Becoming environmentally conscious and concerned has been fraught with unavoidable, and for some unseen, challenges. To support those who valiantly choose to face these challenges, the event, “Leading with the Heart,” was hosted by UC Irvine’s very own Environment Institute on April 5th and 6th, inviting eco-conscious individuals from across the local community and the world to convene about the state of their world and their sustainably-focused lives. Essentially a sustainability workshop, “Leading with the Heart” sought to arm the ecologically educated with the tools to create real, tangible change. Intriguingly, what these individuals would truly appreciate over the course of the workshop would be that they are part of an overarching community of support as well.
The event featured guest speaker and trainer, Sue Lennox, a leader of environmental activism in India, Papua New Guinea, East Timor, Pakistan, and her native Australia through her organization, OzGREEN, co-founded in 1992 with her husband Colin in order to foster community connectivity and resilience in areas on a global scale. Her actions have led to her being named one of Sydney’s 100 Most Influential People in 2007 by Sydney Magazine, as well as being appointed to the Centre for Social Impact Advisory Council. The workshop also became a stage to unveil her latest endeavor, YOUth LEADing the World, an initiative to train young, local people all across the world to become prepared, sustainability leaders. With this global transformation of youth, the initiative aims to vastly increase climate issue knowledge, increase confidence and connectivity between leaders, and reduce our collective ecological footprint on the planet by 30-75% in 12 months.
To begin the workshop, Lennox asked those who came to express their greatest worldly hopes and concerns. While their concerns were distinctly varied, the diverse group of participants voiced the general consensus of those who value the Earth and its precious resources. They were tired of purposeful ignorance, they were saddened by active resistance, and they were worried that we as humans will be too late to react. In short, the group struggled to cope with the sluggish progress to avoid an ill-fated future, and the resulting miasma of uncertainty that it has created. In response to this consensus, Lennox explained that this uncertainty is actually a blessing in disguise. Alternatively, this uncertainty is a creative space for ideas to grow forth.
And so ideas did begin to grow. But before they did, Lennox first equipped participants with what she called a “sustainability toolkit,” which included physical, mental, and spiritual resources to harness and draw strength from. The first of these tools was wisdom, bestowed through a detailed look of both negative and positive forces in the field of sustainability. Other tools given to attendees included a one planet plan, and a prerequisite ecological footprint questionnaire. Attendees were quick into the questionnaire to realize that they have all over-staked their claim on the Earth, whether it be taking long showers, having a meat-heavy diet, or traveling often through gas-propelled vehicles.
Another major tool of sustainability given to attendees was the process of strategic questioning, a practice passed down to Lennox from one of her many mentors, Fran Peavey. Strategic questioning is described by Lennox, in its simplest sense, as fully listening. She explained that we humans tend to partially listen to each other in most conversations and interactions, while also attending to other things on our minds, including what we are going to say next. Strategic questioning, on the other hand, requires fully-focused listening. Through this aural concentration, the questioner needs to focus, envision, change, and cause action in the one being questioned. The specific structure of strategic questioning also ensure that attention is always on the person being questioned. It is a space for him or her to plan to solve his or her own problem.
The most powerful and longterm tool, however, was a dominant sense of community, camaraderie, and solidarity. A greater part of the workshop was made up of trust and team-building activities that slowly but surely established an untapped source of resilience not previously realized by many. Some activities taught additional strategic lessons, but the emotionally and spiritually climatic point of the workshop was a heart circle, a long-practiced tradition for Lennox in her work repairing communities. After an allotted time for personal meditation, Lennox called the group together to sit amongst the outdoor grass and dirt, along with four items placed within the circle’s center. The four items were introduced to represent various emotions individuals may feel in the context of their sustainably-focused lives. In clockwise succession, the overall weight of malaise that was held within each attendee was expelled out into the air. And while most confessed their most dreaded insecurities, they reciprocally embraced their most tangible goals as well.
Over the course of the two-day session, individuals continued to grasp these goals more and more confidently through their use of strategic questioning techniques. Before concluding the workshop, many participants expressed a renewed sense of optimism and support in their fields of work. Participant Lev Anderson stated, “I’m honored to be here in this moment of time, an unprecedented time, where we can make some real, monumental change for ourselves,” while others said they felt like a small little army and only wished a thousand, or a million more people were there with them.
The group also made strong commitments to their continued networking, swapping email addresses and creating a Facebook group to keep in touch with each other’s future activities. It is this type of lasting bond that Lennox hopes to replicate on a global scale with her YOUth LEADing the World initiative. Perhaps if we all listen wholeheartedly, we will finally all hear the pulse of our planet.
To further increase connectivity, below are links to OzGREEN and UCI’s Environment Institute, both entirely making the event possible, along with other related items announced at the event:
Environment Institute: http://environment.uci.edu/
Organizing Cools the Planet: http://organizingcoolstheplanet.wordpress.com/
The Ecology Center: http://www.theecologycenter.org/
The Pollination Project: http://thepollinationproject.org/
Japan America Society of Southern California: http://www.jas-socal.org/Default.aspx?pageId=849230&eventId=664828&EventViewMode=EventDetails
New Toll Road and San Onofre State Park: http://www.sandiegoreader.com/news/2013/apr/26/stringers-trestles-toll-road-plan-revived/