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Environmental Justice

Jun 272013

making a cultural shift2

How do we embrace the challenges that we face today as well as tomorrow’s promises? To do this we must lead with hope and optimism, with vision.

If we really want to create change in the world, it begins with “me” — with [insert your name].

We are all leaders although some may be playing many different roles. Some lead in the front, some within, and some lead while following. But unless we are leading in the way that is grounded in our values and leads by the example of what we are trying to build, we aren’t able to create the change we want.

We’ve all heard Mahatma Gandhi’s quote: “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.” But have we truly explored and understand what this means for us – especially what it means for you?

We come from a reactive culture that is fixated on problem solving. We examine problems and work to fix them. What would it look like to live proactively into only thinking about solutions? To live into what we are creating, what we want, being the change we wish to see.

Before you pass this idea off as to Pollyannaish, unrealistic, or just too woo-woo, let me share a recent experience I had. I was accepted and sponsored to attend the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University in a year- long program called “Deep Dive Leadership.”

Out of 60+ people, I am the only social change activist in the group. Others head up or hold high positions within large, multi-national corporations, banks, and hospitals. Many of the companies were names I recognized.

In our first week, we were learning about visioning, mindfulness, and how to lead from a positive, relationship-based place. So why was I in a group of business people learning things that I already knew about, believed in and worked for in my years of training? Because these business leaders have figured out it is the most effective way to lead – to work in balance. To lead with hope has now been “proven,” through years of scientific research and studies, to be the most successful and the most profitable. They have proven that the mindful and hopeful leadership approach is the way to win!

So why should we care about the “proof?” It was interesting and affirming for me to see brain scans and data of leaders who begin to think and work in a different way. It was fascinating to learn about how much more effective you can be by incorporating these practices into your leadership and to hear how companies have been able to turn around and increase their productivity multiple times.

My real interest, however, is how do we start to work this way, to be the change we want to see within the social justice movement? How do we learn to inspire hope and action in the majority of people? How do we reach beyond the choir to create a force of power with which no amount of money can contend?

What I learned in that first week of training is that real change begins with me – with you. Until we can embrace our own visions, our own ability to work from a visionary and relationship-based place, we can’t teach others. And to be successful we have to change the way we lead.

I want to bring you with me on this journey of learning and will continue to write monthly blogs as I dig deeply within myself as a leader and learn how to be more effective and more powerful.

In my first week of being home, I have crafted out time to do a year-long workplan to prioritize and instead of trying to move forward with the belief I have to do it ALL, figure out what I will “Do, Delegate, Delay or Delete”. I am working to assess what I can do excellently, while keeping the balance of health, love, play and mindfulness in my life. This is one step for me to become a better leader. What is yours?

Making a Cultural Shift Exercise #3:

Take time to reflect on yourself as a leader. Are you trying to do it all? Are you working with balance in your life? Are your staff and/or co-workers inspired and excited about working with you? Do you bring the best out of those you work with? Are you happy and inspired in the work you do? If not, it is time to take stock and look at ways to change your leadership.

Below I have listed the first book that we are working from that is about emotional intelligence, relationships, and sustaining your effectiveness.  It is filled with exercises that help you evaluate yourself as a leader from many different perspectives.  It also helps you prepare and develop a 15 year vision for yourself.  I recommend reading and working the exercises in this book as a first step in becoming the leader you want to be.

Becoming a Resonant Leader, by Annie McKee, Richard Boyatzis, Frances Johnston, Harvard Business Press

Becoming a Resonant Leader resonates with the basic leadership truth that when we have the courage to reach for our personal dreams, we also inspire those we lead with a vision of optimism and hope.  There is nothing more powerful than leaders who let their passion shine through.”

Andrea Jung, CEO, Avon Products Inc




May 242013

Workshop Participants at Be The Media - Women of Color NYC

In my first blog about creating cultural shifts, I was adamant about the possibility and the necessity to work toward a cultural shift and my belief it can be done. This includes a cultural shift within ourselves, our organizations, and ultimately our society.

