Creating conversations

Steps in Our Process

  1. Create Conversations: Invite others to join an in-person or online conversation. Along with others, help to catalyze such conversations and facilitate interactions. It takes just two people to have a conversation or even to begin to change a culture. Invite people you know and others who you would like to get to know into a conversation to discuss how to create a sustainable future for us all.
  2. Become Aware: Truly see what is going on in the Environment of our planet, in the economic and political systems and in the media. Allow yourself to experience our collective pain. Notice our disenchantment and desire for a better future. Notice what you are already doing to safeguard our planet and the commitment that it reflects.
  3. Gain Understanding: Understand what we cherish about our lives that nourishes us and enables us to flourish. Gain understanding about our current economic system and its historical context, its impact on each of us and options for moving forward. Identify some specific environmental conditions that you would like to see improved.
  4. Take a Stand: This entire process is one in which we find our voices - individually and collectively which enables us to take a stand. In the course of this, we can share our insights with others and become part of a collective education project in which we work to expand our horizons and options for action while we enlist others to join us.
  5. Develop a vision: Develop a vision of a future in which we all flourish because of our increasing eco-consciousness and actions to safeguard and regenerate the environment. Share your vision with others. Talk about it. Post it online. Continue to develop it as time goes on. Visions are meant to evolve just as you do in your life business or community.
  6. Take Action: Translate your vision into a plan in which you engage the assistance and support of others. Take individual and collective action to regenerate our environment and enable our economic and political systems and media to support a flourishing life for all.
  7. Start Living Your Vision: Build what you have set out in your vision into your daily life and the life of your business or community. Invite others to join you. Solicit their ideas. Try keeping a diary or journal in which you reflect on your progress.

Building a Successful Conversation Through Diversity

Whether engaged in a conversation about sustainability or developing a vision or plan, building diversity into our sustainability efforts is an important principle that will lead to success.

I take a broad view of diversity. It applies to the individual, the organization as well as the wider society. It includes demographic diversity, certainly. It also covers diversity of thought, perspectives, disciplines and the diverse realities that reflect each of our separate existences. It covers one additional important area that I will discuss here.

Applying Diversity to Individuals

How this principle is to be applied is the critical question. Diversity applies on an individual level. There are many different ways in which we approach the world, and they may sometimes appear to be in conflict. For example, there may be the part of us that likes structure and the part of us that may like things to be more free and easy. There is likely the part of each of us that wants to "do" and another part that is happy to just "be." There is the part of us that is a member of a capitalist, market economy and the part of us that may be quite tired of the consumerist culture. There is the part of us that firmly knows we must act to save the environment and the part of us that may be reluctant to make the necessary changes. You cannot divorce yourself from either one of these internal polarities or tensions. It may well be healthier for you to facilitate your own internal dialogue amongst them. Through such a process, all aspects of yourself will feel acknowledged and heard lessening defensiveness. A natural integration will result which will facilitate your awareness of what you truly need to flourish. You will be able to bring more of your full, rich self into your interactions with others.

Applying Diversity to Organizations, Society

The same is true with organizations and societies. They also have many different aspects to them some of which may appear to be in conflict with one another. We can facilitate a conversation amongst them and the people who hold them. As in the individual case, such a dialogue between seeming opposites is one way of enabling both to be acknowledged and heard. The human psyche will do its natural job of seeking integration both on an individual and organizational level. The result will be a healthier and more flourishing society.

We can helpfully build this diversity into our workshops, our conversations and our communities and facilitate the necessary interactions. To ensure each perspective is fully heard, listeners should try to see the world through the experiences of the person who is speaking. We should provide a safe space to support each in sharing their views.

Expanding Beyond Privileged Narratives

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There is, however, a trickier part. We may think that we have factored in a diversity of perspectives even while we are steadfastly following an historical story, narrative or discourse that has been with us for a long time. As a result, we end up privileging that discourse while ignoring other ones. These other ones represent different ways of learning, thinking and even being in the world.

Here are some examples that represent other ways of thinking and being in the world.

