The Northwest Earth Institute staff just participated in our newest discussion course: Seeing Systems: Peace, Justice and Sustainability. For six weeks we delved into the hard issues. Why is their war? How does structural violence relate to human caused environmental degradation? How do our so-called “sustainable” choices still often adversely affect people half the world over? And, what the heck can we do about it all? As NWEI Board Member Alysa Rose reflects on, a connecting piece is empathy. “As a board member, I first challenged the fit of the topic to NWEI’s mission: Inspiring people to take responsibility for Earth. As I read each of the weekly sessions in Seeing Systems however, it is clear that the issues raised round out our view or definition of “responsiblity” and “Earth.” And the concept that keeps coming up for me is EMPATHY.”
Alysa points to a recent article in the New York Times about Millennials and empathy. The article unpacks a Pew Research Center’s study which found “not an entitled generation but a complex and introspective one…And its highest value isn’t self-promotion, but its opposite, empathy — an open-minded and -hearted connection to others.”
For us here at NWEI, one of the key takeaways from our discussions about the connections between peace, justice and sustainability is that empathy is critical to our survival. An open-minded and open-hearted connection to others expands our capacity to care about environmental degradation, the destruction of war, and the often hidden specter of structural violence and social injustices. Empathy moves us to care, and beyond caring is acting.
Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer says in Seeing Systems, “our challenge is to envision pathways to a fairer, more just and more ecologically responsible world, to see ourselves as actors capable of tackling problems and to take action because doing so is the right thing to do and because we believe it is possible that our efforts could enhance the quality of life for ourselves and future generations…” As Alysa says, “I feel my EcoChallenge coming on! How about you?”
Deborah McNamara is Director of Organizational Partnerships for the Northwest Earth Institute. Alysa Rose has served on the NWEI board since 2006 and is currently a consultant helping businesses and non-profits be more effective. Alysa also recommends checking out Elizabeth Lesser’s TED Talk, Take “The Other” To Lunch, to further delve into the importance of empathy in our lives. And, for another thought-provoking read, Alysa recommends Nicholas Kristof’s article on the humanities. To start your own dialogue about the difficult issues embedded in peace, justice and sustainability, click here. Or, ready for action? Sign up for our annual EcoChallenge.