I continue to unpack the sentence, “let’s meet them where they are.” In my last post, I suggested ways to reduce harm when taking people outdoors. In this post, I cover four additional ways to guide us all to simply meeting people.
(Spoiler) The last two words of my favorite Ecopsychology book, Voice of the Earth, are “know thyself.” At the time I read it, I just getting started in the field of ecopsychology and struggling with how to match my outdoor recreation work with my work in wellness. When I read that, I knew I was in the right field; it felt like me. One Roszak I’ll share is; “Nothing we ever imagined is beyond our powers, only beyond our present self-knowledge.”
To meet people in their uniqueness, you must first understand your own. That takes regular self-reflection and study. When I talk about environmental identity in workshops, I often start with early childhood experiences. In doing so, we reflect on ways that experience influences us today. My love of outdoors came from a small spot between three trees in the woods on the family farm where I played in solitude. Upon reflection, I realize how much my little pretend playhouse influenced my love of hiking in a quiet location through forests. It was the only place on the farm where I could escape to find peace.
Understanding your environmental identity lies far beyond your childhood experiences. Your environmental attitudes are also influenced by your beliefs, spiritual upbringing, education, media influences, local community attitudes, social-economic background and even your ancestry. When I think about and understand where my beliefs and behaviors come from, I get a sense for how complex and unique everyone’s environmental identity is. When I approach others, I can use my own reflections to ask them about aspects of their environmental identity. Inevitably, through that process we will find ways we connect.
Connect to others
To align or connect with others, we must believe that others are equal (not above or below us), and we must be vulnerable. In my workshops I let people know that while I have the expertise or significant experience in an area, I do not claim to know everything or have some special solution. I encourage people to share comments, questions, and tips with others because we will all learn more when we co-create. Besides being the truth, letting people know I do not have the magic answer takes a little pressure off of me. Further, as we go through workshops, I share mistakes and mistaken beliefs and that encourages others to do the same. A little humility goes a long way toward connection.
In outdoor recreation, I was involved in a great deal of research with a focus on labeling and ranking, so we could market, influence, or debate. We spent little time just learning to communicate with everyone regardless of their values and beliefs. I have worked in hunting and fishing recruitment and retention and there is a consistent attitude that pits hunters against wildlife watchers as if the two cannot interact. Why couldn’t a duck hunter connect with a bird watcher over ducks or wetland habitat? For that matter, isn’t a duck hunter a bird watcher by default? We do not have to look extremely far to find connections; we just must know to ask.
I love meeting people from all backgrounds. Curiosity is one of my values. I enjoy embracing differences; it makes me feel alive and, in the end, helps me see everyone’s uniqueness. My friends often joke; “there she goes making friends again!”. Being curious about others requires that solid foundation in self and a genuine interest in something bigger than yourself.
Back in 2010, I organized the first Archery Trade Association Archery Academy in Houston, Texas. We held the training at a very urban community center and most of the participants came from an inner-city background, so different than my rural Minnesota farm life. Over the years, I have made it a mission to spend lunch and breaks getting to know participants on a more personal level. I remember sitting at lunch with one of the participants and we started talking about where we lived. He described his urban home and I described my farm and that we’d recently combined wheat. I remember him saying, “I’m sorry, what is a combine?” I paused for a moment and realized that growing up in a city means he would have no real reason to know what a combine was. My response was “You don’t need to apologize” and asked him if he wanted to know more. We continued to ask curiosity questions about each other, and I gained much more appreciation for the fact that I knew little about urban life.
In my workshops, I use polls to gain some insight into how people are thinking or feeling. I also use a few assessments for the purposes of conversation starters rather than for evaluation. I love the Nature-Relatedness scoresheet because I can use it to show how, even in conservation, we fall into a range of spectrums regarding our beliefs about nature. Once participants see they are not the same, I shift the conversation to using the individual statements as conversation starters. This leads to lively conversation and chats among participants. When we shift from knowing to wondering, connections are created.
Think in spectrums
The final way to meet people is to think in spectrums. My life experience is not better or worse than another, it is just my experience.
One of the spectrums I present in my workshops is on access (to nature). We have access to nature everywhere, from indoor plants and pets all the way to wilderness areas. Nature is not just “out there”, and we don’t have to have “far out” nature to experience her impact.
I recently heard naturalist Jason Ward, who grew up in the South Bronx, tell his story about how he got into conservation. He is a self-proclaimed animal nerd which started with dinosaurs and continued beyond that through local library and books. He later explained that he was sparked by a peregrine falcon he saw outside of his window from a homeless shelter. Jason does videos on the Birds of North America now and undoubtedly, encourages many to become “animal nerds” too. He is evidence that a deep nature experience is not a prerequisite to interest in conservation and the environment.
Over two years, I have developed a nature-relationship spectrum to help conservationists understand the varied relationships that exist in our field. The spectrum evolved from a dualistic approach where I suggested we were either a tourist or a pilgrim in nature. What I have learned and teach others is that not only do we have unique relationships with nature, but our relationships also change depending on the place.
I use the spectrums to point out areas of growth. We all need to grow in a better relationship with nature. Use the spectrum to first find where I need to grow. I also use it to engage others to determine where they are along the spectrum and pinpoint where they would like to grow. Then, we can grow together.
Five steps to meeting people and nature
To review, the five steps I have suggested to meeting people are.
1. Minimize harm
2. Understand self
3. Connect to others
4. Be curious
5. Think in spectrums
While these past two blog posts have been about meeting people, we might also use them when thinking about our time with nature. Our first intent must be to minimize harm. We cannot avoid all harm because we must eat. But we can be more mindful of our time and nature consumption. We can be mindful of our place in nature; that we humans are not sole and most important among Earth’s dwellers. Our connection to nature is endless. When we are curious about our natural surroundings, we open our minds to creativity. There is an endless spectrum of beauty and nourishment nature provides if we will just take the time to wake up and meet each new day.
How do you meet people? How do you meet nature? What is your role in helping us all be better with each other and Earth?
Note: I heard of some accusations for naturalist Jason Ward and am choosing to leave his story of coming to conservation in because it proves a point. I defer judgement.
Contact me for more information or a discussion on meeting people outdoors. I am looking forward to meeting you outside!