"First Nations people in western Canada see the forests of British Columbia as sacred spaces. People from a European background see them as resources to be used or developed even if for leisure. The giving of land back to First Nations people in Canada elicited the complaint that they do not "do" anything with it. The idea that sometimes the point is to "be" rather than to "do" seems to have proved very hard to communicate." (Cata, Myers, 2011).

"The indigenous people of the Amazon understand their world through a different sort of songline.  Indigenous people know how to "think" the forests, know that the paths through this wilderness are songs, the song that each plant has. Song makes a thread of light, a path of the mind; each song tells of one plant's relationship to other plants and not only differentiates one plant from another but distinguishes between the uses of for example, stem or leaf or root of the same plant. There is practical wisdom here but also psychological wisdom; you find your way and learn how to live unlost not through the wild forest but within it. The songlines harmonize people with environment. There is no divide." (Griffiths, 2009)

Joanna Macy in "The Greening of the Self," provides another example. She discusses the Chipko "tree-hugging" movement in north India where villagers protect their remaining woodlands from ax and bulldozer by interposing their bodies. One of her students comments,

"I think of the tree huggers hugging my trunk, blocking the chain saws with their bodies. I feel their fingers digging into my bark to stop the steel and let me breathe....I give thanks for your life and mine and for life itself."

Joanna comments in turn,

"What is striking about Michael's words is the shift in identification. Michael is able to extend his sense of self to encompass the self of the tree. (The) tree is no longer a removed, separate, disposable object pertaining to a world "out there," but intrinsic to his own vitality. Through the power of his caring, his experience of self is expanded far beyond that skin-encapsulated ego."

Each of these stories represents another perspective, a reality that may be quite different from our own.

In discussing the First Nations story, Cato and Myers comment:

"What is important here is the unsettling of a previously privileged discourse, an historical embedded discourse from a "civilized" culture of pioneers, conquerors and colonialists, who on initially encountering First Nations and indigenous Peoples' way of life considered it inferior and yet now value their wisdom as contributing to a different understanding of life and collective reality. In the context of the sustainability crisis, this awareness of an alternative perspective acquires added salience." (Cato, Myers, 2011)

 


Inviting Someone Into a Conversation on Climate Change

One of the key purposes of The Earth Project is to support people engaging in conversations with one another on topics that are important to them regarding Climate Change.

The hope is that in time these conversations will result in individual or collective visions of a future time when we will be flourishing in a de-carbonized world with substantially reduced unproductive waste. You can learn more about the options for such a world in this overall blog site and particularly in this specific blog post.

I would like to provide guidance in terms of how to invite others into a conversation and what initial question you could ask that would catalyze such a conversation. I will offer one idea here. However, I appreciate that there is a wealth of knowledge and experience out there with all of you. Each of you will approach this differently and we can all learn from each other.

How to invite someone into a conversation?

ME: I have been giving a great deal of thought to what is happening with our environment and the whole issue of climate change. It would be wonderful if I had someone to share these thoughts with and also to hear other perspectives and maybe even to come up with some ideas. Would you have some time to talk to me about this over a cup of coffee? I would like to hear your thoughts on this.

Starting the actual conversation.

ME: One issue that I think about a lot is how to transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy and how to do it quickly. I believe that we need to significantly reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere caused by fossil fuels. [ This is where you set out the issue and your opinion.]

ME: It seems that much of the technology is already in place to switch to solar or wind and it is now an issue of investing in building more of this equipment, creating the jobs to design and manufacture this equipment and offering government incentives to support installation. [This is where you set out your thinking, your rationale.]

ME: What do you think? [This is where you ask for the opinion of the other person.]

THE OTHER PERSON: [This is where the other person speaks and you listen courteously and carefully to what they have to say.]

Asking the other person.

ME: Is there a particular issue about Climate Change and the future that you worry about?

ME: [This is where the other person speaks and you listen courteously and carefully to what they have to say.]

Beginning to talk about a desirable future.

