Slam on the Brakes

I wrote a piece on climate change, and then had a back and forth with a colleague of mine about the difference between me, my personal convictions and opinions, and me, with my Pathways Vermont leadership hat on, and what is appropriate for content for this blog space.

I have been thinking about that — the difference between the individual and the professional, and the intersection between the two. The same way I have been thinking about climate change, the organization I work for,  and myself.

First, I have to say upfront, that everything for me about Pathways Vermont is personal. That is the beauty and challenge of working at a place where the people you serve struggle with some of the same things you have experienced. I acknowledge that I have way more privilege than many, being white with a middle-class upbringing. But I do know trauma. I know sexual violence, and I know poverty. I know what it feels like to be a single mom sleeping on friends’ couches with no place to go. I know Reach-up and housing subsidies. I have lived hearing and seeing things that others can’t. I know not being believed. I know what having my human rights violated feels like. I know living with the consequences of bad decisions. I know picking up the pieces and starting over. 

Pathways Vermont is deeply personal for me. 

And I think that is true about people who work at Pathways, or volunteer, or financially support our work, or receive services. There is a synergy that happens between the personal and Pathways; people bring themselves, and we become something stronger, better, together. That process of synergy isn’t always easy. We have growing pains, and we struggle. But we are open to learning and committed to change. And it is personal. 

I understand the personal and professional divide when it comes to political affiliation or religious beliefs (or non-beliefs). I would not take up Pathways Vermont blog space promoting a particular religion or politician. Nor would I take up blog space with content that did not intersect with Pathways Vermont’s mission and work. 

However, when it comes to our climate crisis, in my opinion, there is no personal and professional divide. Our planet is heading down a disastrous path. We are all responsible. We are all affected. Period. It doesn’t matter what table you are seated at or what hat you are wearing. Climate change is the big equalizer. Wildfires and typhoons will destroy anyone in their paths. They do not discriminate. Of course, people with means can more easily get out of the way or more easily rebuild after the onslaught. And of course, people with no means will suffer more. And that sucks. Income inequality sucks now, and it will suck still through this crisis. But our planet is dying. Our planet is dying. 

When I was a little girl, I remember watching the 1959 black and white film adaption of The Diary of Anne Frank. I had read about the Holocaust, so I knew how the story would likely end for Anne and her family. Every frame of the movie, I felt myself screaming inside, No, no, don’t hide. Run. Drop everything. Run for your lives. 

The more I learn about climate change; I have similar feelings of dire urgency. Only it is not in terms of fleeing a country. It is the opposite: though every bit as counter-intuitive, inconvenient, and difficult to conceive (for many of us). It is in terms of staying put and stopping the need for movement, travel, commerce, all of it– and zeroing in on a local life. Buy, eat, socialize, and vacation locally. Eliminate plastic and fossil fuel use. 

We are at different degrees of consciousness about this crisis. Though all of us, I believe (and hope), are making changes. We carry reusable shopping bags, buy electric cars, bike, ride buses, contemplate not eating meat, or have already taken the vegetarian or vegan plunge. At Pathways Vermont we recycle and compost, we strive to be paperless, we carpool to staff retreats. 

My fear is that we are hiding in the attic like Anne Frank, and the inevitable is coming. 

I believe we need to be thinking and acting in more dramatic ways. How dramatic? Imagine for a moment; if we were on a speeding train and suddenly someone pulled the emergency brake, we would all go flying from our seats, we’d feel the jolt in our bodies, we’d bruise ourselves slamming into the seats in front of us. I am coming to believe that is the level of energetic shifting we need to feel to affect the kind of change we need to survive. 

I heard recently that one flight to Europe equals approximately a person’s entire year’s worth of car travel. So I am contemplating life without flying. It seems to me to be a necessary change. My little brother and his family live in California, a continent away. My two sweet nieces. I am exploring our limited and onerous bus and train options in this country, and it saddens and angers me. 

Culture change is not easy. It is incredibly hard to stay present, to remember, to enact change. I believe it starts with information and grows stronger with conscious conversations, however difficult. The changes we have to make can be annoying, inconvenient, cost more, be more time-consuming, and feel like we can’t possibly give up certain things. But we know how this story is going to end if we don’t act in extraordinary ways. And our actions have to feel disruptive. We, all of us together, personally and professionally, have to slam on the brakes. We need to feel the jolt of our collective change. 

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