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Compassion And Climate Change With Dr. Sebastienne Grant

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Despite countless efforts to preserve the environment, many still feel hopeless about addressing the adverse impact of climate change. As members of this society, what can we do to secure a better future? In this episode, Corinna Bellizzi sits down with distinguished psychologist Dr. Sebastienne Grant to discuss the importance of compassion to individual, societal, and ecological well-being. She explains the close connection between climate anxiety and despair, as well as the proper way to address climate denial. Dr. Grant also discusses how to handle neoliberalism and individualism to create close-knit communities founded upon long-lasting connections.

 

About Dr. Sebastienne Grant

Care More Be Better | Climate Change | Dr. Sebastienne GrantSebastienne Grant is a distinguished psychologist whose expertise includes mindfulness, compassion, and societal well-being. Having earned her PhD in Psychology: Consciousness & Society at the University of West Georgia, she draws on critical, humanistic, existential, Buddhist, and transpersonal psychological orientations. Her diverse work focuses broadly on the intersections of individual and societal well-being. With a deep understanding of existential concerns, societal influences, and global issues like climate change, Sebastienne offers profound insights into fostering personal balance, addressing burnout, and supporting a more compassionate, just, and sustainable world. Sebastienne is currently serving as faculty and department chair of Psychology at Prescott College in Prescott, Arizona. She will soon depart Prescott College after a six-year tenure there to join the Faculty of the California Institute of Integral Studies.

 

Guest LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/sebastiennegrant/ 

Guest Website: https://prescott.edu/ 

Guest Social: https://www.facebook.com/amandasebastiennegrant/ 

 

Show Notes: – Raw Audio

Looking Back – 06:29

Compassion – 10:05

Optimism And Suffering – 15:30

Relational Leadership – 22:58

Modern Era – 28:39

American Dream – 37:08

Building Bridges – 45:28

Pronouns – 56:58

Opening Up And Connecting – 01:06:16

Episode Wrap-up – 01:09:18

 

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Compassion And Climate Change With Dr. Sebastienne Grant

In this episode, I mistakenly refer to a public issue that occurred in Wyoming. I should have said it was South Dakota. Here’s the headline from today’s news. “Pronouns and tribal affiliations are now forbidden in South Dakota public university employee emails. A new South Dakota Board of Regents policy keeps employees from including their gender pronouns in school email signatures and other correspondence.” This is an important distinction and correction, so I didn’t want this episode to go live without it. This was published on May 24, 2024, referencing an article in the Dayton Daily News. Thanks so much and I hope you enjoy this episode.

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We have so much beauty, joy, love, connection, and meaning to reclaim. I think that if we start there and if we start inviting people into that, then their hold or their grasp on these things that they’re trying to use to make themselves happy will naturally soften as their actual needs start to be met.

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Hello, fellow do-gooders and friends. Throughout this podcast journey, we’ve covered topics like climate anxiety and the need for a more optimistic mental frame. We’ve heard from people like the environmentalist Paul Hawken. We’ve learned from him that we need to accept that we can’t do it all, but rather lean into the things that we can change to do better each day.

We’ve often addressed the feelings of hopelessness that often surmount after climate disaster strikes. The sad truth is even if we stopped all emissions today, we would still experience some of these climate effects for the next 30 years due to what’s referred to as climate lag. This means worsening weather, droughts, floods, all of these things that we seemingly can’t avoid and for whatever reasons. 

What do we as members of this society who want to build a better future should do to help us tackle this conversation with realness, courage, strength, and perhaps most importantly, compassion? I’m joined by Dr. Sebastienne Grant. She is a distinguished psychologist whose expertise includes mindfulness, compassion, and societal well-being. Having earned her PhD in psychology, consciousness, and society, she draws on critical humanistic, existential, Buddhist, and transpersonal psychological orientations. 

With her deep understanding of existing concerns that we all face from societal influences and global issues like climate change, she brings forward insights into fostering personal balance and addressing burnout, which is something that we all suffer from, and supporting a more compassionate, just, and sustainable world. Sebastienne is serving as Faculty and Department Chair of Psychology at Prescott College in Prescott, Arizona. Sebastienne, welcome to the show. 

Thank you so much. It’s an honor to be here. 

Looking Back

I wanted to get this conversation started by learning a little bit about what brought you to this moment. 

It depends on how far we want to go back but if we go back to childhood, growing up with a single parent who struggled with mental health issues, poverty, and some other challenges attuned me to the relationship between societal issues and individual well-being. It pulled my heart toward seeing how those societal issues play out in real people’s lives and their families, and their impacts on their kids. 

When I decided to go to college, I went into psychology. I wanted to see how to support people’s mental health. Through that, I became even more attuned to these relationships between societal structures and well-being. I got a job right out of undergrad working in a shelter, serving people who were experiencing chronic homelessness. 

I was planning to go to grad school after this to be a counselor but I was thinking as I was working with these people about how I would serve them as a counselor, and how I would help them with their mental health issues. A lot of them were dealing with addiction, depression, and anxiety, all of these challenges that for me were so clearly connected to their lack of housing, security, income, and ability to get jobs. 

Once you’re in this position, it’s so hard to get out of it. You don’t have an address. Some of them had minor criminal charges for something they did when they were young and things like this. They were stuck in this situation. I started thinking what can psychology do to support people whose society is failing and whose struggles come from that? 

