(Formerly Leadership and the Environment)
Community, support, vision, stories, role Models, experience.
Leadership turns feeling alone and complacent into action.
We bring leaders to the environment to share what works. Less facts, figures, and gloom. More stories, reflection, self-awareness, connection, support, and community.
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747: Go Alan Go!, part 1: The drummer rocking Washington Square Park
Regular listeners and blog readers know I talk about litter and how much we wreck nature, especially my neighborhood's back yard, Washington Square Park. Click the links below to see some of the worst litter you've seen, in a supposedly nice part of town.
Today the opposite: someone who brings joy, fun, creativity, music, and dancing to the park. Alan began playing drums in the park three years ago and he rocks the place. Click to watch this video of him in action, though when he plays different music, he creates different vibes, so the video shows only a tiny slice of that magic.
You wouldn't believe how much effort he needs to perform each time he plays. You also wouldn't believe how good playing makes him feel, and everyone else there too.
If I report the awful, I'll report the awesome. Feel inspired to bring value to your community, even if it isn't designed for profit, though you should donate to his funds since he's a street performer and can use your support (I'll post a link when I get it from him). If you have to work as much as him, you'll love it all the more!
Photos and videos of the park when flooded with litter---the opposite of what Alan brings. Be prepared to cry.
I'm searching for role models including people who changed cultures and undid dominance hierarchies, particularly people who came from status. I can think of many who came from subjugated classes, but not many who could have declined to engage, but did instead.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer is one. I could share more about him, but my guest today, Martin Doblmeier, made a wonderful documentary about him available online free. It's worth it to watch the documentary before listening to this episode if you don't know much about Bonhoeffer.
Martin had more insight into Bonhoeffer than many. He met many people who knew him, and he featured them in the documentary. As you'll see, the documentary is thoughtful and considerate, which told me Martin must have thought deeply about what motivated Bonhoeffer. He shared about these things in the conversation. We also connected it all to sustainability leadership.
I have spoken and written at length how I see our relationship with polluting behavior as qualifying as addiction, a view that I think helps frame the challenge of sustainability. Overcoming addiction is harder than creating new technologies or taxing things. It takes powerful internal social and emotional skills. Just acknowledging one is addicted and harming others is a big hurdle, let alone acting on it.
Not seeing the huge challenges of taking on one's addiction and trying to overcome it, facing withdrawal and so on leaves us not doing the hard work and using effective tools like listening, role models, compassion, and so on. Now multiply the number of people addicted by billions. If billions of people are addicted to flying, container ship-delivered goods, air conditioning, and so on, we better start soon.
Mattan and I talk about how well addiction describes the challenges of changing culture toward sustainability. He's an experienced professional in the field, but not a licensed or trained professional, though licensing and training aren't necessarily as educational as time spent with people overcoming addiction.
Listen for yourself, but I heard him see the comparison as valid. I'm also asking him since this addiction model of polluting and depleting appears in my upcoming book.
Regular listeners and readers of my blog will know my sustainability leadership workshops and one of the participants of the first, Evelyn (she's in the video on that link). After being the teaching assistant for a couple cohorts, she is leading this winter's session.
Often when I talked to her about leadership, she would comment, "We do that in social work too, but we call it" . . . and she'd mention a practice she was learning while getting her Masters in Social Work at Howard University. I'd heard of social work, but didn't know what people in the field did.
She put me in touch with one of her professors, Stephen. We had a great conversation talking about the overlap between leadership and social work, which led me to invite him on the podcast. Here he speaks about
Doing the Spodek Method, he picked up on it and took great interest, as I read, seeing its practicality in and applicability in social work.
Regular listeners know how I look for role models in similar situations to ours regarding the environment. We know our polluting and depleting are bringing us toward collapse, but instead of acting, we procrastinate on acting. We rationalize and justify our inaction. We abdicate our responsibility, capitulate, and resign to complacency and complicity.
Humans behaved this way in the face of slavery, especially during and after the Atlantic Slave Trade, which led me to bring several guests who were experts on that period and people who acted against it.
Humans behaved this way in the face of fascism too. I'm not comparing people today to Nazis, but to Germans who may not have been Nazis, and may even have opposed them, but continued paying taxes, supporting them, and not opposing them. This episode brings my first subject-matter expert in the field of the rise of the Nazis. I've written and brought guests on who knew some people like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Sousa Mendez, Raoul Wallenberg, and Oskar Schindler, but I haven't learned about the politics and conditions that led to Hitler's rise.
Benjamin Carter Hett's book The Death of Democracy recounts that rise, to critical praise (of the book, not Hitler's rise), including new historical information.
How could people watch it happen and not stop it?
What can we learn from them to stop ourselves from procrastinating and watching it happen?
What options do we have? What options can we create?
If John's specialty in deep history weren't valuable enough to understand how our culture's dominance hierarchy formed from the material conditions of the dawn of agriculture, he also specializes in American history, including slavery from before the Revolutionary War through to the Thirteenth Amendment.
