Breakfast With a Profound Article

Reading up on articles for my home exam, due in a week, I came across “Lunch With a Turtle Poacher“, a surprisingly moving article that relates a story of Gordo, a turtle poacher that converted into a key helper in conservation efforts for the same turtles.

It contained for me not only tough insights into the complexity of such problems, but also invaluable lessons in why it is precisely that complexity that needs to be embraced if things are ever going to make real, transformative progress.

“It’s very complex” has become almost like a standard, throwaway catchphrase we use as an excuse to not dive deeper into an issue when it feels beyond our current means or understanding. I’ve noticed myself developing a subtle cringe every time I hear it. Yes, it is complex, now how do we deal with that?

The story of Gordo also provides lessons that extend to what I’m seeing on my facebook feed right now: more and more of my friends sharing their MeToo and IHave statuses.

Consider this quote in that light.

Gordo is on our minds. We don’t see him as the enemy. We see him as one of the people we must find a way to work with. We must let him see a way he can benefit from listening to our view of how the world is changing; but to do that, we need to understand his world and its practical constraints. Where there is adequate law and adequate enforcement, one can afford to fight opponents, to report crimes, to litigate. For all the rest of the world, our shared humanity is our only hope.

We cannot afford to see people as opponents—especially not those who oppose us. The conservation community can’t afford to draw lines in the sand. Seeing people as enemies distorts them into something both bigger and smaller than they really are. We must embrace our enemies, look into their eyes long enough to see ourselves. Then we can begin talking. Some people make this easy; others, difficult. Some of those who make it difficult are on our side. The barriers have to go. In a world of hurt and need, what choice is there? On paper, Gordo is a monster, but when he’s sitting there in front of you, he’s a sad person with a problem to solve and limited options.Lunch With a Turtle Poacher“, Nichols & Safina, 2004

I hope this finds you well, and that it stirs some compassion along with hope for the future, even the near months as winter draws near.

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To all of us out there looking for that perfect job, house, hobby, relationship… or masters course 😉

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Being a loudmouth

I was always the quiet student.

I nearly wrote quiet child. That would have been a lie. As a baby, I drove my mother to the brink of insanity with my endless screaming and crying. Then I quieted down. A lot.

In school and in early social situations, I was always the silent observer, in the background, paying attention and not being noticed much.

As I have matured and developed as an adult, however, I’ve become more and more comfortable with taking space and making my voice heard. It started with my best friend not only accepting my voice, but even inviting me to take more space, and seeing how this affected our dynamics — for the better — it triggered a gradual change that has been so subtle day to day over many years that I haven’t really noticed and reflected much over it.

In this course, there is no question that I am among those who talk most in class. But I still didn’t really… get it that I am one of the talkers, because that identity is still not visceral, not quite there yet.

I’ll hear comments like “you were uncharacteristically quiet today” and be totally surprised. Then think about it and not be so surprised anymore. But every time I hear it the surprise is back.

I feel the big change finally dawned on me today when members of the agonistic facilitation group — whose aim was to get as many viewpoints as possible expressed — designed small groups for in-depth discussion in a way that the talkers and more reserved people were separated, so that talkers simply wouldn’t be talking over all the others. (Our class is overall amazingly respectful in giving space to talk, but this clever set-up was the crème de la crème.)

As they explained this choice to us — who by the way were oblivious — they looked at me as if I was one of the loudmouths… (and as if I clearly knew I was one). And my response was what shocked me most: I said “Whaaaaat?!! I resent that!”

I’ve trained myself to notice whenever I’m lying to myself, fooling myself or just generally being dishonest with myself about my own emotions or desires. I absolutely did not resent this comment. If anything, it was validation for a conscious direction of self-development I had started so many years ago. I actually felt subtly joyful, and a pinch of pride.

But I clearly had a different reflex response. And noticing the discrepancy between the actual meaning and my behaviour in response triggered a fuller awareness of this clear change in character not being reflected in a change of identity.

Hopefully, this mere awareness will suffice to update my sense of self. It usually does.

And I hope this post has triggered some reflection in yourselves. Feel free to comment below, and please share!

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Group facilitations

This week was all about performing our facilitation sessions that we had been preparing.

Three discussions in class were facilitated, each with a different group focusing on a different theoretical frame, as presented during the previous week.

There was a consensus-seeking frame on a discussion about public transport in Uppsala, and what could be done to improve the services to make it a more attractive option than e.g. taking the car.

