Sunday, June 15, 2008

Can You Lend a Hand?

A week ago, responding to a comment on my "environmental church" post, I argued that the environmental movement needs to change its focus, emphasize the positive, and skip the negative. I wrote: "People just don't care. Scaring them hasn't worked. They either don't believe it, assume it will be fixed without their aid or, as Break Through and Michelle Verges suggest, feel scared and therefore less likely to make political changes." I later admitted that my statement was, in fact, a misstatement.

I do believe that people care. While I do not think the majority of the population would rank global warming ahead of most other issues, progress is being made. I see more and more bikers on the road (though certainly some are motivated by gas prices). My neighbor fired her gardener and purchased a push mower. A close friend switched to reusable containers for lunch and snack, leaving Ziplocks in the dust. One of my sisters just adopted chickens and the other is ditching bottled water.

All this progress, however, is occurring primarily on the lifestyle front. The environment is still a wall flower when it comes to politics. The media rarely questions presidential candidates about global warming and voters' top issues remain the economy and the war. How, then, can we channel the urge to lighten our personal footstep into footsteps toward Capitol Hill? Why is it that people storm the farmers' market but don't show up to city council meetings?

In "Building Our Church," I opined that green groups need to focus on making what meetings they have more uplifting and less frightening. They need to set up engagements to get folks engaged, switch from petitions to potlucks and thereby build a community of members who are connected with one another. All of those things do need to be done. But there is more. Environmental organizations also need to learn to ask for help, to open up meaningful opportunities for volunteership and allow members to become invested in the movement.

A year ago, when I first "woke up" and realized that I couldn't wish global warming away, I eagerly signed up with a local green group. Their web site promised social gatherings and opportunities for involvement. As the months went by, I awaited their response or an invitation to take action, to get out of my house and connect with like-minded people in a battle to save the world. Aside from requests to sign a petition and donate money, the invitation never came.

I stopped waiting and starting taking action where I could: in my own home. I switched to full loads in cold water, canvas bags and CFL bulbs, a bike, the farmers' market. I shrunk my energy use to about 30% of the average Americans'. Even so, I, and virtually every eco-blogger out there, acknowledged that, as meaningful and rewarding as my lifestyle changes were, they would not be enough. Saving the planet requires something more.

It requires community action.

So I tried, in my fumbling manner, to create a green community where none previously existed. I wanted to connect with those who thought similarly. If the green group I signed up with months back wouldn't offer connections, then dammit, I would make my own. I reached out to the virtual community through this blog. I set up a book club focusing on green books. I got to know the green moms group several cities over - if only by email and Yahoo groups. I hosted a buying club. Little by little, I got to know other people who also cared about the planet. I attended meetings, shared laughter and local wine and became part of a community. I became invested. I did what the green group would not.

Or so I thought.

Then, overwhelmed with commitments, I let an ecological website's request for detailed information about the green book club languish in my in box. I sent a couple of apologetic emails, laden with excuses but no real information. Finally, it hit me. I did not have the capacity to respond to this request. I was too busy. I had overcommitted myself in too many different ways (all involving "the green movement" or lifestyle changes). I debated pulling the plug on the project and, then, decided to seek help. I sent an email to my book club, asking if any one could gather the requested information. A regular attendee of the meetings immediately, and joyfully, responded. She would be happy to handle it. She was looking forward to getting more involved.

Buoyed by my success and still drowning under commitments, I next sent an email to my buying club members. I could no longer host. Could anyone else? I hoped for one response. I got eight. Those eight then set up a system where each volunteer hosts in increments before turning the responsibilities and coolers over to the next host. The new hosts were happy to share the load, to take action in procuring locally grown, sustainably produced food. All will benefit, too, from getting to know other members while coordinating hosting duties, and likely will feel satisfied that they making a difference.

Because I asked for help, shared opportunities for involvement, I offered these people a chance for fulfillment, connection with others, a sense of purpose, and a spur to take further action. I let these people become invested, not just in the buying or book club, but in the green movement as a whole. Due to their investment, they will likely look for or create other opportunities for involvement, more actively promote their green lifestyle and be more willing to speak up for their beliefs.

