A way of being, a way of meeting

The most dif­fi­cult chal­lenge fac­ing human­i­ty is not devis­ing solu­tions to the ener­gy cri­sis or cli­mate cri­sis or pop­u­la­tion cri­sis; rather, it is bring­ing images and sto­ries of the human jour­ney into our col­lec­tive aware­ness that empow­er us to look beyond a future of great adver­si­ty and to see a future of great oppor­tu­ni­ty. -Duane Elgin

That was the note on which we start­ed, the pitch pipe to which 30 peo­ple in the room adjust­ed their fre­quen­cies as we began a four day adven­ture into the unknown. Our band of adven­tur­ers includ­ed the usu­al sus­pects: the marine biol­o­gists, ex-fish­er­man, polit­i­cal judoists, an activist climber, a vol­un­teer coor­di­na­tor, sailors and salty dogs, the peo­ple you would expect Green­peace to gath­er to plan some cre­ative mis­chief in the name of Moth­er Ocean. But on this trip, we brought oth­er adven­tur­er-guides: a poet, a visu­al artist, some sto­ry­tellers, and a bee­keep­er.

Nev­er before, in all my years with the some­times mag­i­cal, some­times mys­ti­cal, always prac­ti­cal, high­ly mechan­i­cal beast we know as “Green­peace” have I ever been to a meet­ing like this. Our chal­lenge was to jour­ney out into the future, to reimag­ine our Oceans work through the lens of a reimag­ined organ­i­sa­tion and a new sto­ry for the plan­et. It’s a sto­ry in which the bet­ter angels of our human­i­ty swarm, our inge­nu­ity for sur­vival ral­lies, and we build a bright, abun­dant world. A world where we have learned to live and thrive with­in the beau­ti­ful con­straints of an exhaustible plan­et by tak­ing nature as our mod­el and men­tor.
visual notes new Greenpeace story
The big pic­ture, summed up in one board by @YaoXiaoArt and @Imagethink

We had things we usu­al­ly don’t have at Green­peace meet­ings: we had visu­al art, we had music, we had shak­er eggs: the audi­ble “twin­kle hands” which allow you to rebel again­st silence when you agree or love some­thing, with­out inter­rupt­ing a speak­er.

And in the spir­it of using nature as a mod­el, John Poore, our Bee­keep­er facil­i­ta­tor brought us lessons from the 40-mil­lion-year-old deci­sion-mak­ing process that hon­ey­bees use to agree a new home: the democ­ra­cy of the wag­gle dance. When bees need to find a new home, it’s not the Queen that makes the deci­sion. Dozens of scouts head out to find a place which is exact­ing in its spec­i­fi­ca­tions: a small entrance, a 40 litre cav­i­ty, high enough off the ground that Win­nie the Pooh can’t get in with­out effort, near to food sources, fac­ing away from pre­vail­ing winds, etc etc etc. All of this infor­ma­tion is con­veyed in the wag­gle dance that the scout does on return. Scouts dance their find­ings – which also con­vey the pre­cise loca­tion, so oth­er scouts can fly out to com­pare, who then come back and dance the win­ner. At some mag­i­cal point, enough of the scouts are report­ing the same loca­tion that the entire hive swarms out to their new home. They make the right choice among avail­able options 90% of the time.

But if we ped­al that organ­i­sa­tion­al metaphor back, I want to know how hon­ey­bees arrive at the deci­sion that it’s time to move in the first place? How do they agree it’s time to send out scouts at all? It’s hard to com­mu­ni­cate to any­one out­side Green­peace how much courage it takes for a lead­er to step away from our con­ven­tions. By so many mea­sures, Green­peace is an effec­tive and suc­cess­ful organ­i­sa­tion: and yet the death of so many effec­tive and suc­cess­ful organ­i­sa­tions is that they repeat them­selves end­less­ly. And for an organ­i­sa­tion ded­i­cat­ed to chal­leng­ing the sta­tus quo, we can be remark­ably resis­tant and hos­tile to change. You can see the anti­bod­ies swarm around those who are the first to bring new think­ing to the table. The thing that has kept me going for 30 years is the long view of hav­ing wit­nessed how the organ­i­sa­tion will even­tu­al­ly embrace and wel­come those same ideas it fights at first.

shaker eggs
We heart shak­er eggs

Part of what made this meet­ing dif­fer­ent from thou­sands of oth­ers whose bones lit­ter the vast savan­nah was a sto­ry. We were liv­ing a sto­ry about a bil­lion acts of courage deliv­er­ing a bet­ter world, and artic­u­lat­ing not only what a bet­ter world looks like, but what it feels like to work for an organ­i­sa­tion that can gen­uine­ly deliv­er on it; an organ­i­sa­tion that recog­nis­es the very first thing I learned when I picked up a clip­board 30 years ago to knock on doors as a can­vasser: we will inspire nobody unless we our­selves are inspired. We will con­vince nobody unless we our­selves are con­vinced.

And that in a world in which there is no short­age of night­mares, the great­est act of courage is to dream.

