Sustainability Gone Wrong

I have so many friends and colleagues who are passionate about the planet. I am too. Then I have a few that are zealous. It's an important difference. And this is where sustainability (or anything for that matter) goes wrong.

Passion vs. Zealousness

Passion is so important. It gives us drive and fills us with purpose. It creates an environment where we can convince others because we believe. It's a powerful invitation. It helps us believe and invites others to believe with us. In this case, believe that nature is worth protecting and reducing our impact on the environment is about us, our children, our grandchildren and untold generations to come. And that it's easy to do. Passion pulls others in and stokes our fire.

Zealousness pushes others away. It is a need-a requirement-for others to believe what you believe. Inside zealousness is the need to be more right, morally superior, and righteously exasperated about anything and everything. It is the right to beat another up about their failed decision to buy the latest Prius model or your choice to take a very long, very hot shower. It is the right to expound endlessly and tediously plod on beyond reason or measure-long after your audience stopped caring. Zealousness turns us off. The need to have others believe what you believe is not an invitation in, but an escort to the door.

The irony is that language and how we talk is such an important part of inviting people to conserve resources and sustain our planet. In order for that to work, the best case scenario is everyone is convinced this should be a priority. Which means we need to invite as many people as possible into the conversation. Not shame them with what they don't do, but support them in what they can. It requires passion. But too often its evil twin zeal shows up instead.

If you ask people "Are you against the planet?", no one in their right mind will say yes. Flip the question to "save the planet" and many times it will become a philosophical debate on climate change or alternative energy. And that's the irony. The need is to pull in as many people as possible, but the language of zeal doesn't. I've heard it devolve into a liberal versus conservative argument time and time again, but conservation is at the core of conservative principles, so it's not really a partisan issue. It's an education issue.

And if I learned anything from school, it's that the teacher must be effective in communicating the material or the message will go nowhere. You have to shake students out of their vapid stares and wake their minds. Passion gets students excited, but zeal makes the teacher sound flat-out crazy.

So I would like to invite you. Invite you to find one simple thing you can do to conserve resources. Make one little change to conserve: recycle, use a reusable shopping bag, drive 5 mph slower on your way in to work, use the extra page that printed out for scratch paper, don't use the styrofoam cup...your choice. It can be anything. Because this isn't about what I do or what you do, but it's about what we do. We can make a difference together. In small ways at first, but it will grow over time. So I invite you to make a little difference and together we will make a big one. This is the power of Team Us!

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