I still thought I wanted to be a counselor, but I went to a humanistically oriented program at the University of West Georgia, where I was also exposed to critical psychology, which looks specifically at the relationship between societal structures, between things capitalism and neoliberalism, economic systems, systems of oppression, and how those interact with our wellbeing. I got pulled into that and started to think about how can we make greater societal and cultural change so that we can flourish as humans. 

Since then, I’ve started to think even more beyond how it affects individuals, but also the cyclical relationship between societal well-being and individual well-being, and then how we as individuals, when we struggle, contribute to climate change, income inequality, and these sorts of things. It doesn’t matter where you start. You can start from the individual level or you can start from the societal level. I still work mostly at that individual level, but always with that societal level in mind. 

Why do you think that compassion is so critical to individual, societal, and ecological well-being? What does it specifically as a concept have to offer?

Compassion always has things to offer, but I think that it’s specifically valuable at this moment for us because it helps act as a remedy to some of the challenges that we’re dealing with, again, coming out of or still within capitalism and neoliberalism. These things have contributed to a lack of connection between people and to feelings of competitiveness, and that there’s only so much in the world and we all have to try and get our share. 

This misunderstanding that human nature is competitive and greedy, and that happiness comes from hedonic material pursuits, all of these things are making us miserable. We then seek to try and be happy to help ourselves feel better by reinvesting in these material things. Compassion helps us connect to each other. It helps us realize our deep interconnectivity. 

[bctt tweet=”Compassion helps us connect with each other and realize our deep interconnectivity.” via=”no”]

One of the things that is said in Buddhist literature a lot is, “My suffering is inseparable from your suffering, and my joy is inseparable from your joy.” This is a radical idea. On the surface, it’s like when you see someone sad and that makes you feel bad because we have empathy and stuff. It’s not just a feeling. It’s true on a very deep level.

If some of the humans or if some of the parts of the environment are struggling or suffering, it impacts the entire system because we’re all connected. Compassion helps us to tune into that. There’s some interesting research about how compassion practices increase in the brain increase activity in centers related to joy, courage, and approach motivation, and decrease activity in centers of the brain related to depression, anxiety, and avoidance motivation. To deal with some of the big social and environmental challenges that we have right now, we need courage, approach motivation, joy, and connection. Compassion is a powerful tool to do that. 

You’re reminding me of a book I read back in my undergrad in a lit class. It was Lewis Thomas’s Lives of a Cell. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the book, but essentially it was essays that mirrored how the cells in our body reflect how our society is organized, and that each of these elements within even a single cell is vital to the health of the whole.

You could extol this into a concept of what is Earth. If you were to look at Earth by comparison to the parts of a cell, we could be individual, little parts of that cell, like the mitochondria that are creating energy, or the flagella that are supporting DNA, little itty bitty things within each of our cells that support our overall health, longevity, and life.

When we start to look at life as a whole that way, then it’s easier to understand the interconnectedness and why when we see one part of society sick, it impacts the health of the whole, whether or not it’s something that we’re flat-out realizing in the day-to-day. You get confronted with the negative news and then at a certain point, people start to callous themselves against it and start to disengage from that topic or that thought or turn off the news because they can’t handle the constant barrage of negativity. 

That alone is an unhealthy thing to do as much as it might be protective. It’s saying, “I don’t want to be integrated into society in such a way that I have to confront the bad.” I think this is what leads many activists to feel completely burnt out and feel they can’t make a difference, “These problems are all too big. What could little old me do?”

Optimism And Suffering

I interviewed Anne Therese Gennari on the show, who calls herself the climate optimist, who has written The Climate Optimist Handbook. Sometimes even as I go through content like that, I’m like, “Yes, but what about that tornado that ripped through Texas? The next day, everybody wants to go on to business as usual.” It’s not usual. We are not living in usual times. How do we, as a people, confront those from mental health capacity so that we can remain compassionate without feeling overwhelmed and then disengage?

Optimism is important. We certainly don’t want to be hopeless and we often fall into hopelessness and despair. Right now, within the climate change psych literature, there’s a close connection between climate anxiety, despair, and climate denial. Often, you’re on the side of believing that climate change is a human-caused phenomenon and is dangerous. We say, that those climate deniers are the problem but we see that when people fall into despair and when their anxiety gets too high, their level of action is about the same as people who are deniers. It plummets. It’s something that we need to take seriously. How do we deal with this? 

Care More Be Better | Climate Change | Dr. Sebastienne Grant
Climate Change: When people fall into despair and their anxiety gets too high, their level of action is about the same as those who deny climate change.

It’s even seen in how we eat. There’s something I talked about in a recent episode about diet and nutrition. When we break the seal on the bag of chips, even if we intended to get one serving, “Screw the diet now. I started on this thing. I’m going to finish the whole bag,” or jelly beans or whatever that thing is. If we tell ourselves, “Screw it now. I already did it. I’m going to lean into the mess I guess because I can’t go back now.” I fear that’s where we get when we’re stuck in these feelings of helplessness. I think that’s it. 

In my mind, community engagement helps, but it can also get to the point where you feel that you are not able to make this work. One instance that I came across had to do with mangrove restoration. This is one simple problem and it’s not simple. It’s a big problem. We’ve had all these mangrove forests in South America that have been degraded. 

