My Response to the Election Results?: Shock and Reflections

As I walked to work today, hoping to assess and understand the world and my emotional state, a few words kept appearing in my head: Respect, Community, Diversity and Integrity. I pictured wearing these words on my lapel, to ensure people I am not about hate or fear or anger. Even though, I must confess, I have a little of all three pursuing me right now.

I want to explore these words and why they will be my mantra, in whatever order, for as long as I need them. They represent what I know is of value and what I re-commit to working for. That second part is the key. It’s easy to throw slogans around, to hate what is, to want to burn down the current systems, but we need to have a replacement in mind, a truly workable solution. Without this, we have to prepare for worse to come to pass. Nature abhors a vacuum.

Respect: I know respect is of value and I will work to show respect to others and to myself.

By “others” I can mean my neighbor, the person who voted for the other guy, countries around the world and their processes and people. I can and do mean nature and her established systems and my place in them. Respect does not mean absolute acceptance. I can respect a person, but absolutely disagree with the ideas he presents, or I can have zero respect for a politician’s character, morals, experience and capabilities, but insist on respect for the office he holds. We cannot allow any elected official to act to obstruct the work at hand, no matter what party we voted for or what party-line we prefer. People must meet, listen, talk and work together out of respect for the people of these United States and the world we reside in. I also must respect experience, even while I am striving to make changes in practice and in policy to deal with a tremendously unpredictable future. In all cases, a civil tongue, a calm intent to listen and a willingness to incorporate a different perspective into my thinking process is important.

I will work for this.

I know I do my best work when I receive respect from others, and I suspect that when I give respect, exceptional work is more readily attained. I think the “well, he has to earn my respect” approach is, in the end, self-punitive. Bring respect to the table and make it part of the work from the start.

And self-respect will certainly be part of this. I cannot respect myself when I am acting in anger or fear or hate. I cannot expect to elevate my life and my work without respect for my neighbors (writ large and small) my world, and my place in it.

Community: I know that community is of value and I will work to enhance interdependence and thereby strength.

In this case I am speaking mostly of local community, but again, this value applies broadly as well.

  • Merriam-Webster defines community as “A group of people who live in the same area (such as a city, town, or neighborhood) or, a group of people who have the same interests, religion, race, etc.”
  • defines community as “A group of organisms or populations living and interacting with one another in a particular environment. The organisms in a community affect each other’s abundance, distribution, and evolutionary adaptation.”

Let’s go with the later definition, as it gets to the value of the concept I commit to. We are living and interacting with each other, and we affect each other’s abundance, distribution and adaptation. It is not about having the same approach to every problem, or being the same color or economic background. It is interacting with each other to maximize the co-benefits and to strengthen that community. I recently encountered a situation of a sustainability conference where the planner wanted to review the invitee list to weed out anyone who might be seeking to oppose the policies presented, or to heckle the case study examples of energy efficiency and greening that would be shared. This is the opposite of community (and of respect). We need to know these perspectives and admit them as part of our community, because we affect each other’s abundance, distribution and adaptation. We need to know these perspectives in order to learn what works and what doesn’t work. We need to know these perspectives in order to make the work stronger, more flexible and more sustainable. A community can grow with and because of its oppositions.

Any group, be it a bowling team or sustainability team or a political party will die off over time if new ideas are not introduced, discussed, and used to inform the work. Welcome the hecklers (and control the moment in order to keep civility) so that all can learn, transparency is apparent, and real engaged progress can be made with all, not just some.

Diversity: I know the value of diversity, and I will take Mother Nature’s lessons to inform my work and my life for greater resilience and strength.

For a strong community, read “diverse” community. Just as in a business structure, you cannot have all upper management without people doing the work of the business. You cannot prosper and grow without fleet supervisors and janitors and clerical staff and business managers and accountants and marketing folks and big thinkers and, occasionally, figureheads. Lower on the hierarchical listing does NOT mean of less value. In the case of this particular country, its strength and resilience has always come from its diverse and quite mangled history.

In the case of resiliency post super storm Sandy, when one aberrant storm (with more to come) caused near to $70 billion in economic losses, we are still, four years later, working on projects to deal with sea level rise and storm surges projections.

In many cases, a wall seems the simplest and strongest approach, and least costly up-front. But this approach has been proven false because it does not employ the benefit of diversity or community. We cannot afford a wall (this holds true in resiliency as well as in other arenas) because it is a brute force method that can fail catastrophically. While it is in place, on a river, for example, it actually moves the potential for degradation downstream to other communities. Totally not nice.