If we, who found groups, attend meetings and live active green lives, do not ask for help, do not provide interested others with real and fulfilling opportunities for investment, we are the ones who are missing the opportunity. The "masses" we have been waiting for are here. They are clamoring to be let in, to be given a map and told how to make a difference. If we only open the door and ask them to lend a hand.


Burbanmom said...

Great post, GeeBees! I have felt that way so many times - especially at the kids' preschool! Sitting on the outside, wanting to help, but not knowing how to get involved.

But I finally went in and offered my assistance. Sure I was a little nervous, but I did it. And we all benefited.

So yes, we need to invite others to help, to make it easier for them to raise their hand. But we also need to step up and offer sometimes. It's definitely a two-way street.

eco 'burban mom said...

You are so right, GB! As always! Asking for help is always a challenge, for some reason it's like admitting defeat for me. But, your post reminds me that no one person can do it all.

Though, it also reminds me of places where I should have or could have offered my help. I did offer to host a local eating challenge for the food buying club I participate in. She was thankful for the help. I am sure I would be thankful if someone offered me a hand with some of my projects.

I agree with the 'burbs - we need to invite others to help. Maybe by asking, we will inspire more people to get involved and become part of the process!

Green Plan(t) said...

This is a really inspiring post!

There's something about this town (Las Vegas) that just seems counterproductive to doing anything environmentally conscious. Yet, I'm sure there many more people in this city that are interested, we just don't know how to find each other!

You've inspired me to seek out these other green-brained people and make something happen. :D

Melissa said...

the part that resonated with me was the lack of meaningful ways to get involved...I too find lots of people who want donations or petition signatures, but these gestures feel really empty. I think that's why I started blogging too - at least I can feel like I am connecting in a way with people who share my values in a more meaningful way.

Theresa said...

This post reminds me a lot of a great book I'm reading by Stephen Legault, called "Carry Tiger to Mountain: The Tao Te Ching for Activists." In it he talks about how he was an angry, fired up activist for many years, often on TV when protests were covered. One day he became overwhelmed and burnt out and just couldn't meet all his commitments anymore. That's when he realized that a big part of leading is stepping back and letting others step ahead, so that the movement or organization is 'deep' with momentum and skill. Like a hockey team with four good, solid lines, not just one or two 'star' players.

I just love this quote from the Tao Te Ching which illustrates this:

Chapter 17

The highest rulers, people do not know they have them
The next level, people love them and praise them
The next level, people fear them
The next level, people despise them
If the rulers' trust is insufficient
Have no trust in them

Proceeding calmly, valuing their words
Task accomplished, matter settled
The people all say, "We did it naturally"

It's the reciprocity of community that will get us through, together.

CindyW said...

Sigh. I know exactly what you mean. I have always had a hard time asking for help from others, though when asked, I'd be happy to lend a hand.

I am terrible to the point that I have a hard time asking for any help from my family and close friends. No, I can do it on my own.

Am I assuming worse of other people? Do I hate the idea of "owing" favors? Why? That's what a community is all about. You take care me and I take care you.

Burbs has the write approach. If you ask others for help, then they are more likely to ask you for a hand now and then. Someone has to start it.

Natalie said...

I love this post! My favorite line is: Why is it that people storm the farmers' market but don't show up to city council meetings?

I challenged myself to a summer of armchair activism - to get more involved and put my effort where my thoughts are. Of course, I have the requisite blog to go along with that now. :-) But, in many ways, getting involved isn't as easy as it sounds. I can take care of my own lifestyle issues without much help. But to work on the really big issues, I need to be part of a larger group. I've noticed that a lot of big names in the *enviro-world* are mostly interested in my money and my email address. Maybe they don't expect much of people these days. A lesson they've learned the hard way, possibly. Some organizations seem to be waiting for everyone to get on board before they actually take action. That seems like a self-defeating plan to me.