ME: I look forward to a time when I can walk outside every day and clearly see the mountains that surround me and smell air as fresh as being in the country. There is no longer soot and smoke from nearby coal-fired power plants or industrial waste being expelled into the air. I check the output from the solar panels on the roof and see that once again, we will have an electricity credit. We no longer receive electric bills and, in fact, some months we receive a credit from the electric company for electricity that we have generated. Traffic nearby moves quietly because all of the vehicles are electric. I feel more content knowing that with each day, the carbon footprint of our city and country and the world is becoming less.

THE OTHER PERSON: That is a wonderful vision. I would like to add to that.

MY QUESTION TO ALL OF YOU READING THIS POST:

  • How would you go about inviting someone into a conversation about climate change?
  • What question(s) would you use to start such a conversation?
  • What can you do be doing to ensure that this is a successful conversation?

Please submit your responses in the Comments section of this blog.

 


Breaking the Gordian Knot in Approaches to the Climate Emergency

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In our current efforts to respond to the Climate Emergency that we all face, it may be useful to address what appears to be a dialectical relationship between the two major strategies.

On the one hand, some assert that the way forward can be found in the street protests organized by Greta and the School Strike movement and Extinction Rebellion. This approach seems to be to challenge politicians and governments throughout the world to take action. One does assume that participation in these protests through the power of cognitive dissonance motivates participants to take individual action. However, this approach primarily seeks action at a top-down, national and global scale though motivated by grassroots activities.

Others believe that the way forward is based on individual actions. In this view, if each of us were to reduce our carbon footprint, the collective impact would be significant. If one includes corporations as individuals here then the impact becomes significantly greater. This is reflected in approaches such as the Circular Economy and Industrial Symbiosis. There are many such "individual" actions all around the world, each with its own orientation - its view of economic activity, the nature of progress, the role of humans in our Earthly ecosystem, a definition of wellbeing. Here, progress is seen as based on the combined impact of individual and corporate action.

I admit that in my own efforts, I live out the same quandary wondering which is the more efficacious approach. Where should I and others put our efforts? I also wonder whether the better approach would be to strive for a vision of an ideal future or whether the pursuit of many smaller efforts in time would have the potential of coalescing into a more overarching vision.

In an ideal world, there would not be such dilemmas. Motivated governments and motivated individuals would all be taking action, thus, ensuring an encompassing, comprehensive response to this Climate Emergency. Since we do not live in such an ideal world (which would already have responded to Climate Change many years ago), there seems to be a push-pull as to deciding where to put one's efforts in moving forward. We are wondering where to invest conference space, media focus, available resources and our personal energy. The metaphor that came to me is that of a Gordian Knot which defies habitual methods of untying. The message in the Gordian Knot parable is that there is a simpler, higher level approach that will resolve what in retrospect can be seen as a false dilemma.

Though there are likely many ways of approaching this Gordian Knot dilemma, I would like to suggest one in particular.

I am reminded of a play by Luigi Pirandello entitled "Six Characters in Search of an Author." My recollection is that in this play established characters living out their dramatic lives are searching for an author to provide them with added context and meaning.

I am wondering whether in our current world of sustainability actions and futures, we are not in effect creating individual characters still lacking that underlying essence that will provide them with meaning. Without that "authorship" the dilemma is a self-perpetuating one constantly fueling a Gordian Knot existence.

If one looks back over the history of the United States, one can find many events, individuals and motivations leading to the foundation of the Republic. Over a period of about 150 years, what arose to author the future was a consensus around the core ideals of self-determination, freedom and "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." This obviously did not happen over night and encompassed a great deal of societal discussions, debates, newspaper articles, books, speeches and assemblies.

This authorship became embodied in America's founding documents, the "Declaration of Independence" and the "Constitution" and "Bill of Rights." All of these were based on philosophical themes with antecedents throughout history. One can look at these founding documents as an epochal turning point in which a new paradigm was firmly established. Another historical example of a world-changing paradigm around which a consensus developed is the Enlightenment.

It seems to me that our efforts in sustainability are lacking this consensus having to do with what we are about based on a philosophical, biological, ecological, scientific, ethical etc. foundation. We lack a consensus around our "author."