Initially, the community got involved and they started planting trees. They planted mangrove trees and they thought that would be sufficient. What happened is that they would get these flooding storms that come in. Before the mangroves had rooted enough, they got washed away. It may also be because the channels or the canals that had once been there, naturally speaking, were somehow getting clogged with sediment because so much water had moved so much soil through roots that no longer existed to hold it in place that water would stagnate. The roots that were trying to take root would essentially go septic and then they would die.

The community had to come in and say, “We’re going to find a new way.” They had to essentially dig canals out and then keep the canals open so that when they planted these new mangroves, they could take root, the freshwater could come in, and it could also go back out to sea so that they wouldn’t get these stagnated pools of water that became essentially anaerobic. It was such an interesting case study of what it took. It took perseverance, dedication, and community to solve it because people were about to throw their arms up and say, “You know what? I can’t do this.” 

You said so many things I want to respond to, but that was a beautiful example. This all ties into individualism. The hopelessness and despair that come from feeling we can’t do anything alone, but we’re never acting alone. Even if we’re not aware of the people that we’re acting with as a movement, we are, but finding a community to actively act with can be helpful.

Also, this attitude in the West that gets identified in these discussions is that we don’t want to invest in anything that we can’t win completely. With climate change, with social problems, with lots of the big problems that we tackle, it’s not like we can make a plan, then we’re going to do it, and next week, everything is going to be perfect, we’re going to be living in a utopia, and all the problems are going to be solved forever.

Things often happen over multiple lifetimes, so change happens, but it happens slowly according to our perception based on the length of our timelines. Everything is impermanent and nothing is ever going to be finalized. We’re never going to get to the end of a problem. Maybe discrete small problems, but not these large systemic problems. It’s hard for us to find ways to get excited and feel motivated when it feels like something we can just chip away at. You bring up Paul Hawken. He is a great author and his book, what is it called? 

Blessed Unrest and then Drawdown

He talks about how if we zoom out, we can see all of this relatively fast and radical change that’s happening largely through grassroots, locally-based community action where people are getting together and figuring out how to deal with the problems that are in their communities. Those are easier to deal with. 

You talk about the mangroves. It was a big problem. They had to go through multiple solutions, but they found something that worked. We can do that. If we’re trying to fix climate change in the abstract, in total, that’s a problem that we are never going to feel like we can solve in our lifetime. I think focusing on those things that we can do and work with others.

Also, I think there’s a place for letting ourselves grieve what we have lost, and what we will lose. Psychology has played a big role in this. It has essentially pathologized suffering. If you’re suffering, you’re failing, and something is wrong, you shouldn’t look to the root of it. You should figure out how to put band-aids on it. 

I’m feeling anxious. I’m feeling sad about the polar bears, so I’m going to watch a funny TV show or do something to distract myself. There’s a place for that. We all need to take breaks but if we don’t let ourselves feel it and grieve also, we are constantly cutting ourselves off. As you said, “Hardening our hearts.” That also cuts us off from the love, joy, connection, and relationship that we could be having with each other and with the Earth that nourishes our motivation and our hope over the long term.

Relational Leadership

I wanted to dive a little deeper into this concept of bringing alternative visions in, especially as we move through things a climate crisis. We have interviewed Nina Simons on this show, who is the founder of Bioneers, about her book, Nature, Culture, and the Sacred. She talks a lot about relational leadership. I understand this is something that you also talk about. I’d love to know how your perspective helps to bring these concepts together, and if we can define for people what it means to bring in these viewpoints and ultimately collaborate on a deeper level within a community. 

I haven’t read the book you mentioned, but I think that Adrienne Maree Brown’s Emergent Strategy is also a brilliant one for thinking about how we can work together in ways that align with the way that nature works. It’s a system series, biomimicry. I haven’t thought about relational leadership. I think a lot of the work I do does align with that, but I haven’t thought about it in those terms. 

I’m always thinking about deep interconnectivity, how we’re all connected, how everything we do creates ripples, and how we haven’t gotten into the situation that we’re in by acting as individuals. We’ve done it by acting as many collectives and that’s what we’re going to have to do to get out of it too, and that’s hard for us. 

One of the places where I think some amazing alternative visions are coming in is in afro-futurist, indigenous, queer, and feminist climate fiction and science fiction. It’s taking a different approach. Often we see in mainstream cli-fi films there’s an impending apocalypse, and there’s the one hero, usually a white man who takes this on and saves the world. That’s our narrative. 

When we think about the reality of that, no one person can do this. These narratives coming from these other spaces are about if there is a hero or if there’s a leader, it’s someone who can activate the community and can get people together to work together to re-envision something and to rebuild something.

Care More Be Better | Climate Change | Dr. Sebastienne Grant
Climate Change: The Fifth Sacred Thing

I’m guessing you’ve read The Fifth Sacred Thing by Starhawk. Have you not read that? 

I haven’t read this one. I’m going to write it down. 

This one is over 30 years old now, but I think it’s the grandmother essentially of eco-fiction. Starhawk is an incredible human being. I met her and interviewed her on this show, which was amazing. She’s Wiccan, so she’s an author of Wiccan works. She also is a permaculturist, so she’s a steward of the land and teaches people to live in concert with nature and to do things like grow olive trees among other animals and wildlife. She’s quite the individual. 

