On not knowing
Updated: Aug 28, 2021
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few” – Suzuki Roshi
The point of the Climate Courage Tour is to go and learn, and then to share that learning. It would be pretty pointless to ramble around the world seeking only confirmation of positions and ideas I already have.
Climate issues have become ridiculously polarized. Our media and political filters make it nearly impossible for many of us to really hear anything from anyone who seems to be on an opposing. This poisonous atmosphere kills creativity, context, compassion, and any chance of human connection. Then thought-policing within these gritty camps kicks in to discipline anyone who steps off the party line. Ugly. Boring. Stalemate.
A sharp pin to pierce these stifling bubbles is to talk with people outside your comfort zone. Many collaborative conservation efforts have brought entrenched combatants together when no one was satisfied with the stale status quo. The field courses I teach bring urban, progressive students out to meet rural conservatives to find islands of agreement in the rough seas of resource issues and contested landscapes. I have often seen the power of meeting people from different backgrounds and talking about hard issues, finding common causes that unite efforts.
These kinds of meetings confront our preconceived certainties with the wild complexity of the actual world. So often we think we KNOW what other groups think, or what result a government policy will have, or how an ecosystem or an economy will respond to a challenge - only to be blindsided by the confounding brilliance of people we had studiously ignored. We may not change our positions through this sort of talk, but we often can throw open windows to the fresh air of wider and more hopeful possibilities.
This brilliance of others may be in realms of policy or science, but equally valuable, it may be in deep knowledge of a landscape or a community or a local economy. With an open mind we can learn even from those who seem like complete whackadoodles at first sight.
I believe openness is wisdom here. On climate issues perhaps above all others, we quite simply do not know how much of the natural and human world will respond. The wide aperture of a beginner’s mind will allow us to bring in the breadth of intelligence and experience that we need to save the many worlds we love. There is no truly opposing side on this rapidly listing planet.
Here’s the voice of one student on her experiences outside her bubble on a field course in the Northern Rockies. She states my sense of the Climate Courage Tour goals perfectly:
I think there’s a trend today, one that may have always been present, to judge and ignore people before understanding where they’re coming from. …Looking into the future….I’ll be aware that not everything is what it seems. Everyone has a story, a past, and a culture. Recognizing and understanding these lenses may be the most important thing when solving any type of environmental problem. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to hear so many different sides of the story… - Polina Chizhov