Among the peo­ple gath­ered to talk about the future of the oceans cam­paign and the future of the organ­i­sa­tion, more than a few of us need­ed a bit of inspi­ra­tion and courage and a dream. As Green­peace embarks upon new changes designed to shift resources to the places where the planet’s future will be decid­ed — Chi­na, Africa, India, Brazil, Rus­sia, South East Asia, and the US — many of us have received redun­dan­cy notices, many of us have part­ed ways, many of us are moult­ing into new forms.

The job I’ve loved for many years now as Head of Dig­i­tal Net­work­ing and Mobil­i­sa­tion no longer exists as our Inter­na­tion­al office in Ams­ter­dam shifts from a con­tent and cam­paign lead role to one of sup­port for those func­tions. We can, and we will, debate the fin­er points of how effec­tive­ly our new struc­ture will sat­is­fy Greenpeace’s ambi­tions to be both a glob­al­ly coor­di­nat­ed force and a local­ly unfet­tered and nim­ble col­lec­tive. We seem every five years or so to change up the for­mu­la by which we pur­sue that ambi­tion. But no mat­ter how much we argue about how to get it right, the ambi­tion remains a wor­thy one. Nation­al­ism is nev­er going to save the world — but too few peo­ple have yet learned to speak uni­ver­sal­ism.

What I saw over the course of this meet­ing was a way this organ­i­sa­tion can be in the future that would make all the pain and uncer­tain­ty that I’ve felt over the last year worth­while, whether I’ll be a part of the organ­i­sa­tion that I got a taste of or not. It was an organ­i­sa­tion com­mit­ted to peo­ple-pow­er. One that active­ly nur­tured its peo­ple and their tal­ents. A less ego­cen­tric, more net­work-cen­tric organ­i­sa­tion. An organ­i­sa­tion that cher­ished cre­ativ­i­ty and knew a trick or two about how to draw it out. An organ­i­sa­tion that knew that how you make a deci­sion can be as impor­tant as the deci­sion you make. An organ­i­sa­tion that val­ues the pow­er of art and cul­ture and knows the secret of chang­ing soci­ety is not to main­stream your organ­i­sa­tion, but to main­stream your ideas. An organ­i­sa­tion that embraces and cham­pi­ons a rad­i­cal­ly pos­i­tive vision of the future and puts all its ener­gy into build­ing the new instead of fight­ing the old. An organ­i­sa­tion which doesn’t for­get to dream.

This was one of many wag­gle dances we will do over this time of change. I loved the new home that we scout­ed. It’s one that would serve the plan­et, the oceans, and the beau­ti­ful cre­ative inge­nu­ity of the human species well.

The poet who joined us at the meet­ing, Drew Dillinger, sketched the night­mare per­fect­ly:

it’s 3:23 in the morn­ing
and I’m awake
because my great great grand­chil­dren
won’t let me sleep
my great great grand­chil­dren
ask me in dreams
what did you do while the plan­et was plun­dered?
what did you do when the earth was unrav­el­ing?

I want to answer that I helped build a bet­ter dream.

5 thoughts on “A way of being, a way of meeting”

  1. Such a pow­er­ful, cogent, well-writ­ten, and broad­ly applic­a­ble reflec­tion! I love, ‘not main­stream­ing our orga­ni­za­tion but main­stream­ing our ideas.’

    It was such an hon­or and gift to be at this meet­ing with such com­mit­ted, vision­ary souls in Ams­ter­dam. I’m so glad you cap­tured the unique­ness and promise of our gath­er­ing. Huge thanks to you, Mar­itza, John, and every­one.

    Hon­ored to know you all!

  2. The organ­i­sa­tion will even­tu­al­ly embrace and wel­come those same ideas it fights at first.” So true, but I do hope we don’t lose too many dancers along the way. Thank you for shar­ing the inspi­ra­tion, and the bald­ly stat­ed reminder that ‘how you make a deci­sion can be as impor­tant as the deci­sion you make’ … I need­ed that!

  3. By so many mea­sures, Green­peace is an effec­tive and suc­cess­ful organ­i­sa­tion: and yet the death of so many effec­tive and suc­cess­ful organ­i­sa­tions is that they repeat them­selves end­less­ly. And for an organ­i­sa­tion ded­i­cat­ed to chal­leng­ing the sta­tus quo, we can be remark­ably resis­tant and hos­tile to change. You can see the anti­bod­ies swarm around those who are the first to bring new think­ing to the table.”

    So true. Where’s a shak­er egg when you need one? 🙂 Thanks for this, Bri­an. I’ve admired your writ­ing since I first joined GP. My admi­ra­tion hasn’t changed even though I’ve left. Cheers.

  4. Hey Bri­an, thanks for writ­ing this at has given words to the many emo­tions that have been roused with the changes hap­pen­ing at Green­peace. May you always con­tin­ue to inspire action

  5. Thanks for shar­ing this scout­ing-dance dear Bee-bro’-Brian..:) Chal­leg­ing time indeed, as there’s no time to waste… I bet­ter get on with it, as there’s heaps more scout­ing & danc­ing to do before we find a new place to make more hon­ey…

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