The next group facilitated a discussion of rewilding: restoring the function, integrity and sovereignty of an ecosystem or habitat by re-introducing key species that used to live there, usually killed or driven off by humans. Is this a good thing? Is it meaningful? What are some challenges with it? Can it even be done fully? Is it realistic? Their agonistic frame focused on eliciting different views and opinions, so that we could all learn from each other’s perspectives and background information.

Our group addressed the Swedish system for regulating alcohol consumption: a single company with monopoly on retail of alcohol stronger than folk beer, with restricted opening hours and a ban on profit-driven marketing. Our ‘radical frame’ aims to balance out unequal power asymmetries, by emphasising marginalised views and giving the weaker standpoints more weight.

This might have been our most intense week so far. Heavy preparations, active facilitation and engaging discussions meant a lot of highly active thinking throughout the entire span of four days. I think we are all having a nap all of Friday —

… until we celebrate with a big potluck party in the evening!!!

This was our last formal session for this introductory module. Next are two weeks on which to work on our home exams.

I believe this lends itself naturally to write more about student life and extra-curricular activities in Uppsala in the coming weeks. Stay tuned!

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Your thoughts?

I want this blog to be more than just my personal recap and reflections of this course week by week, with the odd video that ties in with it.

I am up to my neck in extracurricular projects and work, which is great, as I like to swim, but it does take some time and energy away from this blog.

I don’t want it to be this way, but I am at the moment dry on inspiration.

So I’m opening the question to you, and warmly welcome any input and suggestions for how to expand this sphere.

What are you curious about regarding the Environmental Communication masters programme?

Or student life? (I don’t personally engage much in the typical student life at this stage of my life, but I am happy to interview fellow students!)

What would you like to see/hear/read/know more about?

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Week 6: Facilitation

A big chunk of environmental communication work involves facilitating meetings around environmental questions. Facilitation in this context is similar to moderating a meeting — making sure it’s on track and in good conditions, basically.

Of course, what that means is in the end highly subjective and liable to depend on the facilitator(s). (For better or for worse? I don’t know, should we even pass moral judgement on it? It kind of can’t be any other way…? Really…)

The word facilitation has it’s root in Spanish (not really). Facilitar means to make something easier. Ironically, that is just about the opposite of what a good facilitator would strive to do.

The easy thing is to just let the powerful stakeholders use their power to dominate all others, impose their will and all else be damned. Even easier is to not even attempt to create an atmosphere of good will and civility. We sort of saw an example of that in class.

The perhaps trickiest part of facilitating a meeting is not that one should be committed to creating and managing the process to one’s best ability, to as smoothly as possibly allow for all perspectives to be included, heard and valued, and integrated into a resolution that is harmonious and beneficial to all parties.

I personally find it even more challenging that the facilitator ought to do this with no stakes in the outcome. You should not care much about the result, yet invest so much in making sure whatever comes out does come out in the best way possible. It’s not what you do that’s important; it’s how you do it.

Don’t get me wrong, this is a damn good challenge, one that can develop the valuable skill of focusing on the process rather than only the goal. Enjoy the journey (or, in this case, make the journey enjoyable), not only the destination. (Moreover, if you plan and travel the journey well, the destination you arrive at should be one that the whole company can enjoy.)

It can even circumvent the typical moral issue of good ends justifying terrible means: the good facilitator either (i) doesn’t put much care in the end and therefore doesn’t feel forced (or justified?) in adopting horrific means, or (ii) assumes that by ensuring the best means possible, the best end possible is reached.

Mind you, dear reader, that this entire post is my personal take on facilitation, based on this first week of being introduced to the concept. We covered a lot more in class. These are some reflections I’ve extracted from our lectures and discussions.

Next week, we will practice designing and facilitating class discussions on various controversial topics. I cannot wait to get deep down in this!

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Trust in the programme

I have shared a couple of rants already about the importance of trust in resolving our current climate challenges.

Without trust in our fellow people, co-operation and action for the greater good is basically doomed, unless it magically serves everybody’s individual interests. You would not act in favour of somebody else if you did not trust them. (Why would you? That would be kind of stupid, wouldn’t it?)

I already feel myself on the verge of going into another version of these arguments. That’s not what I’m here for today, thought.

I just want to share an observation I’ve pieced together. Most of my friends who are studying other programs, especially at the other university in Uppsala (won’t mention any names or point any fingers, right?), rightfully complain and criticise their lecturers for giving them so much coursework to do, and most of it being either silly or slightly meaningless. It seems like they have a ton of work to do and only for the purpose of having to have to do something. (Because why have free time, when at university level students are expected to take own responsibility of their learning and development? That would make no sense…)

True: you get as much out of it as you put into it. But if the lecturer keeps slamming more and more seemingly pointless work on their desks, how inspired will a young adult, in his/her prime years, be to put quality effort into all of it?

