By Shea Sinnott
4/6/2015

Talking to people about environmental rights is a big part of my job. I’m always trying to find opportunities for conversations about the “why” of what we’re doing, instead of just talking about the “how” — all the tasks and logistics.

In fact, that’s one of the most important things you can do too to build the Blue Dot movement. Helping facilitate real conversations about environmental rights — about why we care about fresh air, clean water and healthy food — is your most powerful organizing tool.

I was recently working with a group of volunteers in Surrey, B.C., helping them plan how to gain a municipal environmental rights declaration in that city. I started off by telling them why this matters to me: how I grew up in B.C. in the forest and on the beach; how my mother taught me that the natural world was beautiful, how it’s fundamental to who we are as Canadians, how we need to protect it.

I told them how shocked I felt when I found out that we don’t have environmental rights in our Constitution, and how that motivated me to do something about it. How I’ve become increasingly active over the past few years, because I’m tired of feeling like I don’t have a voice. And finally, why I’m working for Blue Dot, because I want to put forward this positive vision of our future instead of just saying no and trying to stop bad things from happening.

That’s all part of my story — the “why” of what brought me here, what makes me care. It’s me speaking from the heart, about what I value, about things many of us share as values.

What you notice, when you talk from the heart this way, is how people change. People just lean in. Their body language shifts. You can tell that they’re listening more; they come into the conversation more. People who sometimes don’t speak as much in groups start to talk. And people come back; there’s more follow-up, more people coming up at the end of a session. They want to share their stories, or talk about how your story touched them. They want to get involved and stay engaged.

Why is speaking from the heart so powerful? I think it’s because our dominant cultural values push us in the other direction: we feel like we have to focus on statistics and strategy instead of talking about why we care and why we’re taking action. And true, sometimes it’s scary! When you talk about what really matters, sometimes you get emotional responses you weren’t expecting. So you have to be ready to help people be comfortable with that.

For me, having real conversations in my work gives me motivation. I think change happens when people build relationships, when we talk to each other and tell stories about who we are and what we value in the world. It starts us down the path of lasting bonds and connection. I’m biased because I’ve seen how powerful it is to facilitate meaningful conversations. I really believe it leads to better, more memorable events, and experiences that carry people forward in this work.

For our Connect the Blue Dots National Day of Action, we’re asking people to host real conversations about environmental rights. We want to connect with people, and help them connect to this purpose. So whether you’re organizing a big public event, holding a house party with friends and neighbours, or just sharing your thoughts with someone in your neighbourhood or at work, here are some tips that might help.

Tips for facilitating real conversations about environmental rights

1. Find out where people are at. You might want to ask what people know about the topic of environmental rights, whether they’re new to this campaign or have already learned something about Blue Dot.

2. Share why this matters to you. We all have a story about why we care, how we got involved and why we’re spending time to support the Blue Dot movement. Speak from the heart and share yours.

3. Create a safe space. If you’re facilitating a group conversation, you may want to ask for agreement on some ground rules. For example: One person speaks at a time. No interrupting. Listen to understand. No forcing values on others. Everyone has something to bring.

4. Ask questions. Invite people to speak about values, from their own hearts. Here are some questions you could try:

  • Why does the right to a healthy environment matter to you? How does it matter to your own health, to the health of your family, your community?
  • Have you ever had an experience when you felt like your right to a healthy environment was not respected or protected? What was the situation? What did it feel like?
  • How have you taken action in your life to help make positive change? What experiences, or people, have motivated you in the past to get involved, to make things better? (Sign a petition, join a group, come to a gathering, help organize, etc.)
  • What impact do you think it will make in your community if we gain protection for environmental rights? What could the future look like if we protect our right to a healthy environment?

5. Listen deeply! There are no right or wrong answers; it’s most important for people to share their ideas and be heard. Make sure everyone has a chance to talk. Gently ask those who may be dominating to leave space for others to speak. Acknowledge how people feel; respect different backgrounds and levels of understanding. Use active listening; reflect back what you’ve heard to confirm and clarify each person’s contribution.

6. Reflect shared values. Although we may live and work very differently and have different goals in our lives, we are all connected by the need for a healthy environment. Focusing on “why this matters to us” helps people see how much they share, despite their differences. And remember: people are having this same conversation across the country right now! The Blue Dot movement means we’re not alone.

7. Have fun! It’s good to laugh. Getting environmental rights entrenched in the Constitution is a big job, so we may as well enjoy the humour that comes along with it!

Whether you’re talking with someone one-on-one or facilitating a conversation among people in a group, I hope these tips will help you speak from the heart, get to the “why” of what we’re doing and reach people in a way that motivates them to support this journey toward protecting environmental rights in Canada.

Good luck, and happy sharing!