I want to talk today about a different big picture than the last one that I talked about in episode 20 of Leadership and the Environment, my last solo episode. Today I want to look at the world of today from the future say we make it through what looks like to me a mess. Today we live in a world with lots of systems that were created from beliefs that the earth was really, really big, effectively, infinitely big compared to the size of a human that if we just waited the pollution would go away, that we could always move into new territory and find more resources and the waste products didn’t really matter. Data has shown that that’s not the case anymore. We know now that we as humans are affecting the world on a planetary scale. You know the evidence – acidification of the ocean, rising carbon dioxide levels, extinctions. I don’t have to tell you all of that.
These systems are driving us to undesired outcomes. We didn’t set up those systems. We were born into them. They’re only a problem if we sleepwalk into their results, if we don’t do anything about it. The way I see it we’re down by a lot at half time but the other team, it’s not another team that is conspiring to beat us. Nature is very predictable. We know what will happen if we litter less, there’ll be less pollution, if we produce less plastic, there will be less polluted plastic. The problems are that if we get depressed or lethargic or complacent or other emotions that discourage acting but we don’t like those emotions anyway. This is an opportunity to avoid them.
So the deal is that we have to change. Given the world we live in that’s good news because we’re messing up nature. We don’t have to change what we do like to change what we don’t like. This is not to mention, in my country the United States opiates, gun violence, overwhelming use of antidepressant medicines, replacing grass with concrete and AstroTurf for kids. These are some things we probably want to change. Now a lot of people look to the big institutions for leadership but big institutions are the ones most steeped in the old systems and they will change last – government, stock markets, institutions making money from fossil fuels, from inequality, from ignorance and other causes of environmental degradation. Waiting for laws to pass or companies to reform is putting the cart before the horse. For people today, the challenge is to lead change. That means acting first, not waiting for governments and corporations that are never going to take the first step without people acting first. Yes, that’s hard, if you look to the past and live in the principles that are leading us into this problem but also if you do get the future that is if you adopt the beliefs of the future. And what are the beliefs and values of the future? Instead of growth at any cost to enjoy what you have. You can’t have everything, you can’t visit every place on the world. At some point you have to say, “I enjoy what I have. I like the community around me.” instead of “You can’t tell me what to do. I earned it, I can do what I want.” It’s to consider what’s coming out the back end of your car. What happens to the plastic bottle when I’m done with it? What happens in a factory farm? There’s countless ways in today’s world where we’re shielded from the effects of our actions that affect others. It’s empathy and compassion. And considering how what I do affects other people even if the law doesn’t force me to account for these externalities to think of it anyway.
And then once you decide to act on these things instead of deprivation sacrifice to be what we think about when considering other people and what we do to see that these things improve our lives. In my case more delicious, more community, lower cost, people on my podcast saying, “I wish I’d done this earlier. Now that I’ve done it I want to do more.” And there are plenty of past experiences where people have led change before. Some simple examples I think of. When I was a kid growing up it was cool to smoke. Somebody who was the first cool person to deliberately choose to stop smoking. Don’t you wish that if you were back then you were one of those people? Aren’t you glad that someone did that? Don’t you wish that if you were back then you’re one of the people to stop smoking first? Aren’t you glad for your children today that some cool people back then stopped smoking?
When I was a kid drinking and driving wasn’t that big of a deal. Someone was the first to say, “Let’s get a designated driver.” That person won’t be partying with us but everyone will have more fun as a result and the next time someone else will be the designated driver. Aren’t you glad that someone took the step to be the designated driver? Aren’t you glad that that caught on? Don’t you wish if you were back then that you were part of the group, of the crowd that got drinking and driving off the table? That is not cool anymore. That it’s you can party better with someone being responsible.
When I was a kid growing up wearing a seatbelt was kind of optional and there might have been a law but most people didn’t do it. Aren’t you glad that someone decided to start wearing seatbelts? Aren’t you glad that someone back then started making it normal? Yes. It’s the law but it wasn’t popular. Now it’s standard. You don’t think of putting on a seatbelt.
When Rosa Parks chose to not move to the back of the bus she broke the law. Aren’t you glad that she did? She was going up against the overwhelming systems of the time? Freedom riders, people who chose to sit next to each other despite having different skin colors. They followed suit. People sat next to each other on lunch counters and so on and so on. It became a mass movement. Everyone who went to jail for nonviolent civil disobedience whether in India, South Africa, the United States, they were breaking the law, they were going against systems that were unfair. They were going for equality, justice, fairness. Aren’t you glad that they did?
