The following post is part of the course work for “Live Exchange” the foundational course on communication for The MBA Design Strategy Program at California College of the Arts. The rest of the posts are presented here.
By Amanda Fetterly
So fragile this petal the earth,
as fragile as love.
The other night as we walked through the Mission in S.F., my friend mentioned a poet she knows who had just been published. Her partner responded, “People still read poetry?”
I stared in disbelief and disappointment. How could someone not understand the power of poems to chronicle human experience, by evoking our deepest feelings? A poem, says Robert Frost, “begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a love sickness. It is never a thought to begin with.”
I believe sustainability needs language like this: language that captures our human experience, draws out our deepest feelings, and reminds us of our meaning. Sustainability needs – I’ll say it – an injection of love.
Well Intentioned Individuals
We know what we need to do to for a sustainable future. There is no shortage of worthy ideals and activities promoting sustainability, from implementing The Natural Step to shopping farmer’s markets to driving hybrid cars. But in the end, promoting sustainable behavior is as messy and complicated as human nature itself.
“The most striking finding from these so-called intentional individuals and communities is not a rose-tinted vision of alternative prosperity immediately transferable from the margin to the mainstream, but a set of enduring conflicts and tensions” writes Tim Jackson Director of (RESOLVE) at the University of Surrey and author of Prosperity without Growth: economics for a finite planet.
Experiencing Conflict and Tension
I find myself suffering from a moment-to-moment existential crisis when confronted with most daily choices. What I know in my heart and mind: the earth is fragile, interconnected and finite is continually contradicted by what I am being asked to do: support infinite growth, as well as being told what I am doing: humans create negative ecological impacts; earth will go on without humans. This combination is disjointed and hardly motivating, let alone inspiring.
“In very simple terms this is the story about us as people, being persuaded to spend money we don’t have, on things we don’t need, to create impressions that won’t last, on people we don’t care about” this excerpt from Tim Jacksons Oxford TED talk perfectly captures the conflict I feel.
The conflict of the human experience is at the center of sustainability; addressing this is the connection I need to feel as part of creating the kind of world we want to live in.
Everyone you see, you say to them, “love me.” Of course you do not do this out loud otherwise someone would call the cops.
Still though, think about this, this great pull to connect.
Why not become the one who lives with a full moon in each eye who is always saying,
with that sweet moon language, what every other eye in this world is dying to hear?
For centuries the cure for our existential human crisis has been art, beauty, music and poetry. These are mediums that allow us to express the entire gamut of the human experience without the modes of duality that is central to logic and reason. In these expressions we connect with each other and the world around us.
It seems like the last place we are trying to connect to people on the journey of the sustainability is the first place it started: the fragile and powerful muscle of the human heart. In his Pulitzer Prize-winning Turtle Island (1974), poet Gary Snyder puts eloquence and feeling into our sense of place:
The poems speak of place, and the energy pathways that sustain life. Each living being is a swirl in the flow, a formal turbulence, a ‘song.’ The land, the planet itself, is also a living being – at another pace.
Sustainability is about living in balance on a finite planet, in a way that equitably offers future generations the ability to fully participate in the human experience of existence. That to me is the sentiment of the Bruntland Report, Our Common Future. I am motivated for future generations to have access to water, safety and food so that they can experience the love, meaning and discovery inherent in being human.
Speak the ancient human language of sustainability to me:
1. Communicate with aesthetic and evocation
Choose words that evoke a human experience that moves beyond green. Without losing your intent, can you describe sustainability as juicy, lush, resilient, and courageous? Acknowledge the elements of being alive and feeling human; breathing, heartbeat, love. Ask yourself, am I communicating the type of world we want to live in?
Inspiration: Mont Blanc | The Beauty of a Second
2. Place people at the center, and connect them to the world
Stories and poetry have contrast, narrative and character. It allows me to follow an arc. What challenges does your audience face? Does your service help meet the needs of people? If so, what are their needs? Hunger? Love? Shelter? Connection? Safety? Talk to me about the real challenges I may be facing right now, not some utopian sustainable future
Resource: Non-violent Communication | Needs Inventory
3. Use repetition and rhythm
Repetition is a powerful tool for memory, and rhythm creates a sense of familiarity and suspense. Repeat yourself! Sustainability especially benefits from these devices because it’s a concept that asks us to change mental modes, a concept broadly asking us to transform. Repetition and rhythm are reminders that there is a heartbeat to the sustainability movement.
Resource: Duarte Group | Blog | 16 Rhetorical Devices
4. Admit the challenge
Every story has conflict – why would sustainability be any different? Perhaps the hardest to do but the most powerful tool is admitting to audiences that sustainability is complex and not always easy to navigate, that there will be failures and things that don’t go as planned. Embrace transparency and openness about the process not just the result. This presents an opportunity to learn together and share understanding.
Resource: Psychology Today | Your Wise Brain | Speak the Heart
Amanda Fetterly is a Communication Designer who has been creating the deeper sustainability stories– that weave us together–through her work for education and cultural institutions in Vancouver BC. As a student of the California College of Arts MBA Design Strategy program in San Francisco she is connecting the terrain of sustainability, design and business.