095: How Would-be Leaders Are Moving Us Backward (transcript)

October 10, 2018 by Dani Mihaleva
in Podcast

Joshua Spodek headshot

I want to differentiate between telling people facts and what to do or what they should do, on the one side, and leading them, on the other side. I see a lot of people telling others what to do, not a lot of people leading. Martin Luther King led people to choose and want to go to jail to create freedom. That’s leadership. He had no authority over them. He didn’t convince them to do it. He didn’t change their values. He gave them a way to achieve their goals of equality and justice. Well, we’ve moved along that path, we haven’t achieved it but he led them. While he also went to jail, I’m talking about more than just leading by example. Even without going to jail King led people. Eisenhower led D-day though he didn’t fight in it. And in neither case of King, nor Eisenhower did they just tell people what to do or just model what to do. I’m talking about connecting with people’s values, what they care about and motivating people by their motivations, by those values, by what they care about, leading them to a better life, not just compliance. Almost nobody is leading like that today. As a result, nobody’s being led. And we, at least, in the United States and most of the world that’s polluting the most are keeping doing what created the problem choosing not to act productively. Of course, many people are acting productively but it seems to me that they would have anyway. They weren’t led. They were just doing what they would have done anyway. The overwhelming majority of people will not budge from comfort and convenience without leadership.

Here’s what passes for leadership but it’s not. In An Inconvenient Sequel, Al Gore brokers a last minute deal between India and a company called Solar City that helps the Paris Agreement pass. In the process he appears at least to me to burn through more fossil fuels than the Paris Agreement allows for one person in a year. Many people would say, “Yes, that greenhouse gas emissions are a problem but, in this case, it was OK because it was necessary for this result.” Now for him to say that might sound self-serving but others say it supporting him, so superficially at least it seems not a selfish argument. The problem is that nobody wakes up in the morning, opens up a barrel of gasoline and just pours it into a river that is nobody just pollutes for the sake of just polluting. Pollution unintentionally and regrettably results from people doing things that they value and things that they think improve the world and they think that improving the world is more than the regrettable part that worsens it. Now I’m not saying that Al Gore’s doing something wrong, nor the other people who are behaving in that way. I’m not criticizing him. I agree with and I support him. I’m pointing out the gap I see missing. I guess I’m also saying what I’m trying to fill in because I consider this gap that’s unfilled… I consider filling it essential and also what would make a lot of this work a lot more rewarding.

In any case, back to Gore. When he presents his behavior as justifiable, then whatever facts suggestions, instructions and so on that he suggests others act on or follow his behavior says, “If your behavior does enough that you consider good, you can justify polluting.” And that’s the thing. Everybody already does that. Everybody here would ever hope to watch that movie knows pollution and greenhouse emissions are problems. They all know they pollute well more than they have to which they all justify as he did. His behavior shows that he supports continuing that pattern of saying, “Yeah, I probably shouldn’t do this but in this case it’s worth it because of the good that it does.” And that’s what got us here in the place where we want to reverse all these things. So I would say he’s leading people but contrary to his instruction and an instruction is not leading them. I agree with his message but point out that his words, charts and graphs they are not leadership. They are perhaps management and education but management and education don’t necessarily lead people. They don’t necessarily lead to people changing their behavior and wanting to change their behavior so that even when you’re not around, they keep doing it. His actual leadership that is following what he does and leads people to do is enabling people to justify doing what they always did to keep the status quo. For others to justify it for him it’s only self-serving for them. They justify his behavior to justify their own. They know what they’re doing. They know that they say the same things to themselves, “I’m doing this thing this time that doesn’t look like it’s worth it but actually it isn’t. That’s why it’s okay.” That’s what they’re justifying. They are saying it’s OK for him because they know that they want to say it for themselves.

Nearly every so-called leader in the environmental area is doing the same. They all open themselves in this process to accusations of hypocrisy from people, let’s say, fossil fuel producers who can now say, “Look, he or she, they’re doing exactly what we are. Without oil we could never have a modern world. Just as he can justify his pollution so can we. You wouldn’t have modernity without us. Do you want to go back to living in caves?” They can say, “Look how comfortable he is. Look how much he gets to travel.“ Sure, he’s doing it for work but so are you. Or you’re doing it for your kids or for cultural reasons. Why should his reason trump yours when it doesn’t even trump his own? We live in a world of people saying, “We should all change. Only there’s one thing I’m doing now. However bad it looks, it’s justifiable.” Why shouldn’t it hold for driving an SUV to pick up your kid from soccer practice? Or a smaller car isn’t safe in an accident? “Global warming is a problem but not worth risking my child’s life on this particular trip for.” And that justification works for every act that’s created the conditions we’re trying to reverse.

I can say you have to look at people’s behavior to lead you to see this point but everyone acts on the behavior they see consciously or not which is why the movie hasn’t led to widespread behavioral or cultural change principally around voting patterns as evidenced by who’s in the White House. People see Al Gore keep flying, they keep SUVs and Trump ends up representing America’s behavior as distinct from the intense that they state because the fraction of American adults living below the IPC recommendations is a rounding error. Virtually, every American is polluting more than the IPCC recommends and that’s just on global warming, to say nothing of other types of pollution. I see almost nobody leading. Again, I support science, education, innovation, legislation when it comes about through democratic processes but they don’t lead people who weren’t already going to act.

The main people I can think of are Yvon Chouinard, Patagonia’s founder and a few people like Bill Johnson who’s been on this podcast and [unintelligible] who I am emailing with but there’s not many others challenging themselves or others to act on their values even when they’re hard. Meanwhile, Gore, DiCaprio and nearly everyone else, they are leading people to keep doing what they were already doing regardless of what they say. That’s why I focus on this podcast on exposing people’s values, having people share what they care about and inviting them to act on those values, inviting them to act on what they care about. I find it an effective leadership technique, it’s in my book, that helps people do what they want to do even when it’s hard especially when it’s hard with the expectation that they will like the results which is what King did. It’s why beyond avoiding flying I’m sharing how awesome not flying can be that it helped me discover the values of community and creating adventure, creating discovery, finding more culture and so on. I love sailing and meeting people in my community. I never would have enjoyed had I not chosen to live by my values even when that meant not flying, even when it was hard.

It’s not that I value not flying it’s that I value living by what I care about. And I know that if you look at what you care about and you take on the challenges, yes, it’s going to be hard but when you get on the other side of it, you’re going to be glad that you did it. And it’s not just flying. It’s why I share all these things that I do about living by my values, why I share how delicious fresh fruits and vegetables are, how I’m saving money and time by eating them, how incredible it feels to have six pack abs even when I’m eating every meal to feeling completely full, even stuffed. I’m more satisfied than I’ve ever been from eating and I got six pack abs. By mainstream American standards, this should not be possible but that’s why I’m trying to change mainstream American standards. I’m trying to change culture from seeing acting on your values as deprivation, sacrifice, indulgence or something like that and change into “It improves your life”. That’s why a couple of episodes ago I suggested a way to win elections was to clean up where you live so it’s spotless, then clean everywhere else and clean up what you eat too and live by your values. Live in a spotless place because everybody values living in a clean world, clean air, clean water and clean land. A better life is available by exiting the system that people confuse with the only way of doing things. It’s not the only way of doing things. It’s just one system. And if you get out of it, when you get out of it you’ll look back and you say, “I can’t believe I was living that way.” I hope that you’ll join me and bring Gore and DiCaprio and everyone who isn’t there to join us. Then they can lead without others being able to say that their behavior justifies keeping the same. And I put to you that we will all find that life more rewarding, the world more clean, more pure, more pristine, a better place to live by your standards.

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