In that story, she imagines a world that is led by women in Northern California, separated from a more extractive resource-oriented Southern California, which to me sometimes doesn’t seem too far from the truth. I had to go back and reread it recently because I had her on the show. It’s out there as a 30th-anniversary audiobook as well, which is also exceptionally acted. 

I found it to be an incredible reflection on how groups can align and how worrying over resources is one of the stupidest things that we ever do. If we can take a shift away from this mine versus yours into ours and make that a part of this new eco revolution that is more futurist and aligns with the benefit of the whole as opposed to the soul, then I think that we can move towards positive change. 

Critics of that line of thinking are doing things like saying, “No, Wyoming, you can’t have he, she, they, or them pronouns listed in your email signatures. We don’t acknowledge different genders.” There’s this backlash happening at the same time in our society, which to me says there’s a significant portion of our populace that isn’t ready to move there yet. 

Compassion

Many of us might want to initiate something that is more communally focused, not to say communistic, but more focused on what we’re doing as a part of our society together than on this forever achievement answering to the gods of Wall Street. How do you think that we can move into a new era? Is it possible?

Modern Era

I wrote a book chapter in a book called Subjectivity in Psychology in the Era of Social Justice that talks about the role of the subjectivity that’s been created under neoliberalism, individualism, and the modern era, the modern subject, and how incompatible it is with social justice. I have this call to action for psychology to think about the subjectivity constructions that it is contributing to and think about how we can support the creation of subjectivities that would be more compatible with social justice.

This is a real problem because people believe themselves to be separate individuals. They believe that the path to happiness is material and that everybody is out to get what they can. Many people believe that the current system that we have is the best path to that, and those tend to be the people for whom the system is working. “It’s not broken, so why do I do anything about it?” They want to hold on to that.

[bctt tweet=”People believe themselves to be separate individuals. They assume the path to happiness is a material path where everybody is out to get what they can.” via=”no”]

I believe, and there’s a lot of empirical research coming out to support this, even for the people that it’s working best for, it’s still not working. People are still feeling alienated, empty, disconnected, fearful, and all of these things but they don’t know where else to go. 

One of the things I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is our resistance to ontological trauma or ontological shock. We believe the world works a certain way and if we come up against something that challenges that, we either have to deny it or we have to change our belief. That throws us into an existential crisis or an ontological crisis of, “I don’t know. I thought this was how the world works. I don’t know how the world works. I don’t know how anything works,” then we’re ungrounded for a while until we reground.

It’s something that we can’t just leave people behind or say, “Those people are being stubborn or they’re being selfish.” I think we have to account for that fear that the world is changing and basically, what we’ve been told is good for humans and will make a good society and will make us happy for hundreds of years now, that’s coming even before colonialism, we could probably stretch it to thousands of years, that we were wrong and we need something else.

They’re starting a movement. It’s going to take different things to convince different people. There’s a lot of research coming out that’s showing that financial success, career success, these different things that we thought would make us happy, that they’re not. Once you get to a level of comfort, having your basic needs met, this falls off that.

There are also consequences. We seem to have decreased close relationships, decreased communities, and decreased sense of meaning, and important things. Some people might be partially convinced by the research. Some people are going to be convinced by experience, maybe seeing examples of people in their community who are living differently. There’s starting to be these huge movements of simplicity, tiny house movements, minimalism, and back to the earth. 

Some people are doing it in a way that is probably extreme enough that the everyday person isn’t going to connect with it. A lot of people are finding tangible realistic ways to reclaim connection, joy, and these things that we’ve had to give up that can be inspiring for the people around them. I do think there’s a movement happening already, but maybe you’ve caught me on an optimistic day. 

This is a big element. Often the conversation is we’ve been bad as humans and we’ve screwed up. The people who are the most resistant to the change are the people that we point our fingers out the hardest. “It’s your fault. You’re the reason that this happened. You need to give up your Tesla and you need to give up your big house and you need to eat nothing but tofu and brown rice or whatever and not use any electricity. That’s what we have to do to save the Earth.” 

That’s a hard sell. Nobody wants to do that, but I don’t think that’s true. I think that we have so much beauty, joy, love, connection, and meaning to reclaim. If we start there and if we start inviting people into that, then their grasp on these things that they’re trying to use to make themselves happy will naturally soften as their actual needs start to be met.

[bctt tweet=”If we do not let ourselves grieve, we are constantly cutting ourselves off and hardening our hearts. We become distant from the love, joy, and connection we could be having with each other.” via=”no”]

There is a movement with younger people not wanting to be saddled by immense debt, which in some form says things like, “I’m not sure that I need to go to college. Perhaps I want to perform a trade and that will make more sense for me.” In some cases, it means I’m not planning to own a house and maybe I do want to get a tiny home or something that requires less of a 30-year commitment, so to speak. 

Maybe I want to be a digital nomad. Maybe I want to go live in Italy and perform my work there as opposed to living in Los Angeles or San Francisco or New York City or one of these other spaces where there’s a lot of public transport and you might not need a car and all these other things. We’re moving in the direction of this movement that says, “I don’t need all of that junk.” 

I don’t think people of my generation as much, as I’m Gen X, are as willing to necessarily let go of the accumulation of things that they might have. Even if we start to think about having a little less, buying a little less new, working to make things more durable, and investing in things that are naturally made as opposed to purely extractive and made of plastic, then we’re going to be making some positive shifts.