We start with his sharing what drew him to the two fields. Then I introduce what led me to want to learn from him. I share a main thesis of my book, starting with the journey that led me to see how today's industry and technology evolved from slavery. To clarify, I understand that machines and industry didn't help end slavery, but sustained the system, including its cruelty, just changing the mechanism.
As I heard, my thesis is essentially accurate. He shared more history of how slavery evolved from before the Atlantic Slave Trade, through North American chattel slavery, how the framers of the Constitution handled it (or sold out on it), how it evolved with cotton, and more.
If you are interested in how our culture still practices the cruelty that slavery did, though with more people suffering and dying, listen to this episode. Then read my book when it comes out to see how to channel the motivation to change that system to effective action.
You'll hear Tony's story of rolling up his sleeves and doing some hard labor. You'll also hear the labor being just the start of the reward. He shares about the less tangible but not lesser results in community, emotional reward, enthusiasm to do more.
Given his leadership role and experience, we talk about the Spodek Method. I took the liberty of pulling some what he said and formatting it. Listen to the conversation for context for the full meaning, but here's some:
You opened some doors. The idea [to act] was there but I'd come up with excuses for why I couldn't engage now. If [I'm] honest I'll be a whole lot more effective right now . . . than I might be in fifteen years time. It makes a huge amount of sense to do right now so I thank you . . .because I don't know if I would have acted on it. Now that I've committed to it, I will.
Very few have done what you've done: changing diet . . . stopping air travel. . .
[Those] not doing it:
Don't recognize what it takes
Don't recognize the benefits of it, and
Can't credibly convince others.
There's no better way than trying it yourself. You can then speak with authority and awareness, as opposed to just saying oh we should do this but not really intending to.
Sometimes [we] require some form of awakening that . . . gives intrinsic motivation to do something, something different . . . through that action of doing something differently, you can build momentum.
The Spodek Method is one of those tools to enable that awakening.
I was reading Harper's magazine and Christopher's story was on the cover: Inside the mind of an “ecoterrorist”! It begins
In the summer of 2016, a fifty-seven-year-old Texan named Stephen McRae drove east out of the rainforests of Oregon and into the vast expanse of the Great Basin. His plan was to commit sabotage. First up was a coal-burning power plant near Carlin, Nevada, a 242-megawatt facility owned by the Newmont Corporation that existed to service two nearby gold mines, also owned by Newmont.
McRae hated coal-burning power plants with a passion, but even more he hated gold mines. Gold represented most everything frivolous, wanton, and destructive. Love of gold was for McRae a form of civilizational degeneracy, because of the pollution associated with it, the catastrophic disruption of soil, the poisoning of water and air, and because it set people against one another.
Gold mines needed to die, McRae told me years later, around a campfire in the wilderness, when he felt that he could finally share his story. “And the power plant too. I wanted it all to go down. But it was only that summer I got up the balls to finally do it.”
We talked about his doing the story, speaking with McRae, developing a relationship with him that involved his girlfriend and other people he knew. What's it like to hear your voice in an FBI file? Also, the media's and public's taste for such stories.
Whatever your views on how to respond, if you understand or support people like McRae or consider them counterproductive (he knows he's a criminal), you'll rarely find such inside relationships with such remarkable people elsewhere.
Greenhouse gas and ocean plastic levels don't rise on their own. The cause of our environmental problems is our behavior, which results from our culture. The world's dominant culture pollutes, depletes, addicts, and imperially takes over other cultures. Yet each person wants clean air, land, water, and food.
How did humans create a culture that manifests the opposite of many of their values? Why do most people defend that culture, resist changing it, and promote it, even when faced with evidence that it's sickening them, isolating them, killing them, and risking killing billions more within our lifetimes? If we can't answer these questions, we'll have a hard time changing our culture and therefore the disasters we're sleepwalking into.
I've been trying to answer them. Learning about our ancestral past for 250,000 years before agriculture, why and how agriculture started, and what changes agriculture prompted tells us. John Brooke's book, Climate Change and the Course of Global History: A Rough Journey, starts to answer these questions. It's a book of deep history and environmental history---that is, going back hundreds of thousands and even millions of years, treating how environmental changes influenced human behavior.
John and I talk about the field of deep history, how we learn the incredible detailed and fascinating histories of how environments changed and people reacted over many time scales. I would find the scholarship fascinating on its own, and all the more because it's relevant to our environmental situation today. Changes that started twelve thousand years ago started patterns that persist today. In fact, some of them are the dominant factors in how we interact with the environment, in particular how dominance hierarchies formed, what patterns they set into our culture, and how they persist.
I hadn't heard of this field before his book. If you hadn't either, you'll love it.
(He also studies American history including slavery and abolitionism, another relevant part of history. We'll cover them in our next conversation.)