At Junxion we have a weekly virtual team meeting. We check in, run through milestones for the week and end with ‘Asks and Offers’ to make sure we are supporting each other to meet those deadlines. On a recent call, people were declaring their ‘word of the week’ to sum up how they were feeling. Many of the team had spent time in nature over the weekend and offered words such as ‘fresh air’, ‘relaxed’ and outside.’ I offered a slightly different tone.
When it was my turn, I joked that ‘I need to get out more’ and at the risk of sounding like an Eeyore my word was ‘grieving.’ I admitted that I felt grief about the state of the planet and about the state of our democracy. And also, that I am still processing my dad’s death in April. In an odd way, it’s all linked.
Grief is based in love
As my wife Andrea reminded me, personal grief opens us up to the wider suffering in the world, making it less abstract and more tangible. We have a keener appreciation that life is finite and short, that everyone feels pain, everyone carries their own burdens. Grief reminds us of the interconnectedness of life.
From public ‘die-ins’ to funerals for the Earth, Extinction Rebellion deliberately encourages us to tap into our sense of grief about the state of the planet. Their message is based in the idea that our current system is leading to natural disasters and human suffering. Along with the headline from the UN’s May 2019 report on biodiversity that human activity threatens one million species with extinction, there is plenty to be grieving. And the visceral, emotional reactions they seek to engender are part of their theory of change: to move hearts as well as minds in the service of society and the planet.
As the philosopher Rupert Read, who helps to lead Extinction Rebellion, has noted about grief…
“Grief is a refusal to accept a rend in the world … Grief accepts the terrible reality by protesting against it. The key is not to let grief degenerate into mere denial or depression. Grief is beautiful because it fully acknowledges the loss. Grief is utterly based in love.”
My dad was a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany. Born in Leipzig, his parents managed to leave with his brother in 1936. Unsurprisingly, the values I was raised with include a strong sense of equality for all, of social justice and of fair dealing. These ideas of tolerance and compassion have informed who I am and how we lead our consultancy practice—both with staff and clients.
It is the loss of those values that I fear and grieve for the most. The worry that we will be awful to each other as our ecological crisis unfolds. That too many places are seeing populist governments stoking fear. That we are returning to a time when we scapegoat minorities, when we ‘other’ vulnerable groups of people, when we build structures to keep ‘them’ out.
We build resilience together
On the day of my dad’s funeral, people came back to the house after the cremation. I found myself in the garden with my cousins, drinking whisky—dad’s favourite tipple—toasting him and telling stories and laughing. It is of course in coming together that we grieve and connect and heal.
The same is true for our sense of loss about the planet. We need to come together to share stories, to support each other, to look forward with acceptance and courage. Perhaps by being inspired at next week’s Social Venture Circle conference by how peers are rebuilding the economy, one business at a time, to refocus on shared prosperity and wellbeing. Or engaging in online forums such as the Positive Deep Adaptation group on Facebook, which explicitly sets out to nurture personal wellbeing as a means of adapting to climate-led societal breakdown. Or the more intimate forums that Charles O’Malley calls his “connected conversations.” All these communities help build our personal resilience.
In Junxion’s weekly meeting, my colleagues responded with compassion and love. I was ‘in community,’ supported and nurtured. As my business partner Mike said, I had no need to apologise. As leaders of the business, there are moments when it is appropriate to be vulnerable and show through our example that colleagues can be genuine and open.
On reflection, I am glad we have a company culture where I can share my sense of grief. I was being true to how I felt in that moment. I was sharing that I love our planet, our potential as humans, and my family. If we are to transform society and adapt to the climate and biodiversity crisis, we will need to encourage more connecting in our shared grief and in our love for each other.
Adam Garfunkel is an owner and Managing Director at Junxion. Reach him via [email protected].