There are a lot of really great organizations out there - Good 4 Girls, Take Back the Filter, etc. But I really wish the big names would take more notice of us "masses" longing to get involved!

Green Bean said...

Burbs: Wise as usual! It is a two way street. We need to make sure the signal is working.

EB: I would sure love someone to offer to help! It is more exciting and fun when others get involved.

Green Plan(t): Reaching out and trying to form a community of green-minded people has been so worth it. My community is still fairly small but I add new people to it every day. I'm going to post later this week about expanding a green social network. Many people think like us - we just need to find ways to link to each other.

Melissa: I'm glad that that resonated with you. I'm sure some of these organizations have been disappointed before but the time is now, we want to connect and be involved. Blogging is a great way to reach out to the virtual world. I've found so many like minded people here, including you, who live in my own back yard!

Theresa: "the movement or organization is 'deep' with momentum and skill" - I love that! That was one of the big points I was struggling to get across. Thank you, Theresa, for knowing exactly what to say - as usual.

Cindy: Asking for help, in many ways, opens us up to other people. It is really hard. I often think others won't want to help or I will look weak but, when I do stop and ask for help, I am almost always pleasantly surprised.

Natalie: Beautifully put! We can make changes on our own but need more people to join us to really make change happen. I'm grateful for Crunchy and Beth's organizations and hope to see others like them cropping up around the blogosphere and in real life. Creating an organization that is meaningful, offers fulfilling opportunities for involvement and actually gets something done is feasible - that is what we've been shown.

Green Bean said...

I just came across a post on a bookworm's blog, Julia Haskin, that is along the same subject lines and I think worth a read if you have the time. You can find it here.

Going Crunchy said...

What an inspirational post. Yep, you got my wheels turning. Move it forward sister. And I throughly believe that we must become active in the politics of mass change.

Fake Plastic Fish said...

When I first started Fake Plastic Fish, people would email me questions about ways to reduce their plastic consumption, and I felt that I had to research the answers for them. I have learned that this doesn't help anyone. My strategy for coping with way too much to do is to focus on the things that affect me personally (because there's way more even in that arena than I can handle in one lifetime) and to let others take care of the rest.

So now, when someone emails me a question I don't know the answer to, I encourage them to research the question and let them know that I'll look forward to finding out the answer.

Oh, and prizes help too. I'd been meaning to find out for the longest time why there's always plastic on the ends of organic bananas. So finally, I made a contest on my site with a prize for the person who could come up with a verifiably correct answer first, and darn if I didn't get my answer within the hour.

So yes, letting other people do the work doesn't just lighten the load for you, but it also gets others active, which is the goal in the first place, right?

Thanks for this post!

Green Bean said...

Shannon: Thank you! I'm all about moving it forward. We can't just hang up our hats and assume we're done. It's a journey.

Beth: Great strategy for coping. Everyone wins and gets more invested. As one person, we can only do so much. I hadn't thought of prizes, though!

ruralaspirations said...

Very inspiring. Natalie, I feel the same way. And Beth, that is a great example of how we can put Green Bean's words to use even in cyberspace.

Bugs and Brooms said...

I feel like the loner here. I am new to the blogging world and honestly, this post hit home. I truly don't know what things I can do to help. I have learned more from reading blog posts than any other source and I really want to do my share. Just trying to find out what it is - I want to help and hope I can REALLy contribute something useful soon.

Green Bean said...

Rural Aspirations: Yes, asking for help here in cyberspace is as real as anything physically. It's so nice to learn from one another.

Bugs: It is so frustrating, isn't it!?! I think that is why a lot of us turn to blogging and I think blogging can be a really useful contribution and a way to get involved. It certainly was for me. But I hope that more organizations will pay attention. I am attending a meeting tomorrow night with my city's green organization and am going to bring up this very issue.

Please continue blogging. It is not just words on a computer screen. It is making a difference. As are lifestyle changes. If we can just wake up the organizations that could use our help, then we're almost unstoppable.


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