Our additional challenge is that we do not have 150 years to sort all of this out. We have less than twelve years. At the same time, many exciting ideas already abound based on work over many decades. There are countless books, internet posts, articles, events, where ideas are being set out on topics ranging from Biomimicry, to Ecological Economics, to Natural Capitalism, morphogenetic change and regenerative economies. Many posit interrelationships among different disciplines and perspectives among which are ecological, economic, social and cultural ones. Some go as far as asking for a new unifying though heterogeneous narrative for our Earthly ecosystem.

We do seem to be gradually seeking a new paradigm that will author all of our efforts. I believe that it is the current lack of a consensus around such a paradigm that creates the Gordian Knot dilemma that we are experiencing and which makes our work that much more challenging. A common paradigm would provide an authoring concept to which we could organically relate our various activities.

We cannot force the emergence of such a paradigm. We can, however, act in a facilitative way to create a fertile ground for its emergence based on our learning from history. The following ideas are not intended to develop fixes, solutions or isolated actions. They are focused upon the development of a philosophical and ethical basis for a new narrative for all creatures and elements of nature that have a place on this planet including we human sapiens.

  • We can support each new idea as a seed worthy of germinating, paying attention to, adding to and reflecting upon each with openness.
  • We can support new ideas with resources.
  • We can provide in-person and virtual venues where interchange and synthesis of ideas can occur in a spirit of collaboration and respect.
  • We can utilize all modalities open to us to express ideas including the vehicle of the arts: music and song, painting, drama, dance, poetry, performance art.
  • We can read, share, talk and dialogue about ideas and share our new learnings.
  • We can offer a library of ideas which the School Strike, Extinction Rebellion, Green New Deal and others can draw upon.
  • We can ask our friends in all of the different movements to distill and share the philosophy underlying their many activities. We can ask the same of participants in any given workshop.
  • We can frame each new synthesis as an experimental basis for a new paradigm to be pursued - to see where it goes, adapting and letting go of it as necessary.

In doing this, we will be using our collective authorship to rewrite the basic narrative of life on this planet.

 

 


A Reflection on Education in the 21st Century

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The UN Sustainable Development Goals

As I reflect back over my teaching during the five years that I have been in Israel, I am very mindful of the increasing role that ideas of "sustainability" have in my work. Of course, "sustainability" is the consequence of a variety of approaches which we often refer to by the label of "sustainability." One might also refer to this as how we will go about living within our planetary budget in the foreseeable future.

I am aware of how more and more I bring these ideas into my work at various institutions and in different capacities especially in the classroom. In a very mundane way, it is not different than what we in the MBA curriculum all did a decade or two ago in bringing ideas of "quality" into our work. Deming and his work was the trend and no business school curriculum would be doing its job without reference to this body of knowledge. Along with Deming was the idea of teams and teamwork and similarly, we would have been remiss in not teaching our students these new approaches. Collaboration is another approach that has become part of the fabric of our efforts.

As we stand now several years beyond the Paris Climate Accord, one thing is unfortunately very clear. This is that our world is changing in hugely significant ways. Sooner or later, a larger number of our species will become aware that our survival as a species may be at stake. At the least, we are leaving what some writers call the Holocene Era, a twelve thousand year long period which was a time when the Earth's climate and resources were ideal in meeting our needs, to the Anthropocene Era which is the result of human activity and will be a far more challenging time. In the meantime, we have the duty and moral responsibility to educate and train our students to be be prepared to live in, manage, consult to and be part of the leadership in this new world. They need to be good citizens in this world.

Assuming that we take action before it is too late, we will have a huge role in shaping our response and the kind of world and communities we all will live in, the way we make our living, and the types of organizations in which we will add value. In turn, we will need to have created an economy that accommodates all of this along with our changed relationship to the natural capital of our planet (the ability of our planet to provide resources, absorb waste, eliminate CO2 from the atmosphere and produce food.)

