremely important endeavors to move us forward. If we do not understand what we are dealing with, we will make far more mis-steps.
But now I am also working with a group that is talking about how to build the future want to see. We are basing our work on the Transition Towns movement. We are learning about success stories in other parts of the country and other parts of the world.
Importantly, we are focusing first on building community. On getting to know one another and to understand one another’s goals. So, we are in very early stages. But we have begun.
And the key to the change, so our evaluator told us at a recent academic conference, is to just do it. Just begin. There will be experiments that work, and those that do not. But if we sit immobilized, the changes we do not want will wash over us.
So, we are beginning. In seeking out positive stories, and spreading those we hear, we are starting to build our own vision of a positive future here at home.
So, how do we tell positive stories? How do we heal the pains we see in the world? Find someone else who is willing to take action. Slowly build a group. Support one another. Seek out the positive stories. They are there on YouTube, if you don’t know any in your area. And be forgiving. We will all make a lot of mistakes as we try to build something better. But we have to try. And to sustain our own joy in the work, we have to try together.
Okay, you may say, you mentioned positive stories, but what about this listening to other worldviews piece?
I will aim to dig further into that in a future post. I still need to learn more. For now, though, take a look at Megan Roper’s version of how to listen. Ms. Roper left the Westboro Baptist Church, and now works to build empathetic dialogue, including among those with extreme views.