I don’t know why, but the thing about climate change that most excites (and distresses) me is not the science or the economics. It’s the talking and listening part. How do I talk to people about something that they don’t want to talk about? Sometimes it’s daunting—like doing a jig saw puzzle of a polar bear in a snowstorm. Other times the challenge whets my appetite. How do I talk about something that frustrates, antagonizes and unsettles people? And also has the potential to energize, awaken and empower people.
My list of questions is legion. How do we enter into another person’s world and learn to speak in a way that they can hear us? How do we create trust? How is it that at times I unintentionally shut people down, misunderstand their point of view, or make assumptions about how they think?
I write about it and speculate about it and talk to friends about it. But I rarely actually sit down face to face and have a conversation with someone whose world view runs counter to mine. I avoid it because it’s hard. And scary. And makes my head hurt. But I push myself because I want to learn how to listen with more generosity. I want to practice standing in other people’s shoes. I want to find our shared humanity.
So I invited a friend of a friend of a friend to lunch—someone who is quite skeptical about climate change. And silently repeated the following mantras before ordering my sandwich, after taking my first bite, after wiping crumbs from my face; create trust, don’t talk, listen. Say less, rather than more. Use language that resonates; loyalty, security, market based solutions, purity. Listen for concerns.
I won’t lie. It was hard. I kept twisting my napkin around my finger until it disintegrated in my lap. My smile was a thin veneer masking my impatience. It was hard to hear his concerns because the voices in my head were so loud.
But I’m not giving up. I know what it feels like to be listened to with a closed heart. It’s like a vise grip. Everything shuts down. I get really small. I also know what it feels like to be listened to with an open heart. It feels magnificent. Like an embrace. Like the world is rooting for me. I want to be the kind of person who listens like that, like the world is rooting for you.
I still have a long way to go.