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Maximizing our collective impact (or… the cost of being exclusionary)

January 28 2010 | Culture Shifting, Jim's Blog,
by Jim

The environmental movement appears to be made up of people that are "in" and others that are "out."

Those that are in are the ones driving the eco-car du-jour, biking to the market, not using plastic water bottles, blogging about sustainability, etc. These are the participants in the environmental movement because they are engaged. They are the only ones that matter.

Everyone else is something far less... maybe just spectators. They are out.

Sure this makes things easy, but life is not that simple.

When we force things into clean, little binary categories we win a small battle, but lose the war. The "with us or against us" mindset is short-sighted and alienating and it makes it more difficult to move the larger culture toward environmentally oriented lifestyles.

Once we spend the time to understand something... anything... we quickly start to see the nuances. This came to me years ago as I found myself talking to people about a musical genre and they would essentially shut down.

If they were into Lemmy from Motorhead (metal), they'd completely dismiss Patsy Cline (country). If they loved the Yeah Yeah Yeahs (power pop), they'd dismiss Fela (Nigerian). They'd dismiss the entire dialog with a phrase we've all heard before... something like "all _____ sounds the same" (with the blank representing a genre of music).

That phrase began to sound like ignorance to me.

Once I drilled down it became quite clear that they were really saying, "I've never spent the time to really listen to ________." If they HAD spent some time they'd have found out that not all country sounds the same, not all metal sounds the same, not all punk sounds the same, not all opera sounds the same, not all jungle sounds the same, not all reggaeton sounds the same, etc.

No entire category of music sounds the same.

Life isn't that easy to classify into one bucket or another. When we're binary, we miss all the meaningful detail.

When we rush to judgment, oversimplify and force people/groups into one bucket or another we miss the real value. We kill the larger opportunity.

When we come together around an issue it's important that we don't discount the process itself. We need to give each group the time they deserve to make their case and the time to listen to others making alternate cases. It's important to give the various parties respect (give respect, get respect).

I think about these things because from time to time I see the exact opposite and I see how it hurts our movement.

I see the "binary world", the "us and them" world as being a divisive, fighting world. If we, as people, engage with an entity that shows us no respect, fights with us and/or humiliates us... then we will forever brand them as unreasonable and self-centered. We won't want to partner with them. The truth is no one will want to partner with them.

The alternative is the process that includes dialog, allows differences to be heard and shows mutual respect. This way parties may agree on holistic needs but they are allowed to disagree on smaller sub-issues or tactics. This alternative approach is one that seeks common ground in other areas thereby enabling parties that disagree on one issue to work well together on another, future issue. This alternative approach is not about compromising on principles but about finding the time and place to air disagreements. Is it possible that two parties can't come together on an issue? Of course. My point is more about "how" that conclusion is reached not "what" the conclusion is. It's about respect. This is the way we all want to be treated. This is how we win the war and not just a few battles.

An inclusive process yields much larger successes as it enables future alignment, future partnerships, future pressure to shift the larger culture toward embracing environmental principles.

Next time we feel the urge to slam an opponent into a tiny bucket and dismiss their future potential value, let's remember this is about something larger than a single, tactical battle... it's about changing the world... the whole world.
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