If enough of us make these positive shifts and don’t say things like, “I need a new car every five years because I need to live in this giant house an hour from where I work that I need to commute in and I don’t want to have to deal with fixing my car anytime something breaks down. I going to drive it to 100,000 miles, and get a new car every five years.” This attitude is one that younger generations don’t seem to have as much. 

Part of that is because it’s a little tougher to make it today than it was twenty years ago. You’re talking about things like, “If I wanted to buy a home, I need to have a 20% down.” Now, the average median home cost is three-quarters of a million dollars. It’s not as feasible for them. You’re coming into a world where people are saying that they’re making choices and they’re saying they are fine taking subscriptions.

American Dream

Maybe I’ll go ahead and rent a car when I need to drive one, but I don’t necessarily need to have one every day in my driveway. I don’t necessarily need to budget for gas, in addition to everything else, or budget for all the extra electricity that it would take to fuel an electric vehicle. These are some of the things I’m thinking about but one of the other things that you’re drawing me to is the political system we live within because of good versus bad dichotomy has seemingly led to so many of our decisions in this world of extraction.

It’s like we almost need Democrat versus Republican and nothing in between. You got to define yourself and we got to duke it out and only one will survive. Yet systems don’t change in this leadership that we have running. I don’t see a ton of difference from one regimen to the next. We do see some differences, but you’re talking about how the common, I say common in the populist perspective. How most people are affected is somewhat marginal. I’d love your thoughts on that. 

Many things. First, you’re right that it’s becoming harder to manifest the American dream. I think that the younger generations aren’t going to be able to do it even if they want to. People are making other choices partly out of necessity, but they’re also reclaiming that as a movement of, “No, I don’t want the life my parents had anyway since I see some of the downfalls of that,” and there are different ways to have security. One of the ways in an individualistic culture to have security is to have money.

As you said, if your car breaks down. You’ve driven 100,000 miles, it breaks down. What do you do? You call a tow truck person. You have your car towed to the repair person, and you rent a car. If you don’t have that, what you have to invest in is social security and community security. If your car breaks down, you call a friend, or you crash at someone’s house. There’s research that shows this direct relationship between income and community connections. People who have lower incomes have closer and more community connections, and it’s partly based on need. 

I think that has the potential to create a big cultural shift. As people do it out of necessity, they will also start to realize the benefits of having those connections. I think it’s already started. Hopefully, that will continue. Now on the political side. That’s a big thing. How do we create real change at the political level? I’m glad I’m not a politician. 

The more we help people wake up to the illusion that what we’re invested in is the path to happiness, the more people will change their values, what they vote for, and what they put on bills. It’s a real challenge. One thing that’s helped me find the wisdom in the middle spaces because you said things are so dichotomized is Jonathan Haidt’s book, Righteous Minds

He’s a moral psychologist, psychology of morals. He does this interesting thing. He talks about what we usually think of as liberals and what we usually think of as conservatives and they’re fighting against each other, but how they both hold valuable and necessary perspectives for a functional society. Conservatives tend to want things to stay the same. They want to conserve the way that things are. They also tend to be good at making fast decisions. 

There’s a whole bunch of things that maintain the solidity of things, whereas liberals are more fast change, but often have a hard time making change because everything’s consensus and we have to get everybody on board. We can’t leave anybody out. This is a generalization. People who fall into the Conservative camp, research has shown that they tend to be more likely to participate in community-based work, volunteer for their local church, and help their neighbors who they realize don’t have enough groceries to get through the week. 

Care More Be Better | Climate Change | Dr. Sebastienne Grant
Climate Change: Research has shown that conservatives are more likely to participate in community-based work, volunteer for their local churches, or help neighbors who do not enough to get through the week.

People who are on the liberal side are like, “I will donate to this big organization and they can distribute the money for me. I don’t want to talk to my neighbor.” In a way, people on the liberal side are all about social justice and income equality. They also hold a lot of those hyper-individualistic ways of being in the world and are sometimes less likely to inconvenience themselves and to get into investing in their communities and their local societies. 

I think there’s a place where we could recognize the value of what each of us brings to the conversation and recognize that underneath a lot of us do have similar values of wanting to be happy, wanting our kids to be happy, and wanting to feel safe in the world. They’ve very different ideas of how to create that but if we can recognize those underlying values and figure out how to work together and how to bring each of our strengths to the table, we could get a lot further than dividing ourselves up and fighting. We can’t work together. One side has to win over the other side. 

You mentioned that you feel the conservatives want to keep things broadly the way they’ve been and then progressives or liberals or leftists want to see change happen more rapidly. I agree with that to an extent, but I think what’s happened over the last decade in particular is that the conservatives don’t want things to stay the same as they have been. They want to revert to an earlier set of ideals and impose religious beliefs on everybody else. 

That is the thing that is hurting our ability to collaborate and cohesively come together in some ways, but then this ideology on the leftist side is trying to shove down the throat of everybody. One of these terms is, “No, climate change is a fact, you must. You’re an idiot or a dullard if you can’t look at the science.” 

There’s so much judgment going back and forth that we end up strengthening the opposition as opposed to exercising the muscles that enable us to connect and talk about the things that we have in common. The founding principle of this country, the United States, is supposed to be a separation of church and state. 

