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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Environment...It's Where We Live



I live in an idyllic community with a sparkling blue lake in the middle of a mountain valley surrounded by national forest. Even though I live in Southern California, my town is located 6,700 feet above sea level so we truly have four seasons...snow in the winter, bulbs pushing through the soil in spring, warm green summers, and cool red and yellow falls. You'd think this would be a haven for environmentalists. Amazingly it's not.

Because it's a small town (16,000 permanent residents) you come in contact with your neighbors more often than not and the local paper provides easy access for venting. I quickly learned my assumption was false. I wasn't here six months when I came in contact with my first group of environmentalist haters. There was an initiative with the Forest Service to create a recreation plan for the surrounding mountains. The meeting was the battle ground of off-road vehicle clubs vs. environmentalists. Guys arrived with shirts that said, "Letting environmentalists care for the forest is like letting an alcoholic manager your liquor store." That didn't even make sense.

The discussions were heated, fueled by passion on both sides. During a break, I decided to mosey on over to the "enemy's side" of the room to see just how crazy these people really were. I chatted with a group of men about owning a 4-wheel drive vehicle and they naturally thought I was one of them. But then I dropped my little bomb...I'm an environmentalist!

That blew their minds. They accused environmentalists of wanting to lock up the forest for animals. I explained that would be like saying all off-roaders ignore closed gates, toss their beer cans and cigarettes out the window and drive over endangered plants. They agreed there were enough jerks like that to give the whole group a bad name. I agreed that there were extremists within the environmental movement who would be happiest if we closed off the forest completely and left nature alone. We came to the conclusion that the answer was somewhere in the middle. Right before the meeting started again, one guy asked me if I wanted to go out on a date! I consider that proof that I had bridged the gap. Luckily I was married and didn't have to test my gap-bridging skills any further.

I've been a member of the Sierra Club since 1980, the year my daughter was born. I support dozens of environmental causes and am the president of the Big Bear Group of the Sierra Club up here in Big Bear Lake. I don't fit the stereotype or at least the perceived stereotype...I have a 40-hour a week job, I have two four-wheel drive trucks (I couldn't get up my driveway without one in the winter), I eat meat, I don't wear Birkenstock sandals (my feet would freeze) and I don't eat granola...much!

For the past ten years, my mission has been to show the "opposition" that environmentalists are regular people. Then, once they accept me, I have a better chance of having a rational discussion of issues and coming to happy mediums that both sides can live with. After all, the environment is where we live, without it you can kiss everything else goodbye. I want to make sure we have a healthy environment where my kids and grandkids can thrive. That's my passion...that and writing. Some day I want to combine my passions by writing a novel where an environmentalist and developer butt heads before falling in love. Now that would be fun.

(Photo is me dressed as Jenny the Jeffry Pine. I made the outfit for doing presentations on the environment to school children. It's also fun for hanging out with my fellow Jeffry Pines!)
Have you ever butted heads with a person or group that is directly opposed to your beliefs? How did you cross the chasm between you and come to an understanding?

4 comments:

Paty Jager said...

I haven't come up against a group in person. I like to avoid controversy. Growing up it was my dad and just closed my mouth and went to my room when I didn't agree with his thoughts. I'd make a really bad activist. ;)

Judith Ashley said...

Christie,

I admire your commitment to finding a way through the verbage to a plan that everyone can live with if not love.

I think most people avoid major conflict and that is why extremists on both sides of an issue seem to be the main voices these days.

There are several topics that I use Paty's tactic - close my mouth. The person stops talking faster if there isn't an audience.

I've some people where we agree to disagree because we have a fundamental view of the world that doesn't shift (people are inherantly good or vice versa is one).

I do listen and try to understand when a person with a different point of view is speaking because I can't find a bridge without that understanding.

Today I am eternally grateful that there are very few people in my life (singly or in groups) that meet your criteria. I am opting for a calm life full of joy and happiness. Thankfully, my writing provides much of that.

Tam Linsey said...

Great post - I appreciate moderation on both sides.

Sarah Raplee said...

Hi Christie,

Like Judith, sometimes I have suggested we agree to disagree - although that doesn't really bridge the gap other than showing respect for the other person's right to their opinion.

Like you, I have found that respectful listening and searching for common ground are effective tactics. An attitude of 'we're all in this together and we want to find a solution we all can live with' helps, as does starting small and working one's way up to the bigger, more controversial issues.

Lately I've been thinking mediation training might come in handy!

Great question,
Sarah