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Selling Hope Instead of Fear: Redefining Activism

January 23, 2009

Christiana Wyly
Huffington Post - New York
January 21, 2009
On January 17th, I found myself on the stage at the Green Inaugural Ball in Washington D.C. presenting a short talk I titled: Selling Hope instead of Fear: 
Redefining Activism.
I believe that the environmental advocacy community can learn much from Obama's example of achieving the impossible, held afloat by the buoyancy of hope. We heard this message emphasized in Obama's Inaugural Address. Below is the body of my talk:
Things are definitely looking good. With our new leadership, for the first time in a long time, we live in a nation alive and energized with hope. Hope has become tangible. Hope has a face and a name. And we can feel it under our skin every morning when we rise to the take on the task of the day.
We, as environmental advocates, are here to celebrate today. We have already achieved the seemingly impossible feat of recruiting millions worldwide to our cause. We've taken "Green" from tie-dye and granola, to Hollywood and Wall Street.
On this momentous occasion I want to celebrate all of us, for our tireless commitment to making this world a better place and to rejoice in our achievements!
We've raised awareness on a wide range of issues, from reducing carbon emissions to recycling our resources, to protecting our children and wildlife.
In the world of business, we have overcome the granola myth through proving that sustainable companies deliver superior returns in the long run. At Satori Capital, where I am a Venture Partner, we believe there are no trade offs when it comes to sustainable behavior and profitability.
Through all of our valiant efforts thus far, we have brought an awareness of climate change to Washington. 

But now I also think we are at a crossroads. If were going to take this all the way, and get the support for the policies we need to make the big shifts, we need to rethink our collective approach.
Part of our approach has relied upon instilling fear in others -- using what amounts to scare tactics to provoke changes in behavior. The problem with this approach is that it causes many to shut down and react instead of motivating them to give support. This can't be the solution as we move forward. Its time for us to expand the approach.
We're at a point where we need to ask more questions and we really need to listen, We need to listen to the needs and concerns of those who are most resistant to the change we are advocating for.
Certainly the naysayers or those who misunderstand or outright oppose our causes accuse us of fear mongering. But we are in fact fearful, aren't we? Terrified might be a better way to put it.
Were scared because we've done the homework, We can't turn on a light switch without feeling the ripple effect all the way back to a coal mine in West Virginia. Call it a curse of awareness. It can seem like no one wants to hear it; no one wants that burden. And can you blame them? After 8 years of the previous administration, the collective psyche of our nation is traumatized!
We're terrified of terrorists, and economic collapse. We are afraid of not having health care or social security. Climate change is too far away, too big, too complicated and too abstract to connect to our light bulbs.
So how do we persevere? How do we communicate to exactly those people who push the mute button on the remote when we are presenting our flip charts on the latest increase in C02?
I went to hear the Dalai Lama speak recently, and his message was clear "We need people to act from a place of GLOBAL RESPONSIBILITY" I couldn't agree more. Those of us in this room are the ones putting these words into practice, making every choice from that place of Global Care and Compassion.
However, when I think about the Dalai Lama's message in the context of all my global travels and all the different people that I have met, I quickly arrive at the conclusion that we are still in the minority globally. Most people are thinking only about what they need to do to survive.
People are taking pay cuts or losing their jobs. Much of what we environmental advocates are asking our fellow citizens to take on in their daily lives is perceived to be at an added cost to their present lifestyles.
We need to follow Barack Obama's example of reaching across the barriers that divide us as a people. We must learn how to reach into our hearts and truly meet another human being exactly where they are. And it's HARD! But if we feel into where there charge is, and let it be. If we can relax our inner antagonists... then,
in that space of mutual understanding, invite them to join us in affecting change.
We must start by finding what it is that motivates people and speak to THAT.
We must find the language that bridges our interests to theirs. As opposed to trying to get them to join our movement.
In the midst of the deepest global economic crisis that most of us have ever known, when the financial institutions that were the cornerstones of our American foundation, were collapsing, we had a voice in the darkness that held fast to the message of HOPE despite all evidence to the contrary. And it pulled us up into the light of possibility, and millions rallied around it. And the power of possibility pulled us up out of the depths of our sorrow and out of the height of our fear. And made us believe that together, we can make it through this.
And we can learn from that in the environmental community.
We must also re-frame our language to embrace opposing opinions, and the patience and tolerance to listen to them. This too needs to happen on a national level. Where behaving in an environmentally responsible manner needs to move from a gesture of good will to an act with an economic incentive or better yet, an imperative. A health imperative. A quality of life imperative.
We activists need to re-define activism altogether.
Each and every one of us becoming entrepreneurs of meaning, bringing the message of possibility into the world. Ushering in a new era of massive innovation and collaboration. Inspiring and empowering an entire generation of citizens who believe that WE CAN.
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