My life is a story, your life is a story, and the earth is a story. We’re all simultaneously part of our own stories and each other’s. I’ve been unknowingly learning about the art of storytelling my entire life, but it wasn’t until I took an American English class in the 11th grade that I began to learn about storytelling from a more intentional standpoint.
Whenever I think of storytelling or a “Story of Self,” I remember Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” composed of 52 parts that he included in the 1891 publishing of his book Leaves of Grass. My English teacher assigned us to write our own “Song of Myself,” and mine is far too juvenile immature embarrassing underdeveloped to be shared here, but I will give you a small glimpse of 16-year old Julia: “I have a film projector in my mind that can only play back certain clips over and over and over again.” I find that line to be a fairly accurate representation of me in my current state. Anyway, I didn’t realize storytelling could be a tactic in the environmental movement until I noticed that a workshop on this subject was being held at the Southeastern Students for Renewable Energy Conference that I attended in Asheville, NC back in 2011. It was offered again the following year in Tallahassee, FL. Furthermore, ever since I began involving myself in the Real Food Committee at the University of Alabama, we’ve underscored the value of sharing stories and it’s been a part of every one of our events on and off campus. I now believe storytelling to be a pivotal tool in building and sustaining community. Because what is community? Isn’t it in its most basic definition, a set of connected relationships based on one or more common ideas and beliefs? And what are real relationships? A healthy relationship can only exist in accountability, encouragement, and trust. So what does Green U have to do with all of this?
Green U reawakened my fascination with the power of a story. I have developed a deep passion for hearing and sharing stories – both my own and those of others, and Green U articulated why and in what capacity I want to pursue my passion. Each and every speaker shared their passion through their stories. And this is why I learned so much. We will never reach people and achieve true solidarity and community without vulnerability, which requires a certain amount of trust. These speakers trusted us and trusted themselves enough to share pieces of themselves, and ultimately this vulnerability on their part opened up the conversation for genuine discussion and the bridging of worthwhile relationships.
A few stories really hit home for me.
First, Renee Sharp shared the successes of the Environmental Working Group over the past few months and years. I learned the importance of continuous action. The organization didn’t stall or wait, rather, they continued to push for more research and more change despite their many successes. This “what’s next?” mindset is one I think we can all aim to embrace.
Second, Nick Magel of Causes outlined his personal journey and how he’s been applying what he has learned about activism and engagement into his own life. Just as newcomers to civic engagement and leadership have to find a starting point in the movement, grow in involvement and knowledge, and then continue to evolve into a deeper understanding and a deeper commitment, Nick has grown in a similar manner: he’s been involved in activism and various campaigns for much of his life, but now that he’s working at Causes and overseeing many different campaigns, he is helping others be successful in their own initiatives using the tactics and strategies that he has learned over the years. Now his interests have broadened and he pursues engagement, empowerment, and collaboration among all members of environmental and social campaigns.
Finally, I was inspired by NRDC Youth Coordinator Rob Friedman’s openness in sharing why and how he is passionate about protecting the planet and its people. He shared a moving story of his leadership growth through experience and his travels and conversations with people of many different perspectives. There is not much I love more than hearing people talk about their past and how they have processed what they have learned, and Rob did just that.
Many others, namely Marci Zaroff, Erin Schrode, Jessica Shade, and Anna Cummins also shared their perspectives on the importance of stories. Honestly, I wish I could have sat down one-on-one with each of these incredible people to just listen and open up meaningful conversation about lessons learned and pivotal or touching memories from their lives.
Green U 2013 reminded me of my passion for conversation, relationships, and how perspective is one of the most important tools we have.
So these are my questions: what are the stories that you want to share? How have your learned from your interactions with people in your life? What are you doing to open conversation in the future? Are you engaged in positive, meaningful relationships with the people in your life? Think it over, write in your journal, call your mom, post here, do what you want, but YOU have a lifetime of stories to share. Don’t forget that YOUR perspective is unique and powerful. Today, I’ll leave you with a bit of wisdom from Rob Friedman. He wrote to me in an email a few days prior to Green U something that I think defines my purpose for this post and ultimately my passion in this movement as a whole. He told me, “most of my passions stem from the fact that as people, we’re all connected by our humanity, regardless of where we’re from. Finding the intersections that exist between us, as humans, is what’s going to get us to where we need to be in eliminating injustice.”