We’re seeing less and less of that in our present world. I think there’s so much to this story, and it’s not anything that can be solved in a single conversation or many conversations. The thing that I have been most concerned about over this last decade has been the willingness to remove oneself from the conversation to say, “I’m not going to talk to my racist uncle anymore. I’m going to dispel this person and reject them or cancel them in some way, shape, or form.” 

Building Bridges

We’re never going to converse. We’re never going to be in the same space. We’re never going to connect. We’re going to read our opposing news. Each of us views this news as gospel and truth and the other one as not gospel, not truth. Therefore, we divide and divide and divide. The reason that this is so imperative to talk about today is that I am not a conservative, I am a leftist, more than that. 

I am still the idealist that I was at thirteen years old and I’ve been told over the years, “You’ll get over it. You’ll become more conservative with time. Wait until you have $100,000 in your bank account or whatever.” People make all these judgmental comments, “It’s because you grew up poor, that’s how you think that way. When you have yours, then you’re going to change.” 

None of that has proven true to me. I do own my home. It’s mostly paid off at this point but I still have all of these feelings that it’s about the whole, not the soul. We need to consider the neighbors across the street, whether or not they have the same political ideals or religious ideals. We need to be inclusive as opposed to exclusive. We need to build bridges as opposed to barriers. Yet society seems to want to build barriers. How do we reconnect? Is there something in your learning and psychology that can help us do that?

A lot of it is fear-based. Again, going back to what we’ve been told. We are all in competition with each other, there’s a limited amount of resources, there’s a limited amount of happiness and success, and we are all fighting each other for it. We get into our little groups and we decide what we think is the best path to getting us there. 

It’s the Highlander. There must be only one type of mentality, right? 

Yes. That’s where compassion comes in. We can’t leave anybody behind. We can’t thrive while other people are still struggling. We can’t write everybody off. We can’t round everybody else that we don’t and send them to an island somewhere or ignore them or whatever. We have to figure out how to all be here together. I appreciate what you said about the liberal-leftist side. There are challenges there too and a lot of it has been this very righteous, aggressive cancel culture, very dogmatic beliefs, and no room for conversation. 

They were called elitists and a lot of the time, I’m like, “You’re right. We know better.” 

I went to a great conference where we were talking a lot about the anti-science movement. What I took out of that conversation was that the left has used science to back up its beliefs and to say you can’t argue with it because we have research studies that show that this is true and this is the best. Science is also based on belief systems. It’s also heavily value-laden, even though we want to say that it’s value-neutral. 

Care More Be Better | Climate Change | Dr. Sebastienne Grant
Climate Change: Science is also based on belief systems. It can be misused to support people who wield the power of science against people who are not able to.

It’s often misused to support the people who can wield the power of science against people who aren’t able to. It hasn’t been used honorably in many cases. People are reacting against that also. It represents a sliver of reality but I’m not going to get into conversations about specific religions, beliefs, and all of that.

I also think that there’s a place for spirituality, relational knowing, intuitive knowing, and all of these things that are often discounted in scientific paradigms. I think the right may be trying to bring it back in and because we don’t have other systems to talk about it and to bring that in, it ends up being religion and primarily Christianity. At this point, primarily fundamentalist Christianity. 

If we’re able to see underneath all of that stuff. What are the real fears? What are you afraid of losing? What are you seeing that we aren’t seeing, that we might be losing? Can we go the other way? What are we seeing that you’re not paying attention to? What are we seeing If we’re able to exchange information in that way? I think it could be helpful. 

Someone has to extend the olive branch. Someone has to be the first to say, “You know what? We don’t have all the answers and we’ve also created harm. When we don’t work together, we get myopic, and bad things happen. How do we start to build those bridges again?” People have to be willing to be the courageous ones who reach across the divide and start the conversations, and have that real humility to say, “I believe that what I believe is the only best good thing, but can I even in this conversation open to the possibility that you might also have some wisdom or something valuable to add? It doesn’t mean I have to change my belief, but it might expand it, it might deepen it, or nuance it. Maybe I do realize that I was wrong about some things.”

[bctt tweet=”We must be willing to be courageous to reach across the divide and start conversations with humility.” via=”no”]

I feel we have gotten to a space where we don’t value conversation broadly. We listen to the talking heads on either side of a political extreme. We don’t read what I would call journalistic newspapers anymore. It’s so hard to see what is plainly biased versus somewhat unbiased. Even if I go back to the days when I got the San Jose Mercury News all the time, I could see the bias in there, sure, but they would cover both sides of a story as much as possible to give you a broad view. 

We don’t have many available outlets that do that thing anymore. I spend a lot of time reading the High Wire. It is one of the publications I go to, which is a publication that’s put out as an e-newsletter specific to the Pacific Northwest. It has a lot to do with ecology and how our environments are running into certain issues. 

Tribal lands versus the colonialist empire and how we’re handling some of these things, gender inequities, and deep stories on these topics. Excellent journalism. Top-notch but also very much one side of the story. If that was all I read and all I saw, then I would have this belief and understanding that we were both much more progressive and also much more toxic than we are because often, they’re pointing fingers at problems. 

There’s some truth to that, but there’s also a broader story that’s not being told. I feel we as a people have a hard time getting to what the full story is on any subject unless we essentially want to approach it from a scholar’s perspective. We’re reading every news item we can relate to this particular topic, and then sitting back to try and absorb and think, what do I think about this with an open frame of mind?