The question is what should we be teaching. Clearly, we should be open to questioning some of the knowledge and approaches of the past. This includes the nature of organizations, their goals, the ways they do business and their relationship to economic principles that have likely outgrown their usefulness. We should be laying the groundwork for the future rather than continually revisiting the past.

We remain human beings and, thus, learning about our individual psychology and psychology in groups remains relevant though, perhaps, new things will need to be stressed as the requirements of our new, emerging world become more apparent.

Beyond this, the types of organizations and businesses will change as we deal with changes in the Anthropocene Era. The goals and values of these enterprises will be different. Their legal forms will be different to accommodate triple bottom line (economic, environmental, social) goals. Development will take precedence over growth; circular businesses and a circular economy will require changed approaches to production and consumption. Conservation will play a driving role. How we work together will likely change. We will be seeing the world in terms of ecosystems and networks and in other ways not yet imagined. Our fields of study in part will be different. For example, the field of Biomimicy will likely be far more important as we learn the value of replicating the organic processes of nature in our communities, enterprises and products.

It can be a very exciting though challenging time for those who choose to commit to playing a role in helping our global and local societies develop appropriately. For those who make this choice, opportunities for work may be abundant.

I like to think that in terms of Israel, the U.S., UK and other countries meeting this current challenge will enable them to fulfill their national destiny. All members of the United Nations Community can pursue the Sustainable Development Goals as a global destiny.

I believe we all will be remiss as educators and human beings if we do not acquaint young people with the challenges awaiting them. Ironically, it is many of the younger generation who are educating older people about these challenges. We have much to learn from each other.

I appreciate that this will not be easy as we all grapple with reactions of denial, resistance and anxiety. We have the responsibility to work with our students in developing organizational and societal solutions for the future and developing the skills that will be needed. There are many important conversations that can take place in an educational context. Our students hopefully will play an important role in the momentous societal and organizational changes of the future. They are called upon even now to help their respective societies embark upon these changes. I believe our responsibility is to help put in place the appropriate foundation to support them.

 

 


Toward A Story of Place

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Bioregionalism as a Story of Place

Bioregionalism is seen by a number of writers and practitioners in the field of sustainability as an important part of the solution to the current challenges facing our planet including Climate Change and injustice and inequity.

Bioregionalism is essentially a story of place - of how life anchored in a given place supports success, fulfillment and sustainability. It is the story of human beings living in harmony with the land and its various species.

A number of people such as the author Daniel Christian Wahl have offered definitions of bioregionalism which tend to revolve around the idea that a bioregion is a region defined by characteristics of the natural environment rather than by human-made divisions. These characteristics include: climate, soil, landforms, watershed, native plants and animals. They can include indigenous culture, local community knowledge, environmental history and geography. In a number of writings, Wahl provides these additional insights.

Bioregionalism is a comprehensive way of defining and understanding the place where we live with the aim to live in that place sustainably and respectfully - developing sustainable means to satisfy human needs - access to food water, energy, shelter, materials and education. It involves becoming fully alive in and with such a place.

Bioregionalism involves a sense of belonging to and having responsibility for a place - the region in which we live. It entails having an intimate knowledge of the natural cycles and ecological relationships that operate within it and a sensitivity to disturbances of the ecosystems in which we live. It constitutes a "terrain of consciousness" - about how to live in that place.

A sense of identity comes from our awareness of and knowledge of our immediate environment. This makes people assume responsibility for the place in which they live. This shared sense of belonging to a place strengthens and rebuilds communities. Human cultures develop in relation to the natural ecosystems in the site they inhabit.

The activities carried out in a bioregion are appropriate for maintaining the natural characteristics of the land. The region's economic activity and means of production are tailored to local materials and resources. Agriculture, manufacturing and construction industries need to be transformed to function within the limits of the carrying capacity of the bioregion.

A given bioregion can consist of many co-operating regional communities which are mutually dependent on each other for their existence. Though Bioregionalism acts locally, at the same time there is a connection to the planet by seeking to maintain an equitable, sustainable approach to the carrying capacity of the Earth's biosphere.

