by Laura Yates (2013 Byron Fellow)
This post was originally written for Gabriel Grant and Jason Jay’s website, www.transformingsustainability.com.
After being exposed to the Pitfalls & Pathways work at the 2013 Byron Fellowship, I had an opportunity to reflect on a conversation – an argument, altercation, disagreement – I had with one of my closest friends about climate change. We were less than a week away from graduating from Bentley University, on vacation celebrating the past four years, when the conversation moved to the topic of climate change. My friend said he didn’t believe in man-made climate change, and I snapped and reacted in a way I’m not proud of. As I learned about Pitfalls and Pathways, I began to understand how ineffective my way of being in that conversation was – I shut down my ability to relate to all of my friends and completely lost the opportunity to have a valuable conversation about climate change. As I understood more and more of what I lost through my way of being in that conversation, I also realized I had the power to change the way both my friend and I remember the conversation by opening it back up with a different way of being. So, I wrote him this letter.
I wanted to talk to you and apologize for the way I acted on vacation. When you said you didn’t believe in man-made climate change, I yelled at you about not believing in science and refused to listen to anything you had to say, and ended the conversation abruptly by saying ‘This is bullshit and I don’t want to talk about this with you at all.’ By reacting this way, I wasn’t being open-minded or a true friend – I was acting in an aggressive, dismissive manner that isn’t characteristic of the type of friend or person I want to be.
I want to acknowledge now – because I didn’t when we first had this conversation – that there is uncertainty in climate science. The uncertainty is something that scares me because it threatens the choices I’ve made in my life so far – I’ve chosen to study and work in the environmental sustainability field, which is largely based on the principle that man-made climate change is real. Instead of being authentic and acknowledging the uncertainty around climate change science, I purposefully diminished the value of what you were saying, asserting that I was right and you were wrong, without giving us the chance of having a constructive conversation.
The way I reacted hurt our relationship and made everyone around us feel uncomfortable and distanced at a time when we should have been relaxing and enjoying our last few days together. If I’d been speaking from a place of friendship and love, what I should have said is this: There is some uncertainty about climate change science, and I hope that the predictions about man-made climate change aren’t as bad as people say. However, I do think it’s important for us as humans to understand the impacts we have and take countermeasures in case we are causing these changes in the natural environment, which is why I’ve chosen to work and study in this field.
I hope you feel comfortable telling me and holding me accountable if I flip out like that again – whether it’s at you or any of our friends. I know it seems strange for me to bring this up almost a month after it happened, but that exchange was one of the last ones we had before graduation, and I didn’t want it to be a lasting memory. I want to let you know I really value our friendship and I sincerely apologize for acting in a way that didn’t show you how much your friendship means to me.
Once I finished writing this letter, I decided to call Nick and share it with him, in the hopes that my reopening the conversation in a more positive way might help us strengthen our friendship. Reading Nick this letter forced me to be vulnerable and open myself up to him, helping him feel more comfortable and willing to interact. After hearing me read the letter, Nick was quick to tell me he felt some guilt about the way he was being during our original conversation, and expressed an interest in learning more about climate change because it was something I was passionate about. He joked that we’re both pretty passionate people and it wasn’t surprising to him that we’d gotten in an argument in the first place. Hearing him say that made me realize how much more powerful and effective I could be if I approached every conversation with the same amount of passion and a more positive way of being.
Through the difficult and awkward process of writing this letter, I got clear on why the (un)certainty around climate change science is such a hot-button issue for me. It’s surprising and almost scary how many different layers I needed to pull back in order to get rid of the projections of blame on Nick for how the conversation went, and move the responsibility to myself.
Being authentic with myself and with my friend created a space where it was possible for our friendship to flourish, and for us to have conversations about the things we cared about without fear of initiating argument or damaging our friendship. Because I revisited this conversation, I now recognize the power and potential of approaching every conversation with authenticity, vulnerability and a positive way of being.