Thoughts on well-being, sustainability and those things that constitute a good life beyond consumption.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

We all need some spirit nurturing sometimes

I have been feeling a bit glum lately, not inspired in my teaching (largely due to unreceptive audiences), and disappointed in this country's lackluster leadership with respect to many issues, especially the environment. But today, I am catching up on reading some articles and blog posts, including some by Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez.

I want to thank Jennifer for reminding me that, even when we are in a lull, we must remember Pete Seeger and Wangari Maathai and Nelson Mandela – inspirational elders who have all left us now – left us with unfinished missions that must be continued. I realize that if those of us who teach today’s youth don’t continue to march along in this duty, then things will continue to grow more dire. 

Students in my classes don’t know these important names, much less why these individuals are so revered. It is our job to teach these students, to engage them, to inspire them. Jennifer expresses it well when she notes that “we are all Noah now.” I think this is true whether we are trying to save biodiversity or humanity or important history and culture.

When I responded to one of Jennifer’s blog posts with similar comments to what I wrote above, I said that we must continue to "trudge along in this duty", rather than "march along". I was thinking about trudge -- as in making slow progress despite hard work -- rather than considering the task as drudgery, but she was quick to respond with the following:

Diane, have you read Charles Eisenstein’s latest book, The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible? He notes how important it is for those of us who are awake to the ecological crisis to connect with each other–it’s not “preaching to the choir,” it’s nurturing each other’s spirits so that we can continue solidly and strongly in our chosen paths. I am glad my blog posts served that function for you today!

I feel very lucky with the students I’m working with this semester. Remarkably passionate and aware young people. With your “unreceptive audience,” how can you get under their skin and find the sweet spot where you will be able to wake them up from their media-induced sluggishness? Sometimes it happens when you dare to reveal your own vulnerability, your fears and grief and love. I hate to hear of you “trudging.” See what you can do to dance in front of the class, and get them up and dancing with you!

She is correct. Trudging is the wrong way to think about this, although my discouragement was worsened by my experiences this week. I am just back from the National Council on Science and the Environment conference on "Climate Solutions" having taken some students with me. I tried desperately to get the students to network given the many influential people who were in attendance: Kathryn Sullivan, the first American woman to walk in space (who is now at NOAA), James Hansen and Richard Alley (great climate scientists), Gina McCarthy (the current EPA director), and many other researchers and policymakers. How could they not be inspired?

On the way home, as we crossed over the Millard E. Tydings Memorial Bridge in Maryland that spans the Susquehanna River(dedicated, by the way, by John F. Kennedy eight days before he was assassinated), a bald eagle flew over the car hood - so close you could see into its eyes. Yet they couldn't be bothered to look up from their smart phones since they had important messages about the "100-days-to-graduation party" they would head to when we returned to campus. As they party their way towards graduation, I wonder what their longer-term plans are. And I wonder why I care so much about their future. So yes, Jennifer, some spirit nurturing is indeed needed at the moment. 

Thank goodness for some words of encouragement from another foot soldier in this effort! On Monday, I must try to remember to dance again.


  1. Glad you found my blog posts encouraging! I understand what you mean about kids being way too glued to their screens. Imagine, missing a close encounter with a bald eagle!! Maybe what we should be doing, instead of taking them to conferences, is taking them camping, no screens allowed!

  2. Jennifer, I do take students on field trips in the forest, to count raptors, and to participate in an ecological restoration project. In spring, I am working with a group that does 10 days camping in the Tetons to understand science, sustainability, and climate change. But I like the idea of banning screens!