Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Sustainable Communication for building a New, New Orleans

I just read the TIME Magazine report on Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans. I've been in Firenze, Italia for the past two weeks and have been doing things like learning Italian, exploring Firenze, pondering the beauty of life, visiting places like Assisi, Pisa, Lucca, eating amazing foods, and in some ways being very disconnected from the US. I was planning to write tonight about my past week, about the things I did and learned about, the lectures I went to, and the experiences I had. But, I've changed my mind (don't worry I'll write it in here soon). Instead I have a request to whomever reads this: Learn about sustainability.

"Sustainability" is a complex catchphrase that is really about taking an active, empathetic interest in the serious issues composing and affecting your community and environment. If you are practicing "sustainability" you are collaborating to help and create a positive world, you are listening to different views and bringing people together, you are building relationships and inclusive community, you are taking a long view and planning for the future.

But if you are instead focused on your own needs as if in a bubble, you're basically letting the world go to shit and not helping anybody, not even yourself (because you need your community, even if you think you don't). I usually don't slap down such harsh words, but it's time to step outside and meet your neighbors and be concerned about their issues. So, like a parent telling a teenager to focus on his or her studies instead of the glamor magazines and MTV: it's now time to be interested in reality, not how you look in the mirror.

With Hurricane Katrina having basically destroyed New Orleans, our Federal Administration picking its nose with greed and self interest, and effects of poor communication and human resource infrastructure spewing, now is another opportunity to make the world a better place. Unfortunately, as is too often and predicable, a crisis situation is the calling for our American response. But since today is today and not a few months ago (or preferably years ago), it's time to get out of bed and start living.

Let's make New Orleans sustainable. This means a healthy, thriving city. Let's rebuild it with response and care to its environmental context, it's cultural heritage, serious social problems, and economic needs. Maybe we can even build coalitions across youth and adults that can turn into enriching friendships for decades to come. Let's get sustainability to New Orleans before President Bush's reconstruction plan gets there.

But how do we do this, or for that matter how might any situation be approached to manifest "sustainable" future visions? Reading the TIME report, it sounds like things have already fallen apart, people have turned to anarchy and quarrel, and suffering abounds... How the heck do we communicate sustainably for a sustainable future? ...Maybe these suggestions can help constructively organize people...

Here is my advice about how to go about it...
(as figured out through my involvement in the UCSC 2005 LRDP process)


APPROACH: In working in any situation, one's approach can set the tone; keep it always positive, constructive, collaborative, and cooperative language. And be honest.

GETTING ATTENTION AND SUPPORT: Repetition and consistency is key for communication and appreciation. Have a message for the future that is passionate and inclusive every day. You can't try to please somebody one day and then say something else to another person the next.

LISTENING: If you ever want to accomplish something where the community involved feels included and appreciated (don't we all wish for this?), listen hard and long to everyone. Wow, listening is probably the most critical. Always listen as a non-biased facilitator, it will get the most support from the broadest range of folks.

CONVERSATIONS: In order to gain support from diverse groups that probably disagree about how the future should look, it is important to promote conversations that are inviting to all.

DIFFERENT VIEWS: And what do you do once you've opened up the conversation? Bring different folks together, of course! Put diverse and seemingly contrasting opinions into dialogue. Accomplishing progress does not happen by taking sides. And remember, the irony of our differences is that we share them--conversations and listening helps people to find common ground and see interrelationships with one another!

COLLABORATION: Despite what most high school history textbooks say, history wasn't created by single powerful men or women... it was created collaboratively by many people. Work as a group, consult one another on problems, share ideas, put thought into what you say before you say it; speak up and encourage speaking up in public, and most importantly look for interrelationships to broaden collaboration.

RESPECT TIME: Rome wasn't built in a day. Have patience and be able to respond in a responsible manner as demanded. Calma, Calma! Think of the future as not just tomorrow but an infinite expanse of opportunities: take the long view.

THE QUESTION OF "HOW": Change in the world is never a question of "good" or "bad", it is always a question of "how". When dealing with any controversial or important subject, such as development or the future of a place, there is always the proposal of some kind of change to the status-quo. Usually people prefer things to stay the way they have been, mostly because there is a fear that the unknown will be detract from the "quality of life" that has over time made one comfortable.

Instead of fearing change and jumping to a conclusion of "good" or "bad", think about what opportunities "change" can provide. In fact, all systems--natural or man-made--change, it's just the way world is. Sometimes folks may not want a city to change, but think of a forest: the forest's natural ecosystem is constantly changing and evolving to the dynamic conditions of nature’s complexity. The question the future is a question of how something will change, because it is already changing as we speak.

And remember, since the future can be anything we work together to create, don’t be afraid to be innovative in your visions… bring them to the conversation!

THE RELATIONSHIP: As I've been learning in Italia, a customer-business relationship is not either just a friendship or a business deal; in fact, it doesn't matter... What does matter is that you're developing a relationship with another person! It all comes down to the relationships; that's it!

YOUR ATTITUDE: Be your self, and don't forget to smile and be optimistic!

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