Thursday, January 18, 2018

Relationship first: An experiential workshop on relationship-centered approaches to climate communication

Gathering a stellar and open-hearted group of scholars and practitioners at the Mayacamas Ranch in northern California. Photo by me.
Last spring, Clare Gupta and I received support from Invoking the Pause to hold a workshop on relationship-centered approaches to climate change, which I've written a lot about in recent years. The basic idea is "relationship first," meaning that even when it comes to these heady scientific topics, it can be helpful to prioritize relationships with people over making a point. But, doing so definitely invites deep learning, self-reflection, and adaptation. The good news is that other fields like law, medicine, and psychology have made a lot of progress in how professionals navigate this terrain, and so there are a lot of resources out there.

We were lucky enough to gather together a deeply knowledgeable and experienced group of scholars and practitioners from these fields: Leslie Davenport, a psychologist and author of Emotional Resiliency in an Era of Climate ChangeJuliet McMullin, a medical anthropologist at UC Riverside; and Gail Silverstein, a clinical law professor at UC Hastings. Each had an incredible amount to offer the other participants, all also experienced professionals including UC colleagues Susie Kocher, Jennifer Sowerwine, Martin Smith, and Dan Stark, as well as Elizabeth Allison from the California Institute for Integral Studies.

For the Invoking the Pause blog, we wrote up a bit of background on the workshop. We also wrote a second piece describing some of the experiential learning components of the gathering for those that want to dig in a little more (also happy to share more -- there's so much more to be done!). In short, Leslie, Juliet, and Gail all led us through some of the relational exercises they do with clients and students, and the linkages to environment and climate change work were pretty clear. It was truly a beautiful and inspiring group that, literally, spontaneously erupted into sustained group singing, not once, but twice (I have video evidence). There were also bubbles (thanks, Dan!).

Using techniques from graphic medicine, Juliet McMullin worked with us to create comics based on some recent experiences talking about climate change with others. It was an incredibly revealing exercise, both in terms of the challenges and successes of the communication, but also the task of making a comic. Comics by me, Susie Kocher, and Dan Stark.
All of came away with different insights. For me, the most immediately doable piece was to be more intentional about co-creating a bigger "window of tolerance" for others, a space where difficult information and the feelings it can bring up can be carefully attended to. I'm looking forward to testing out my abilities at an upcoming climate change workshop that my colleagues and are organizing for early next month.

Like so much last year, the workshop material felt intimately connected to the many disasters that have hit our state. The beautiful location for the retreat, Mayacamas Ranch, was deeply impacted by the Tubbs Fire in October; even during our June stay there, a wildfire erupted just a few miles away, but was luckily quickly put out. A good reminder of why we keep plugging along.

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