Henry David Thoreau knew where his tax money was going. It was supporting slavery, it was supporting a war he found unconscionable and he realized that for himself the place for just men in an unjust society was in jail and he went there in good conscience and was happier there than not there. Yes, he gave up some freedom but in the long run created more freedom, created a movement that lots of people took back today and they’re glad that he did that. Don’t you wish that other people had done that more? This is the time before the Civil War. Don’t you wish that there had been more of that?
But what we’re talking about with the environment is not a go-to-jail thing. We’re talking about living by your values. In my case what became more delicious, saving money, more community. And what about your values? I don’t know. Ask yourself what are your values. Do you not like mercury in your fish? Where does mercury come from? Power plants. Do you have the air conditioner on so high in the summer that you’re wearing sweaters? Do you have the heat on so strong in the winter that you’re wearing shorts in the middle of the winter? Do you not like extinctions? How’s that happening? Overpopulation. Is there something you can do about that? Do not like wars over resources? Are you using more resources than you need to? Is there something you can do to reduce that consumption?
These are the questions for you to ask yourself and sadly there’s no shortage of them. Look around, there plenty of places where your values are not consistent with your behavior and what’s going on in the world around you. And when you do you’ll find out more about yourself and you’ll live by your values. Just like I keep talking about me living by mine. You’ll be glad that you did.
Speaking of slavery, at some point people were freeing slaves long before the federal or any state governments changed the laws to make it illegal. That’s why they changed the laws because people started doing it first, not waiting for the government to make it happen. Don’t you wish more people had done that earlier? No government is going to change systems so entrenched without people overwhelmingly acting against that system and making a change. Aren’t you glad that someone did that? Don’t you wish that if you were back at that time that you were on the leading edge of living by the values of the future, not of the past?
We are the underdogs going into a title fight. We like the underdog. We want to come from behind to win. Think of the perspective of future generations looking back. Wouldn’t you have wanted to have helped with the Boston Tea Party? Don’t you wish you were there to have brought freedom a little sooner than it would have been otherwise? If you were in Montgomery, wouldn’t you rather have not gotten on the bus? Yes, you’d have to walk in 90-degree weather. But what do you get for that trouble? What do you want? Really, what do you want? Do you want a beautiful earth? If you’re listening to the Leadership and the Environment podcast, you probably do. You’ve probably listened to people on my show saying, “This is what I care about” and then finding something to do about it. And then when they look back either it was easy and they wish they’d done it earlier or it was challenging but the challenge was worth it and they’re glad that they did it and they thank me for getting them started and they want to do more. This is your chance to do today with the environment what they did back then – walked in the heat during a boycott for a year. They didn’t go to the back of the bus. People became designated drivers when their friends were partying. People didn’t smoke when they could have. It probably wasn’t easy then but it seems like the obvious choices today. That’s how it feels when you adopt future values.
It’s not sacrifice if you care. And that’s what this podcast is about – taking action based on what you care about. Pick your hero or role model. How did they get to be someone that you looked at as a hero or a role model? I bet that they worked at it. I bet that they sacrificed but they didn’t feel like it was a sacrifice. I bet they look back and they’re glad that they took on the challenge even though they didn’t have to. This is your chance. You didn’t set up the systems that you were born into but that’s where we are. If we keep sleepwalking along with the systems as they are, you know what’s going to happen. You’ve read the news. If you act against it, yes, you’ll be like walking in the heat in Montgomery. But what will you get for it? What did your role models and what did your heroes get for it? Did they like their lives more afterward? Will you like your life more afterward?
Think about what you care about with the environment. Reflect on it just like I asked people on the show “What do you care about?” But don’t spend too long before asking yourself “What can I do to act on it?” You may have to do some research. You can go online and do that but then find a way to act on it. However small but keeping in mind, expect to enjoy it. You may face challenges, no, you will face challenges but expect to get something out of it just like your heroes and role models did and then expect to do something bigger the next time. You can’t get to the big things without doing the small things if that’s what’s on your mind. But do the small things. Use that to get to the bigger things and the bigger things and the bigger things. And then let’s win this second half. Let’s make a world where future generations look back at what you did what made your life more delicious, more joyful, more fun, more community, that they look back and say, “Thank you for making that change first, for you helping to lead government, companies, corporations and all these other things to live by our values and not sleepwalk into this.” Let’s make this happen.
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