I’ve worked in the field of conservation my entire career. I started in several biologist positions with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources before moving to the archery industry and then building my own business. Over time, I noticed a gap in our field. Specifically, I (and others) long for conservation to be a more healing place. I have created a number of workshop offerings in an attempt to address this.
At first, I focused on everything that felt wrong. But as I’ve taken more and more healing lenses to my own work, I realized I had to shift from what is wrong to what I desire. This question arrived not too long ago during a Center for Purposeful Leadership Essential Conversations and it hung with me. I reflected on the question for a while and landed with the following characteristics of the field of conservation I’d want to work within.
I offer these initial thoughts in three parts:
- The mindset I believe supports a healing approach to conservation.
- The practices that move us toward healing and away from harm.
- The relational components that keep us connected.
If any of my suggestions spark additional ideas or resonate with you, please share them with me!
Part 1: A Healing (and Healthy) Mindset
Confession: I am a bibliophile (bookworm). My actual library is large and my wish list is more extensive. I can’t possibly read all I want so I’ll never know everything. In fact, just when I think I know something, I am reminded I don’t. One such instance was my read of Nice Racism. Just when I thought I was being a pretty good ally and anti-racist, I learned that I still have much to do (and will probably never unlearn it all either).
An open mind is one of the first components of the Theory U model for emerging leadership. If we aren’t open to new ways of doing and being, then we’ve become rigid and closed to growth and learning. This hit home with me in a recent workshop series. One of the participants started expressing anger at “wasting time”. Afterward, I reached out for a conversation. I encouraged this person to do their best to show up open to the experience and honor the experiences of others who find the workshop more meaningful. As much as I tried to invite curiosity, this person could not move from their position.
At the same time, the participants who showed up to the workshop fully committed to learning shared some incredible ideas. I gained insight from them, and our learning was a cooperative experience.
My latest curiosity is about environmental identity and how we are deeply attached to certain parts of our identity. I recently attended a workshop by the Organization for Identity-Cultural Development and I intend to explore more of what this identity work means for conservation. More to come.
If I know and there is no more to learn, then that seems rigid. I desire a place where we are always asking what we can do to make things better, what have we missed, and what we are still dreaming about.
Seek All Voices
I desire a field where all voices are included. First and foremost, I desire a centering of the voices for whom any discussion is about. For instance, if we are talking about relevancy, then the voices at the front and center should be those from the most marginalized among us. We don’t talk about women without women leading the charge. Don’t talk about BIPOC without BIPOC leading the charge. Don’t talk about disabilities without people with disabilities leading the charge.
At every meeting, we ask ourselves: who is not here and should be? Who is here and we’ve not heard their voice? And then, not only do we seek those voices, but we prioritize them as well. In a curious manner – what are they trying to say that I might not be willing to hear right now? This involves a lot of cultural humility and examination of power inside the room and the issue. The more power you have, the more responsible you are to be curious about those most marginalized.
The way people show up with their voice must also be examined. We cannot ask people to shrink their voices for the comfort of our own. Pay close attention to language. We work toward language that is nonviolent when possible, and we get to the root of missing needs when language is harsh.
Seek all voices through polling, pre-and post-meeting questions, communicating agendas ahead of time (with clear assignments), whiteboards, and more. We can also use timers and trackers to determine whose voices are taking up space and whose are not.
Consider the Benefits
Many people talk about a growth mindset but I prefer the benefit mindset. I was recently introduced to this by Wes Wingett, an Adlerian counselor, in a class he taught about the process for working with clients (as a counselor or coach). The concept was first introduced by researcher Ash Buchanan and promotes wellbeing at the levels of individual and collective. When I think of the benefit mindset here a series of questions arises.
- What is the benefit I am providing for the whole?
- What do we need in our system so that everyone can improve?
- How do we use our learnings to transform ourselves and the world?
- What healing practices/behaviors are in place in our workplace?
- What conditions are required for everyone’s flourishing?
- What do we need to be regenerative and co-creating?
A curious, inclusive mindset that takes a benefits approach would radically transform the conservation community. Once this mindset shift has taken place, the rest of the healing work can begin. Determined to improve workplaces, it will be easier to set practices in motion that promote co-creative and healing workplaces.
How else can we shift our mindset to support more healing as conservationists? Stay tuned for the next part of this series, “Healing Practices”.
Written by Michelle Doerr (no AI used)