In this article, I want to talk about how difficult this work can be. It may seem contradictory to my first blog but the truth is that to facilitate a cultural shift is incredibly hard work, especially when starting with organizations that already have a deeply instilled culture that shapes every aspect of their work. It’s much easier to create a different culture when you are starting a new entity. Unfortunately, when working with a group that has already established a particular way of doing things where leaders act in a certain way and where trust has not been truly built, the work to change is much more difficult.

Cultural shifts must start with the leadership but include every individual. It can’t be simply one person trying to make changes. It must include ALL components of an organization: you, the leadership, the Board and the staff. And first and foremost, it must begin with love and trust!

“Love one another and you will be happy. It’s as simple and difficult as that. There is no other way.”                       -Leunig (A common prayer)

At Spirit in Action we realize that “spirit” goes beyond spiritual practice. We can all have a wonderful spiritual practice, meditate together, and then still fall into dysfunctional ways of working together. Spirit in action is about our relationships with each other. It is about practicing love with ourselves, each other, and even those who think differently than us. It is how we do our work, and how we strive to build culture from a positive “what’s working well” perspective. It requires time that we often think we can’t possibly commit to, but putting that time in is what allows our work for justice to flourish and for us to successfully implement changes that work for the greater good.

We also have to remember that we all come into our groups with our own baggage: our mistrust, our woundedness and our privilege and/or oppression, and for some of us, a clear understanding that “we know how things should be done”. Often, this is ingrained in us from childhood, and is part of our own personal culture. This limited way of thinking requires doing our own personal work as well as working collectively in order to create a new culture within our work and communities.

In future blogs, I will begin to provide guidance that helps us to look at what we need to change within ourselves, but for this month’s exercise, I ask that you focus on two questions: “What is working? And what are the ways in which we are building trust and love with each other?”

Make a list of all the positive things that you and your group/organization are doing presently. By focusing on the positive, you can build on what’s working and facilitate successful change.

I would love to hear your feedback and your thoughts and questions, as well of some of the positive things you find that are already working for you personally and within your organizations. Please comment below and we can begin to engage in effective and change producing dialogue in order to learn from each other. I appreciate any thing you can share or offer to all of the people reading this today.


Apr 242013

As I write this morning, I’m struck by the contradictions in our lives.  I look out at the beautiful Cherry and Red Bud trees in full bloom and celebrate with joy the coming Spring.  I look at the news and feel overwhelmed with images of bombs, guns, people hurting, and the ongoing onslaught of violence and hatred in our country.

I am so excited about work we’ve been able to accomplish in Spirit in Action this past year.  Our dynamic work includes building powerful networks, helping make changes in communities and organizations, building trust and bridges between groups who often don’t work together, and creating leaders of the future.  Unfortunately, such tremendous organizational strides have been counter-balanced with struggles and sufferings of the people we work with, staff overload of work, and the pressure of facing decreasing funding as we try to do more and more work.

So how do we continue to hold hope and determination to move forward in the face of all that is so hard?  How do we counter the huge forces with billions of dollars that are working successfully at undoing the steps we have made toward justice over our lifetimes?

I believe it is possible.  It is also imperative.  And, counter to some thinking, I don’t believe it is too late. 

Although we have many progressive groups actively working for justice, there are an increasing number of people who are disheartened.  This disillusionment stems from a place of mis-information and mis-education in addition to oppression and poverty, which leads to hopelessness and lack of civic engagement that would improve people’s lives.    It is up to us to reach this group of disenfranchised population.  Research shows us that the majority of these folks also share values that coincide with ours.   But to reach these people requires a major cultural shift in how we think about our approach and the messaging in our work.

We must also strive to address the whole:  mind, body and spirit.  This requires holding hope, love, and joy while we work to create a world that is equitable, just and sustainable.  It means “walking our talk” and living into the future we want to create.