Epic Stories of Civilization

It has been said that the use of story is the main way that humans have made sense and communicated throughout their pre-literate and literate history. Many stories over history have been about place - about the communities, people, land and culture of place.

Among the most well-known stories in Western civilization are the Iliad and Odyssey - epic poems by Homer. It is now believed that these were originally recited by Homer in pre-literate times as oral stories (Eighth century, BCE) and then in a later period of history, they were written down.

In "The Formation of the Homeric Epics" by classics professor, Margalit Finkelberg, she discusses the unique role that these stories played in the creation of Greek civilization. She describes a period at the time of the fall of Mycenaean civilization when people were on the move throughout Asia Minor settling in what became the Greek city states. Though earlier epic poetry may have discussed the actual historical events causing the displacement of old populations and the aggregation of new populations, the Iliad and the Odyssey created a different explanatory story - a myth dealing with the ten year Trojan War and the siege of Troy.

In the Iliad, Greeks from many different places joined together in the common enterprise of the Trojan War to obtain the release of Helen, the wife of Menelaus, brother of Greek King Agamemnon held by the Trojans. Throughout the Odyssey, Greek hero Odysseus endeavors to return home from the Trojan War to his wife and son in Greece. These narrative epics gained privileged status in the hands of Homer and according to Professor Finkelberg in accord with the desires of the population to see themselves as one integrated society though initially made up of different languages, dialects and cultural histories.

According to Professor Finkelberg, "This resulted in the emergence of an image of the past shared by all the inhabitants of Iron Age Greece. Epic poetry became the main vehicle for spreading the new image all over the Greek world."

"In the hands of Homer, the story becomes about the establishment of usable ideological foundations for the present and the future. The Iliad and Odyssey provided Greek civilization with a new foundational myth that sustained its validity until the end of antiquity."

"The history of the Homeric poems is not just the history of a literary text but that of a literary text highly privileged in the civilization to which it belonged."

The Story of Earth

I have been wondering whether Earth has a story. Unlike the people in ancient Greece, we on this planet are not coming from many other places though certainly there are differences in language and culture among us. And, life on Earth is made up of many other species and other-than-human intelligences.

I wonder whether what we need at this point in our history on this planet is a story, an epic poem about life on this planet, just as each individual community or bioregion could have a story indigenous to that place.

What if we had a story that could help us to recognize our rich diversity among species along with a recognition of the commonality of life on this planet? A story that can move us to take greater responsibility for the welfare of each other within the human species and across species and within our planetary limits. A story that can motivate us to take action to respond to the Climate Crisis and the other challenges embodied in the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals. A story that can touch us on an individual level, in our communities, jobs, regions and as inhabitants on this planet.

The video at the end of this article may be the best we have as yet for an epic story of Earth.

Tell Your Story of the Land

Likely, few of us are epic poets though together we might be. However, we are all in a position to tell our story of the land and the communities who live on it. Each of us has our stories of living in place, in community, of hopefully beginning to live more sustainably.

Is there a bird near your house that you continuously notice? What color is it? What song does it sing? Does it have a mate, a nest, young ones chirping away? Are there cats in your neighborhood as in mine that have their daily habits? Do you interact with them, feed them? Do you concern yourself with their welfare?

Outside the town where I grew up in New Jersey, there were miles and miles of cornfields. I still remember the pleasant feeling of seeing them, of buying fresh corn from a farmer at a roadside stand.

I remember fondly the farmer's market in my town outside Boston and the joy of buying fresh vegetables and talking and eating ice cream with my neighbors. I recall the city sparrows who visited my back porch and listening to them chirp away in the early morning.

Where I now live in Haifa, Israel, when I get on a bus, I see secular Israelis in shorts, religious Jews in long black coats, Moslem women with headscarves and soldiers, school kids, elderly people. It is comforting to me to live in a city where all co-exist in our increasingly fragmented world.

So, tell your story. To your kids, parents, family members, friends, strangers. Ask them to tell theirs. Weave them together into your own little epic of life on the land, in community hopefully striving for some degree of harmony with all.

Video: An Epic Story of Earth.