What I’m sensing in the background of all this is a growing mistrust for these lecturers.

And no wonder.

What do we call somebody who perpetually mounts more and more workload on our shoulders, not quite explaining why we have to do this, and none of which ever seems to be in our best interest?

That’s right, a boss!

Wow, I suddenly notice myself being maybe a bit too involved in their side of this whole thing. I’m actually truly lucky and blessed that our course doesn’t have that!

True, we have a lot more expected reading material than I’m used to, but it is clearly not more than usual for a social science program. Also, they are not mandatory in the sense that we get in trouble if we cannot make it. We simply miss out on the background of some seminar discussions. It’s our own loss. I cannot resent that.

We have had two compulsory hand-in assignments so far, each taking maybe two hours. Maybe I’m speaking for myself but I think we are happy to put effort into these few tasks. And if we were given a sudden surprise extra super-heavy assignment, we might lament the death of our weekend, but I think we would take it on with a feeling of genuine feeling that this will serve us.

In other words, we trust in our lecturers, and we trust that the assignments that are mandatory really are necessary or at least helpful to our own development.

We have had plenty of group work, and none of it has been assessed. This also breeds trust and good will in the class, even if one or two didn’t do the background reading, quite understand the questions or simply is having an off day. No-one will be resenting other members for not pulling their asses and putting their grades on the line.

This is genius.

I know it sounds like a third-grader would understand this. I agree, it probably is.

Funny, then, how rare this is in practice.

A wholehearted applause from me to the EC staff at SLU.

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Film week

In the fifth week, we dove deep into visual communication about the environment, practically, by making our own short videos.

Each group was assigned a different genre — from disaster movies to action-packed detective drama, vlogs, and I think even a soap — and we concluded with a big screening with popcorn and, of course, an in-depth class discussion.

This is among the most fun and useful academic projects I’ve had!

Given that roughly one third of the people (me included) learn best by doing (as opposed to seeing/reading or hearing), and that we are at a disadvantage in the typical classroom setting (where we are meant to sit still, be quiet and just passively absorb visual or auditory information), these kinds of hands-on projects are an absolute necessity to involve these more feeling- and practice-oriented people.

We were not assessed by the quality of our films — after all, we are not in this program to be filmmakers — but rather on our reflections about aspects of communication, both within our film crew and between us/the film and the audience. Now, because this is a formal assignment, I can’t very well spill the beans here… that would be… some weird form of… meta-plagiarism…?

The films will be screened again on the university’s open house and 40-year anniversary celebration… today actually! (Hurry, you might just make it in time!)

 

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Continued: Filling the hole, trust, and Simon Sinek

Picking up from where we left on the last post, and inserting a brief comment that a lot in it was my own personal rant, arguments and examples. You can tell I’m not that big on referencing my sources — unless I am inspired to, or downright have to for academic papers.

Part of my unwillingness to do this is laziness, yes, but there are deeper reasons too. First, why even cite references? To give credit to whoever said it? Frankly, there are few ideas that are truly new. Chances are somebody has thought, said or written it at some point in history.

Heck, even some great inventions, like the submarine, were envisioned by well-known authors before it was even conceivable to actually make one. Fair enough, these writings may have inspired inventors, but what’s to say that a professed great thinker did not find inspiration in words of others? Especially if we take Jung’s collective unconscious seriously.

Another reason for citing sources is to kind of put accountability for the ideas with somebody else. I didn’t say this, she did, take it up with her if you have a problem. Well, that’s very impressive…

Fair point, though: sometimes the ideas are not new but the author/speaker is presenting new evidence to support it. Yeah, then it makes sense to cite the reference.

Anyhow, whether you agree or disagree, I’m open to discussion, and will leave it there for now, and move on.

Last post landed on the idea that a key to facing the great societal challenges of our time lies in our relationships with other people. If we foster strong, loving and co-operative relationships with people, not only will we be stronger against the problems that appear so overwhelming to the individual, but I believe it will fill the emotional holes that cause us to continually make decisions toward short-term gain at the expense of a brighter future.

I cut abruptly linking to a video with Simon Sinek, briefly introducing him. I want to build on it by sharing more of his brilliant work, and intend to make the connection absolutely clear.

You might first want to watch…

 

 

And the key message through all this, I surmise, is that we need to build trust.

We need to trust in other people if we are to form strong, lasting relationships with them. We need to trust them if we are to show our vulnerabilities and share our hearts.

Umbrella themes of our modern Western, fear-based society is individualism and cynicism. They are intimately connected. If you cannot trust other people, why would you ever work together with them? Why would you ever tell them stories, share a meal or have a laugh with them?

