UK (University of South Wales) Coaching and Climate Change: How Can We Best Serve?
Every day we hear of new threats to our world, our way of life, and the relationships and things we love. Yet the COVID-19 pandemic and significant awakenings like the Black Lives Matter protests have shown us how stunningly capable humans are of galvanising ourselves into action, forming and strengthening caring communities, and urging those in power to serve us better. Some even say the pandemic has brought us more alive; yet there are many for whom it has sadly meant painful loss or death.
What Covid-19 has brought, without doubt, is much uncertainty. And for a species that spends its time creating structures and rules that reduce or appear to eliminate uncertainty, this has perhaps been one of our greatest challenges. Not Knowing.
Working Through the Not Knowing of Climate Change
Uncertainty will not be done with us when all the vaccines are given and the pandemic subsides, because climate change, ecological decline, and environmental degradation continue apace. We cannot quarantine ourselves and we cannot stop it dead in its tracks. Yet in the Western world, we don’t often directly see or knowingly experience its most extreme impacts (although we are all impacted) and so have the luxury of denying it at some level.
Even after we have been moved to tears by the latest David Attenborough wildlife documentary telling us that we are in the sixth mass extinction event in our planet’s 4.5-billion-year life (and this one uniquely caused by human activity), we push our grief and existential fears away with resistance processes to restore our equilibrium. Even after we have watched news of devastating floods in Bangladesh, unprecedented wildfires in Australia and California, cyclones in Fiji, or read about the massive decline in bees that play a crucial role in providing our food, we carry on with our lives. We must.
We won’t be able to continue to keep Not Knowing and pushing away, because it is real and impacting us and every living being, every day. Even here in Wales, floods and storms rising in frequency and severity by the year will mean we encounter more people whose lives have been turned upside down. We can no longer live in a bubble.
Climate change resistance is not a healthy relationship to have with ourselves and with nature. It’s exhausting, it’s futile, and it directs our energies away from our amazing personal resources for meeting challenge, into a self-serving yet dead end protectionism.
What Does this Mean for Coaches?
What might climate change and environmental crisis mean for us? We are accustomed to supporting others in expressing their hopes, dreams and concerns, make plans, build cultures, lead authentically, overcome obstacles, and integrate all parts of themselves to achieve their full potential. Yet are we equipped to help them with their existential fears? With guilt, anxiety, loss or tragedy? Whilst experiencing and managing our own?
I doubt that most coaches in Australia before the 2020 record-breaking bush fires felt fully equipped even though some had previous experiences of fires. A nation that lost thousands of homes and jobs and 3 billion treasured wild animals in the space of a few days will be in mourning and in healing for some time to come.
This is the world we now live in, and it will change further.
As Margaret Heffernan says:
“We don’t know what that change will look like, so we can’t really plan for it. Yet we can prepare and build resilience for a range of possible outcomes.”
In “Active Hope” Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone describe “Three Stories of Our Time” – Business as Usual (the defining assumptions that there is little need to change), the Great Unravelling (which draws attention to the disasters that Business as Usual is leading us to), and the Great Turning (the transition from an industrial society committed to economic growth to a life sustaining society committed to the healing and recovery of our world).
We have a paradox. We must remedy our Not Knowing about what is happening now in order to accept, yet not remedy, Not Knowing about the future.
Becoming more comfortable with both aspects of Not Knowing is key to beginning the journey towards healing and recovery, towards that third story. And it starts with being prepared. Some of what we prepare may not be needed. But we won’t know that until we encounter the challenges along the way.
- We can raise our own awareness of the wider system and understanding of how the world is changing and what the impacts are, without becoming obsessed or overwhelmed by doom. Self-care is an important part of this.
- We can choose an active stance with bigger bolder personal steps to live a life that is more respectful of the rest of nature and so reduce our own harmful impacts. We can know that we are nature too and are tightly interdependent.
- We can discover what millions of individuals, businesses and governments are doing to combat climate change. Not to gain false hope of a magic wand, but to remind us that we are not alone in caring.
- We can facilitate great spaces for collaborative conversations for our clients and their organisations and alliances, building their resilience and agency to innovate and act.
- We can recognise that anxieties and painful feelings are simply an expression of deep care for our beautiful world, and part of what it means to be alive and fully present.
- We can create communities and support groups to welcome, share and honour these feelings.
- We can become more skilled in understanding and working with normal psychological responses to climate change and ensure that we have appropriate client referral routes in place when we have reached the limits of our role and our expertise. At the same time,
- We can become more skilled in working with clients who are not informed, not interested, or who are resistant, or anxious, or grief struck, or who don’t know how to respond to their own or their children’s anxieties. We can hold and respond without losing the essence of what it means to be a coach.
At the Wales Coaching Conference in March 2021 I will be exploring these and other ways that we can be better prepared even whilst we have a Not Knowing about the future. If you are ready to meet the challenge, I will see you there!
Heffernan, M. (2020). Uncharted: How to Map the Future Together. London. Simon and Schuster.
Macey, J. and Johnstone, C. (2012). Active Hope. How to Face the Mess We’re in Without Going Crazy. California. New World Library.
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