Today’s Exercise:

For us to do this work and bring people into our work for positive change, we ourselves must seek balance and joy in our own lives in order to create a future that works for all. 

I can hear some readers asking “how can I do that?  How can we hold that balance?” 

For today, just take some time to be grateful for the beauty around you and to others who support and give love to you.  Take deep breaths and connect to what inspires you on a day to day basis.  Remember when and why you first started working for justice.  Try this practice every day this month for 5 minutes when you wake up.  Notice what difference it makes in how your work takes on new meaning.

In the following month this year, I will include a blog giving ideas and exercises toward making the cultural shift on how to reach beyond the choir and build our base to include others we don’t usually think of as part of our movement but who are natural allies.  You will learn about a new approach or how to do one thing differently that will make your work more successful in reaching others.   

Dec 212012

On the Winter Solstice, we welcome the longest night of the year as an opportunity to dream big and ignite the spark of collective action.

While we cannot predict the future, we can shape it.  We can choose now to build the world we want to live in and leave for future generations.  We can decide that this pivotal moment will indeed mark the end of the world as we know it–the world in which violence, fear, hatred and inequity causes so much needless suffering.  And, we can begin co-creating a world filled with hope, love, generosity and equality. We are filled with gratitude that we don’t have to struggle in the dark alone. Check out our newest video to learn how–together–we can bring forth a new era.

The Spirit in Action Team

Oct 152012


Welcome HOME!

Formerly known as EMERGE, our new network of environmental leaders is now called HOME (Healing Our Movement Ecosystem). This new name highlights how this network aims to bridge conservation, environmental justice, and ecological innovation perspectives and strategies. In collaboration with Yes!, HOME just held its first national retreat for 10 diverse leaders to reflect on the opportunities for building a more cohesive environmental movement. HOME also continues to gain traction regionally through the development of Resilience Hubs in the Southeast and the West.

Jodi Lasseter is the network weaver for HOME. If you are interested in learning more about HOME please contact us.

Jul 252012

Our circle gathered in the outdoor pavilion, surrounded by constant birdsong and the shade of massive trees.  Knee to knee with a new friend, I listened for the sentence stem I was supposed to complete: “Something I love about being alive at this time is….”   My long list of responses surprised me because I’ve been so overwhelmed by feelings of frustration with the political trajectory of our country.  I felt a wave of relief to be able to focus on the beauty and bounty of our world. And I was delighted by my partner’s answers, too, noting how many things we shared in common while appreciating the things that were distinctive based on our interests.  We had begun our journey together by remembering our gratitude for life.  This was the auspicious beginning of a 10-day Intensive in a body of practices called the Work that Reconnects.

From May 25-June 3, we gathered at the stone house in Mebane, NC, to learn from pioneering eco-philosopher and activist, Joanna Macy.  Developed by Joanna and her colleagues over the course of forty years, the Work encompasses a transformative process that builds personal and communal resilience. Our group included 51 people from a wide spectrum of backgrounds and identities; our ages spanned 7 decades!  Through deep dialogue, ritual and personal reflection, we learned how to face the enormous uncertainty of this historical moment without succumbing to panic or paralysis.

As the network weaver of EMERGE–Spirit in Action’s newest network focused on healing the divides between various ecological movements–I saw the Intensive as a vital opportunity to build the kinds of deep relationships and group skills that are necessary for our very survival.  Too often in our movements, we swallow heartbreak without stopping to bear witness to one another.  In order to become resilient in the face of ecological and social upheaval, we must cultivate spaces for authentic connection, information dissemination and community building among diverse groups.

I am deeply grateful to Joanna Macy, her staff, the local organizing committee, the stone house staff, the donors and all the participants who made the Intensive extraordinary.  I am filled with a sense of possibility as the Intensive gives birth to ongoing local and regional gatherings–“Resilience Hubs”— that will support activists to find respite and enable non-activists to learn meaningful ways to engage in issues that impact us all.  We will continue to strengthen our connections that stoke the fire of positive social transformation.

Spirit in Action