An important thought I do not feel Simon Sinek points out is an extension of his conclusion that if we need to create trust, it is up to the leader of the group to create an environment where trust and co-operation organically emerges. Would only a leader who happens to trust the group be able to do this? Or, could any leader decide to trust? Could trust be a choice? A choice anyone could make? Do you have to be the official leader of the group to begin trusting your peers implicitly and make changes in the surroundings and in how you treat the people in a way that breeds trust?

This goes intimately hand in hand with environmental communication: How can we communicate to build trust?

And to that, I will introduce Tony Robbins in a similar fashion.

To be continued?

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Big take-home message from w 3-4

Weeks 3 and 4 consisted of lectures and seminars, feeding us material and perspectives for our end-of-course essay.

Although some lectures have been fantastic (especially from honorary guests Susan Senecah and Hans Peter Hansen), they have not exactly inspired me to blog, and I want to save writing about my extracurricular activities for a later stage.

However, I want to write shortly about a clear, larger message from the lectures that I found touching. This could easily derail into a personal rant. Bare with me:

Facing the large and small environmental challenges, we need to take purposeful and effective action, both as a collective and as individuals. All of us. For the rest of our lives.

This, of course, requires personal motivation and know-how, as well as top-quality teamwork. For all this, communication is key. We need to help each other understand the problems and what we can do about them — to the best of our abilities.

The best shot we have at solving multidimensional challenges with solutions that are desirable, viable and actionable to diverse groups of people, on varying and interacting scales, with more complications than anything you could spell and their mothers… the best shot we have at this is stepping outside of our own shells and facing at least one eye toward the bigger picture.

We all have the future in common.

It makes sense to look after it.

Right now the future is suffering from our inability to deal with our own fears and disillusion, seeking refuge in short-term pleasures and hoping to feel valued and loved through our social status, rather than what we bring to others.

Some look to the the way things were and herald it as the golden age, where we must return. Others believe in technology to paint a brighter future. Many place their hope in science and other intelligent people to come with a miracle to save us all, but they are still arguing about whether the glass is half full or half empty, and what if it wasn’t…

I mean, why not just fill the glass up…?

What do we need to fill it? Let’s first think about what the hole really is. I believe we mostly are missing a sense of meaning in our lives and a sense of being loved and cared for by those we love and care for.

Let me ask you: Has there recently been a technological invention that brings us closer to our loved ones? Have the scholars discovered the formula for a meaningful live?

The answer is of course yes. (What?) Absolutely! I mean, we haven’t found the answer, but some damn good answers and tools are out there. But is everybody using these advances to fill the deeper holes in their lives? No.

And why not? Why does it still depend on the individual whether this new technology and scientific knowledge is used to make their lives better? Why do some people seem to be destroying their own chances at lasting happiness with these tools?

There are probably a thousand different answers for millions and millions of different people. A perhaps better question is: since it depends so much on the individual whether scientific advances are used for the better, does it really make sense to hope for science to ‘save us all’?

An extreme example of this, just to hammer down this point, is the atomic bomb.

Back to filling the hole… think about what it takes.

That’s right: other people. Family and friends. Relationships. Camaraderie. Communion.

This solves all our problems: we let our friends deal with it…!

No, but when we take care of our people, and our people take care of us, we lose the need for a quick shot of short-term feel-good or compromising on our morals and passion to climb the social ladder.

The need to rush a thundering, petrol-thirsty SUV to a crammed supermarket to buy milk before they close is calmed when you know you can just ask the neighbours for a cup. They’re thrilled to help you with something so simple. And they love the little treehouse you built for their children and yours to play in. Their little Oscar wants to help out next time, so he can learn too. He really looks up to you.

Knowing your co-workers have your back and respect your voice, because they value your friendship and what you’ve done for the company already, you might find the courage to speak out about the new deal they’re about to strike with a mining company looking to expand to a region full of native villages that depend entirely on their lands to grow food and the river for clean water. These are families, like yours. They would be forced to abandon their homes with nowhere to go, or starve and drink polluted water. Expressing your moral outrage at this proposal, you find actually many of your team mates agree, and others were not aware until you brought it up. The deal is scrapped, and the company loses potential revenue, but you are a strong bunch and stand together to find another opportunity you can all feel good about.

We could go on and on forever… but I hope you’re really thinking about this. Please do share your thoughts in the comments below. Even if you think I’m full of it!

To avoid this post getting too long, I want to cut with a short clip, a talk by Simon Sinek. I intend to dedicate an entire post to him, coming soon… For now, enjoy.

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