It is also hard to do as a thought experiment because you innately have emotions, thoughts, and experiences that relate to this one thing. I’m longing for the days of Dan Rather in some ways, when at least on TV, would give you the story and everybody would hear the same thing. We at least could have a conversation about it without ending up opposed and locked down. 

Maybe this is a role for influencers to get more involved in having these hard conversations. They’re the culture shapers right now. They could be doing that. Some people already are starting to, but we could see more of that. It would be hard for sure. 

There are a few that are willing to have precious conversations, but most I think want to be interviewed by people who mostly agree with them. 

Of course. It would be an uncomfortable thing if we didn’t learn how to do it either. As you said, conversation is not valued and it’s not a skill that we develop how to have conversations. I teach a class on interpersonal communication, which has turned into more of a critical communications class, which is about how we talk to each other. How do we be good listeners? How do we have conversations that are about deeper understanding and the generation of something new together? 

I come with ideas and you come with ideas and we leave the conversation with something more than either of us brought alone. We don’t do that. We listen for something we are going to agree with or something we’re going to argue with. The goal is often to try and convince the other person of what you believe, or at the very least, try to make it through the conversation without being impacted in any way yourself. We could be teaching more critical thinking skills, and communication, but of course, we’d need the school system to get on board with that, which is challenging.

Go back and watch My Dinner with Andre. I doubt many from our present young generation could sit through the whole thing. They call it boring but that script alone is fantastic. The way that you confront the early part of the conversation, there’s the judgment on willingness, not sure if I even want to have dinner with this guy. We haven’t been disconnected for a long time, who knows? 

All the inner thoughts that we have about somebody are expressed through film and then the power of this incredible conversation is the so-called Mind Walk, which also leads me to think of that movie with Sam Watterson, which focused on the power of conversational thought. The fact that in many cases, we get to what we would truly feel and think about something as we’re connecting and talking about it rather than sitting on the other side of a screen and absorbing it. 

Pronouns

There’s something about engaging in these thought experiments and conversations that can even grow our mindset into something new. I think for instance, this thing that happened in Wyoming, and I don’t have the news story in front of me, but this backlash around the government saying, “We don’t want to write He, She, They, Them, put pronouns in people’s email signatures anymore.” That is no longer going to happen on the state dime, so to speak.

People are not allowed to do it anymore. 

If you’re in the public school system or a public office of any sort, you’re not allowed to do it. To me, it’s a swing back. I will say that when people first started doing this, I found it alienating and I was thinking, “Why? Is that necessary?” Sure, call me whatever, I don’t care but I also didn’t personally need it. I think the big difference is some people personally do. 

I’m throwing back to a moment when I was at UCSC with my undergrad. There was this woman that I worked alongside in the lab for the entire that we were there. We were both volunteers in the lab. She dressed very male-focused, had a short haircut, and everything else. One day she started saying, “I’m Richard.” Not from She to Them, but She to He, Him, He right away. It was challenging for a lot of the students to make this leap. I had an easier time calling him Richard than I did referring to the pronoun he because of my relationship with this person over the years. 

Your name is Richard now. I did that but the he, when I was referring to him in the third person was hard. Granted, this for me was 1997. Relatively early in a lot of this conversation but that means also that I’ve had experience with this shift for a long time. I even once questioned my gender and went through a few years where I was unsure and dressed mostly as a boy. I had more sensitivity to this topic as a whole. 

To see that state mandate of it can’t happen anymore because we don’t like it, to me, communicates that there’s an undercurrent that we need to address conversationally through activism and also through seeking to understand the perspective and bring people along on the journey together so that we don’t create more toxicity in an entire state. 

I’m troubled by it. I feel progress doesn’t happen necessarily like a step ladder, It often comes like a swing and is somewhat meteoric, which we’ve been in this phase for a while. You then see things like the fictional depiction of The Handmaid’s Tale start to mimic reality in our court system to the point where we’re revealing, we’re picking at the scabs to reveal where the unease is and where the disagreement is and how vast that disagreement is. 

I agree with you that it’s a pendulum swing. On my more hopeful days, I see the backlash as evidence of how fast things have changed. If you look especially around gender and sexuality, I grew up in Texas, I’m 42, and I was born in 1982, to how it is now, I live in a small town in Arizona. It’s not the most liberal town in the world. My daughter went to high school here.

It would have been unrecognizable to me as a young person to see the greater support and acceptance for exploration and for queerness and changing names and all that stuff. We’ve seen a lot of change very fast and I’m on the side of thinking that’s a great thing. I also recognize that it is hard for people and that on the side of the change, on the left side, people have not been tolerant of any challenge to jumping on board. 

Yes, now we’re doing they, them, now we’re doing same-sex marriages, whatever. It’s like, “No, this is it, get with the program or you are a terrible person and you don’t care about other humans.” That’s not people’s experience. Even with the gender pronouns, I’m in the queer community and identify as non-binary, it’s still hard for me to remember if people change their pronouns, to remember to call them this. There’s been this, often not from the queer community, but from well-meaning allies. 

There’s the cancel culture and they’re like, “How dare you not call them by what they want to be called and stuff.” Of course, if someone’s being anti, that’s different, but it’s hard for us to make these changes even when we want to, even when we’re on the inside of it. I think because of that, people are afraid that they’re not going to get it right. It’s like it’s a trap. 

