Rebecca McGarigle was a featured speaker at the 2011 Central Coast Bioneers Conference. By popular request she has provided a summary of her program.
This workshop involved a discussion of how to philosophically and practically approach environmental conversations with those who do not consider themselves environmentalists, and who may actually be hostile to the environmental movement. In an era where effective communication is frequently compromised, there currently exists a polarization between people to the extent that differing views are frequently rebuked without consideration. Environmentalists experience a particular challenge in this arena, as they are tasked with learning to interact with those who don’t agree for the good of the planet as a whole. The level of emotional charge involved with such discussions often lead to unsuccessful outcomes and are harmful to relationships.
The workshop discussed how to approach this passionately important subject in an emotionally neutral way, paradoxically increasing the potential for the message to be positively received. The first step in this process is by communicating with a primary focus on creating and retaining positive relationships. Agreement then becomes secondary to respect out of pragmatic necessity. The message becomes less important than the way the message is conveyed. When we converse without the intent of converting another person, we can be ourselves and relax. This allows the other person to do so as well. When they are relaxed and the conversation isn’t tense, it becomes more possible to convey our thoughts in a way that the other person may be able to digest.
To be effective in environmental education, it is essential to focus on relationships, invite positive discussions, agree to disagree in a friendly manner, and disengage positively from the topic if the discussion deteriorates. This approach to education allows for disagreement within the context of an overall mutually comfortable interaction, and makes it possible to influence and educate others in a positive and successful way.