An origin story

Storytelling graphicThis one is about me, and some of how I got my powers… ;)  It involves ancient history, a conversion experience of sorts, the United Nations, a soapbox and an unfortunate metaphor.

At university in the late 1980s I went to some sort of fayre and picked up a series of Friends of the Earth leaflets about a range of environmental issues. Maybe reading them back to back was unwise… I think that reached through my connection with plants and animals and switched on my social conscience. It got me involved in local “green” activities, mainly with the local Friends of the Earth group, including putting the newsletter together.

A little later the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit came along. I was the coordinator for a major local conference tied to that, working with a cross-sectoral steering group – it’s still one of the things I’m most proud of. Afterwards I was involved in the Local Agenda 21 processes that came out of it, with councils taking the lead in bringing the community together.

To me the model of “sustainable development” just made sense. Of course we valued people and the world around us, so of course we would look at the problems we face, work out solutions and put them into practice. Rework how we do things, and be in much better shape going into the future – with a society that works better and is better for us.

Of course, it didn’t happen. A lot of people put a lot of effort in over several years, and achieved valuable subtle changes like greater public participation in local decision-making and councils feeling closer to (and more responsible to) their communities. But national politicians proved particularly resistant to shifting their worldviews and taking up boldness and responsibility.

This I found quite frustrating. Although at the time I didn’t have the perspective I have now, it made me more interested in the psychology of it all. What goes on in people’s heads that stops them receiving and acting on messages? How can we make it more likely that they will? These days we understand influence better, and know that an appeal to rational problem-solving will only move a few people: most require a process of emotional engagement and attitude shifting.

Twenty years on, there has been incremental progress but we’re facing the big picture crises that we didn’t head off. Things are being uncovered; things are coming to heads. The cracked economy broke. The altered climate is delivering new weather patterns. The people running governments don’t have the answers, so they’re trying to close things down and enforce old models of control and privilege – when what we need to save us is vision and inspiration, wherever in our people we can find it.

That’s a big part of why I’m doing this now. The vision of what humanity can achieve, at its best, needs a bit of a rescue from the tides of bullshit lapping around our ankles. Let’s shout smarter.

 

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