Planet and Partnership

Hello my friends,
This is a special day. It is special for my friend Alan who is marrying Astrid in Indonesia today. It is special for my friend Marietta, who is celebrating her birthday and remembering an earlier celebration on 7-7-77. It is special for millions of people who are watching the Live Earth concerts on different parts of the planet. And it is special for me because I love the number seven!

I’m not sure when that began, but I did grow up in a family of seven and I still remember a day in the early fifties when all seven of us wanted to tour the United Nations building in New York. The first response was that my youngest brother was too young to go on a tour; then someone realised that seven was enough for a tour, so we got our own tour guide for the seven of us!

Seven became the key number for me about twelve years ago when I went on my annual retreat and re-read The Seven Laws of Money by Michael Phillips. Although I had always been intrigued by his ideas on money, this time I was fascinated by his way of creating seven laws. So I went back to the first draft of a newsletter on retreat—which I had written on retreat seven years earlier! Using the framework of seven laws, I made it much clearer.

Then I remembered the feedback from readers who said that they liked reading my newsletters because I talked about what I was learning. So I changed laws to learnings and began the first of a long series of Seven Learnings about various things. My seven favourite sets so far are my seven learnings about:

1. Love
2. Retreat
3. Diversity
4. Listening
5. Coaching
6. Learning
7. Nothing

I am sure there are more sets to come; the seven gives me a structure for prose the way rhyme or meter gives me a structure for poetry.

In January 2007, I launched this year of the seven with a list of seven resolutions for myself in the coming year:

1. Hugging
2. Conversing
3. Meditating
4. Haikuing
5. Journaling
6. Stretching
7. Swimming

The resolution to do each one of these each day has been difficult to keep. I usually do at least three, sometimes five, and more rarely all seven.

One reaction that I got to my seven resolutions was that they were all about me. True.

So it seems appropriate today to list seven resolutions for the planet. Although I support these resolutions, I have not created them; they come from the Live Earth organisation in the form of a pledge to the planet.

“I pledge:

1.To demand that my country join an international treaty within the next 2 years that cuts global warming pollution by 90% in developed countries and by more than half worldwide in time for the next generation to inherit a healthy earth;

2.To take personal action to help solve the climate crisis by reducing my own CO2 pollution as much as I can and offsetting the rest to become carbon neutral;

3.To fight for a moratorium on the construction of any new generating facility that burns coal without the capacity to safely trap and store the CO2;

4.To work for a dramatic increase in the energy efficiency of my home, workplace, school, place of worship, and means of transportation;

5.To fight for laws and policies that expand the use of renewable energy sources and reduce dependence on oil and coal;

6.To plant new trees and to join with others in preserving and protecting forests; and,

7.To buy from businesses and support leaders who share my commitment to solving the climate crisis and building a sustainable, just, and prosperous world for the 21st century.”

I signed this pledge earlier today. If you want to sign, go to http://www.liveearthpledge.org/

Like my seven personal resolutions, these seven planetary resolutions seem daunting. What if I have the same difficulty with them that I have with my personal resolutions?

The answer is in partnerships. We need to partner with each other to make our resolutions happen—by supporting and challenging each other. My wife Rosie encourages me on my personal resolutions.

And this spring, we worked as partners to make a difference in how we live on the planet: we installed extra loft insulation, a more efficient boiler, single switches to easily shut off our electronic gear, and solar panels to provide hot water. We now get almost all the hot water we need from the sun, so we don’t need to use oil.

The Live Earth experience today takes me back 37 years. I was working with my high-school students on a school assembly about saving the planet. Our assembly was one of thousands on 22 April 1970: the first Earth Day. I remember the amazing feeling of discovering how many other people also cared about the planet. There were all sorts of partners out there that I didn’t know about.

According to Wikipedia, “Senator Gaylord Nelson stated that Earth Day "worked" because of the spontaneous response at the grassroots level. Twenty million demonstrators and thousands of schools and local communities participated. He directly credited the first Earth Day with persuading U.S. politicians that environmental legislation had a substantial, lasting constituency. Many important laws were passed by the Congress in the wake of the 1970 Earth Day, including the Clean Air Act, laws to protect drinking water, wild lands and the ocean, and the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency.”

Imagine the impact on the planet as the Live Earth movement produces the same kind of constituency at the global level: millions of partners working together to protect the planet.

One of the things that I remember from that first Earth Day was that we asked each person to make just one lifestyle change. The idea was that if each of us did one thing, the cumulative effect would be enough.

But it has not been enough. Now we all need to do more than just one thing. And, on this special day, seven things seem to be the minimum.

We do need partners to encourage and support us. Two weeks ago, I was back in Bangkok to do more work with the World Food Programme. We began as we have in other sessions, with an Appreciative Inquiry process of telling stories. This time the focus was on how we build successful partnerships. I asked people to create images of partnership successes as children, as well as later on at work and away from work.

Parichat created a beautiful image. She drew a seesaw with two little girls on it. The one up in the air is reaching for the fruit from a tree above her head.

Parichat told this story about her image: “When I was young, my mother was worried about the busy street outside so she didn’t let me leave the garden to play outside. When I was four and went to school for the first time, I was so excited that I forgot to cry. Other children were crying but I was just excited to be at school. I went to the play area and found this strange thing that I later learned is called a seesaw. I got on it but I couldn’t make it work. Later I watched another girl get on it but she could not make it work either. It took us some time but we finally learned how to make it work, by balancing each other so that one went up while the other went down. And we learned that the one who was up could reach the fruit on the tree and share it with the other one. So I learned about balancing and partnership on a seesaw.”

As I re-read Parichat’s story, I realise that the point of a seesaw (and a partnership) is that we need to support each other and encourage each other. I can’t save either the planet or myself all on my own. I need to partner with you and help you sometimes just as you help me other times.

When I was a child, we called the seesaw a teeter-totter. The world now is both teetering and tottering. Bringing peace to the world and preserving a world in which to enjoy that peace will take lots of partnership and lots of willingness to let go of power and privilege so that the other person can sometimes reach the fruit on the tree. And share the fruit.

I look forward to being partners with you on the seesaw.