I love a good story, but haven’t written very many myself. I’ve always enjoyed writing — something about the visualization of my thoughts on a piece of paper or, in this case, a computer screen (#21century) relaxes my mind. Still, I wouldn’t call myself a writer. After attending Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project in Chicago this past week, I think that’s about to change.
As a recent college graduate, I just spent four years surrounded by teens and 20-somethings trying to find a voice, searching for a niche and joining those around them who feel the same. I’ve always considered myself an extrovert. I enjoy talking to others and engaging in day-to-day conversations – Asking somebody how their day is going can really turn it around in the right direction. Case and point: Last Tuesday, my new friend, Alex, a multicultural student from Ontario, Canada, asked the CTA attendant how her night was going. She shot up in her chair and looked around for the speaker, saw Alex, and had the biggest smile on her face.
“I’m pretty good — Thanks for asking!”
He gave me a confused look. “Why was she so surprised?” he said, in his eastern-European accent. Alex is the son of international diplomats who have lived in more places than I’ve even visited. At his university and, from the sound of it, many places across the globe, it’s common practice to have this basic exchange of conversation.
So, why don’t more people behave like this? Are we too good to talk to the train attendants? Too busy? Or, are we just afraid of rejection? For me, it’s often been the latter. I’d like to say I do what I do to please myself and no one else… except that’s bullshit. Recently, I’ve admitted to myself that I do care what others think of me.
“Am I being judged?”
“Do I look cool?”
“Is this what’s expected of me?”
Petty fears like these will do nothing but stunt your growth as a person. Following my job search around graduation-time, I’ve accepted that it is OK to fail… sometimes. If you never step a foot outside of your comfort zone, never explore somewhere new and never take a risk, then you remain stationary and, honestly, boring as hell. Failure creates knowledge and the thought process of “Hey, that didn’t work. I need to change something else.”
So. What does all of this have to do with climate change?
After being accepted to the Climate Reality Project, I considered not attending. I thought, “What if it’s a crazy activist gathering?” I want to stop the Keystone XL pipeline from being built just as much as the next liberal environmentalist out there (Did I just label myself a ‘liberal environmentalist’? Shit…), but I didn’t want to present slideshows on how to organize a protest and lobby (read: scream witty phrases painted on picket signs) outside of Republican congressmen’s offices. I didn’t want to give off the image of caring too much. That changed after the close of lectures on Thursday afternoon.
Integrity is the only thing you are truly accountable for. What good is it to stand-up for something and say that you care when your actions don’t follow suit? How can people fight for civil liberties, declare they want equal marriage for all people, and claim health care a universal right to every individual when they do nothing about it? You hear it all the time, but that’s because it’s so true: “We have to be the change we want to see.”
I walked away from my week at CRP with a lot of new information. Sure, I received mounds of science facts, like how NASA climatologists have measured earth’s current C02 imbalances to be equal to 400 Hiroshima atomic bomb blasts – per day. But, more importantly, I learned how important it is to act for what you believe. One of the greatest mistakes we make as a society is to assume that somebody else is taking charge.
“I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live up to what light I have.”
Last week, each of the 50 American states and more than 70 countries united in Chicago to showcase a breadth of diversity and volume of knowledge that I have never been a part of before. These experiences have definitely encouraged me to continue writing and share my message, regardless of its size. Besides, when it comes down to it, what’s more important: Being true to yourself or playing it safe? We don’t have to be Ghandi. But we can at least ask the train attendant how her day is going.