“I’m not going to be able to do it to your satisfaction so I’m going to say that we shouldn’t do this so that I’m not going to be in the situation where I’m going to be criticized and condemned.” I grew up in a small town in Texas, so much of my family is still there. I feel I see that in there that people want to be kind and honor who people are. My dad, bless his heart, there’s no way he could remember pronoun changes.

I should have asked at the beginning what your pronouns are and I did not do that. 

That’s okay. She is fine. It goes both ways. I think we have contributed to the backlash by not allowing any space for moving through that challenge, any space for failure, and even for having conversations about it to help people understand. Racial tension, socioeconomic tensions, tensions around sexuality and gender. 

If you meet someone or you get to know someone who comes from this group that you think is bad for whatever reason, you’re more ly to open your heart and see things differently. We need to be able to have those conversations. Also, I did not know about what happened in Wyoming and I have feelings about it too. 

I understand state rights versus federal rights, but they get to your feels. That’s what happened to me today. How do I feel about this? I feel conflicted and weird, and I don’t even know. It’s not something I could change, but at the same time, I had these feelings about what was going on in Washington with the Republicans, and they wanted to say that we don’t want to be a democracy anymore. That’s pretty dramatic. I care about that. 

“You don’t want people to be able to vote.” That is what you’re getting to. You want the Senate and the people that are in office to make all the decisions and that the people no longer get a say in the decisions that get made. There’s something scary to that undercurrent, whether or not they’re in a position to win seats or not. The fact that it’s getting news headlines in these environments is. 

I think we all want a democracy until we are outside of the majority and the other side is winning. It gets a lot more challenging when there’s a greater divide and your side stands to lose a lot. I hope that I would still choose democracy, but lots of scary things at the moment.

Opening Up And Connecting

We’ve talked about so very much today and we’ve gone a little longer than I intended partly because of technology challenges. I do offer all of my guests the opportunity to share a closing thought, or if there was a question that I hadn’t asked that you wish I had, you could ask and answer it. 

One of the things I’m always encouraging people to do is experiment a little bit with compassion. Experiment with opening your heart a little bit, with connecting, with assuming that the person sitting across from you also cares about things, loves things and has values that you can recognize and see what happens. 

See what happens when you even do compassion practices, I don’t know if people are familiar, but a formal meditation practice, compassion practice often asks people to first start with themselves, start with someone that you love, sending them wishes for happiness and the alleviation of suffering. You then slowly start to move towards people that are more challenging for you. 

This is where the practice comes in. Can you extend your care, love, and authentic desire for people to suffer less to people that you don’t automatically agree with or see that you like? My invitation to people is to play with that a little bit. People have different reactions, but for the most part, experience and research show that this for some reason, brings us greater joy and connection. It’s something you can play with and see for yourself.

Care More Be Better | Climate Change | Dr. Sebastienne Grant
Climate Change: Slowly move towards people who are more challenging for you. Practice extending authentic love, care, and desire to people whom you do not automatically agree with.

I love that. I love that as a closing thought. Thank you so much, Sebastienne, for joining me. For those who want to learn more about you and everything that you’re doing at Prescott College, as well as the college you are moving to next, which I believe is in San Francisco, the California Institute of Integral Studies, how would you best prefer that they reach out to you? 

Episode Wrap-up

Probably LinkedIn is the most consistent because I’ll be keeping that across platforms. You’re welcome to find me there. My new email is also SGrant@CIIS.edu. You’re welcome to reach out to me there as well. I’ll be there starting July 01. 2024. 

Congratulations. I’m sure that you’ll be well-loved there and go on to do more amazing things. Again, thank you so much for joining me. 

Thanks so much for having me. It’s been a delight.

‐‐‐

As a reminder, we are launching our new Cause Before Commerce site this summer, that is CircleB.co. This site will host the same content that you find on CareMoreBeBetter.com while also providing helpful tools to help you live a little bit greener and a little more socially and locally engaged. You’ll find how-to guides and DIY tools that can help you renew what you have, replace the things you buy, and reduce waste. 

CircleB.co will offer plastic-free products from housewares and clothing to supplements and personal care items, all of which are circular in design to minimize waste and seek to limit or eliminate plastics. You can explore our landing page today at CircleB.co. Thank you listeners and watchers now and always for being a part of this pod and this community because together we can do so much more. We can care more, we can be better, and we can even build a more compassionate society that values conversation and prizes Earth and its inhabitants with our community-first perspective. Thank you.

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  • Corinna Bellizzi

    Corinna is a natural products industry executive who has earned a reputation for leading the development and growth of responsible brands (e.g. Nordic Naturals, iwi, NutriGold). In her professional life, she champions social benefit programs to enhance company impact while preserving and protecting our home planet. She’s presently working tirelessly on the development of a new pre-market that seeks to achieve a carbon-negative impact. In January 2021 she launched her show, Care More, Be Better: A Social Impact + Sustainability Podcast to amplify the efforts of inspired individuals and conscious companies. Through Care More Be Better, she shares their stories in an effort to show us all that one person with one idea can have a big impact. As part of her lifelong education journey, she earned her MBA from Santa Clara University, graduating at the top of her class with a triple focus in Entrepreneurship, Leadership and Marketing in June 2021.

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