A wall also deals in one way with only one issue. Diversity allows projects to engage with nature’s systems and with a variety of situations to flex and be many layered in response; many more situations can be managed. In addition, failures are not typically huge and the layered approach tempers their longer reaching effects. Layering can include oyster beds slowing and reducing wave formation, and then stone piers breaking up waves, then grasses filtering, then rip-rap levees for protection then drainage systems and perhaps moving away from building at the edge for overall protection of people and property. Look to The Big U for a great in-process example of diversity in civil engineering and infrastructure work. This project benefits the varied communities in the area while it protects the Manhattan shoreline through many layers of flexible, usable spaces, engaged with nature’s systems.

Diversity is also needed in economic approaches. We have heard from at least half of the nation that what we have done so far is not working. It is not working, in part, because the implementations sought bigger positive effect by focusing on urban centers, by tempting businesses to the cities, by investing in New Orleans improvement while neglecting the less urban townships around it, by putting money and resources where the most people lived. This makes sense if you’re just looking at dollars and cents but does not create lasting (sustainable) development due to its sharp and limited focus. We need more diversity in outlay of money and programs, perhaps by looking at a different metrics than how many people the programs effect. Instead we can seek to understand how many communities the implementation affects and how they are affected, or watersheds, or transportation systems. We need to look at broad connections as well, such as investment in renewable energy development’s effect on reducing health case costs due to decreasing emissions. See for excellent info on this investment and result.

We also need to create diversity in those communities so they can become more resilient over time. This is why the movement for aged-care combined with young renters in the Netherlands is so powerful, and is moving here. It creates a diversity in the living structure that benefits all regarding emotional well-being, economic outlay and in healthcare access. This is why affordable housing works better parceled in with market rate development. We need to shake up our national systems a bit as well – we cannot continue to rely on most of our farming being done in the west and shipped east, for example. Again, this is a big “wall” that when it fails will fail catastrophically (read drought, in this case). Nature does not support mono-culture, nor does the economy.

Integrity: I know the value of integrity and I will reward that in others and demand it from myself.

Integrity is kind of an old-fashioned word, with a seriously important new-fangled importance. Merriam Webster and agree on the definition. It is first the state of being honest and having strong moral principles and second it is the state of being whole and undivided. Wow. I would blend these two with a bit of a caution. “Moral values” can be different in the eye of another beholder.

For me, integrity means that I have respect for others enough to hear them and speak with them and try to see from their perspective. Part of this is seeking to understand how they perceive my solutions and how my words are heard. Communication is two-way and although we cannot be responsible for how others choose to hear, we can do all we can to find words and descriptions that can be heard in the way we intend. We need to understand the audience. It also means I do my homework and don’t spout out about things without knowledge behind my ideas. Finally, it means not being afraid to say I screwed up. This is the most important aspect of integrity because everyone makes mistakes no matter how rigorous in prep they are. The moon is full or there was an emotional tie to the situation or attention lapse or I thought I was right but have since learned more. Stand by that knowledge gain and be proud of gaining it. Embrace that lesson learned and share what helped you to grow. Apologize if appropriate. And get on with the work at hand with your new awareness and knowledge.

Integrity also means facing failure without blaming others. In this election we could blame the write-in or third candidate votes, we could blame the complacency of the sitting administration in the thought that facts would win out, we could blame the media, we could blame the sun and moon and wind and stars. Skip it. Look inward. What I have l realized is that I was blissfully unaware of the total unhappiness of so many in our nation. And now it is time to ask “why” and then “how can we heal this”. It is time to relate the work at hand on climate, social equity, economy and place-in-the-world to the needs and frustrations that exist here. Integrity means knowing that broad issues affect us all and we have to devise the solutions in a way to include all of us. All of us.

I started today sad and angry and exceptionally scared, frankly. I think I am more aware of the world view of the USA than many United States of America citizens, and I hope this additional access to perspectives has not made me preachy. I know, in my bones, it is a time to be humble. We have so much work to do and now is the time to get enough balls rolling and at a speed sufficient to ensure we cannot stop. Fast enough and clearly beneficial enough that the market or the current political system is compelled to continue them. The work at hand, especially on climate and on social equity, will likely be made harder over the next years, and we must know that in the same moment of understanding the difficulty, the work has become more valuable and even more worth doing.

I wish you strength and peace. Above all I wish for you and from you respect, community, diversity and integrity.



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