Category Archives: Telling Stories

The Boiling Frog & Climate Change: is it time to jump?

frog.boiling-pot


Is it just me, or is it getting really hot in here? I think I might be one of those boiling frogs I’ve heard about.

In case you’re not already familiar with it, the Boiling Frog Story is a metaphor for how people are usually slow to react to changes that occur gradually, or to significant events which have become commonplace. Here’s how it goes: If you throw a live frog into a pot of boiling water, it will jump right back out. But frogs are cold-blooded creatures and naturally adjust to gradual changes in the temperature of their environment. So if you place that same frog into a pan of cold water, light the burner on your stove and slowly bring the water up to a boil, the frog will be content to stay in the water until it slowly boils to death. Whether this account is scientifically accurate or just an urban myth, it’s still useful for trying to understand human behavior. 

When it comes to climate change, we are the frog in the story–at least so far. The problem is that we don’t recognize climate change, as profound as it is, as an immediate threat. Our survival instincts are geared towards detecting sudden changes, not gradual developments. So while most of us would agree that we’ve got a problem on our hands, we don’t perceive it as something we need to deal with today, or even next week or next month. So maybe the most important question here is not really “Is this something we need to take action on?”  Maybe a better question is, “Do we need to do it right now?” Our perception of time–not just the facts or the stories we tell–is often the driving force when trying to change minds and move people to take action.

On the other hand, the coronavirus pandemic has certainly gotten our attention.  The pandemic easily fits the definition of an “event for change”–it’s a shared experience that has moved millions of people to make significant changes in the way they live their lives. The fear of immediate danger is the most powerful motivating force in human behavior. Not so much with climate change, though. We may be concerned, but so far we’re not alarmed enough to take bold action. 

coronavirus climate change tweet

I know, I know…many of us have already taken at least a few small steps in the right direction. As comedian/podcaster Marc Maron points out in his recent Netflix comedy special, maybe the reason we’re not more upset about the collapse of the environment is that, deep in our hearts, we know we’ve done everything we can. After all, we started bringing our own bags to the supermarket! And now there’s a movement to do without plastic straws in our take-out beverages.  But the truth is that for most of us, just like that frog in the pot of water, we make a few minor adjustments but otherwise just sit around while things get hotter and hotter. And I know this to be true because I see myself doing it, too. When it comes to climate change, what will need to happen to get most of us to jump out of the water, with as much force as our response to COVID-19? 

The coronavirus pandemic can act as a wake-up call, an event that inspires change. When the pandemic begins to recede, do you see your life going back to pretty much the way it has been in the past? Will you slip right back into that same pot of rapidly heating water we’ve all been soaking in? Or is there a different way of being, changes you can make that will aid in remedying the healing of our environment as well as our community of humans?  

I’ve been struggling with the answer to these questions myself and I know that many others are, as well. So far I’m still just getting started. My partner and I bought into a community solar array a couple of years ago that now produces most of the electricity for our home. We’ve been composting for years. The next time I buy a car, I’m committed to making it an electric vehicle. And I’m writing this blog post, in the hopes that it will get a few more people to think more about how they can start making the jump in their own lives. But none of this comes close to the lifestyle changes I have made due to the coronavirus, and I did all of that in a couple of weeks.

I’ve been looking for advice on what other actions I can take that will make more of a difference. There are plenty of constructive ideas on the Internet, but here’s a great  article from the David Suzuki Foundation that I found helpful and concise:

>>  10 Ways You Can Stop Climate Change

Beyond making changes in our own lives, it’s really important to talk to lots of other “frogs” about this. In the next week, you can email or call your city, state and US representatives to ask them what specific actions they are taking to address climate change. They are the ones who can make a huge impact on the system level, and you’re the one who can make sure they know this is a high priority, right now. Start conversations with your friends and participate on social media. Share ideas and spread the word about what you’re doing and what you see others doing. Just like in the Starfish Story, we can all make a big impact. But we need to start right away.


climate change treeWhew–in the time it just took you to read this article, I could swear it got just a little bit warmer in here.
What ideas do you have about how to help get us all out of hot water? Feel free to add your thoughts below.

 


The story of the little girl, a baseball and what really sticks

A long while back, I heard some guy tell this story on the radio. I never really caught his name or the reason he was telling the story, but it left a lasting impression on me. So in the ancient tradition of storytelling (including a little artistic license for each subsequent teller), I’m passing it on to you.

I’ve always had a love for baseball. So when my daughter was born, as some parents are known to do, I looked forward to the time when I could share that passion with her and–just maybe–inspire the same in her. From the time that she was quite young, we would pass many a summer Sunday afternoon snuggled up on the couch together eating popcorn and watching baseball games on television. As she grew a bit older, we added the ritual of going out in the backyard to play catch after the TV game had ended. So it should be no surprise that I looked forward to taking her to see a live, big-league game someday.

As it so happened, a new minor-league baseball team came to our town when my daughter was about seven years old, so we made big plans to go to our first real baseball game together. When the day finally came, it turned out to be perfect weather: clear blue skies, 75 degrees and a gentle breeze. We had great seats on the third baseline. The field was a vibrant green and perfectly groomed. I eagerly pointed out the position each player was playing and together we cheered each hit, diving catch and homerun. We shared hot dogs and soda and peanuts. We sang along while the organist played “Take me out to the ballgame”. And to top it off, our team won.

As we headed across the parking lot to our car after the game was over, an elderly gentleman approached us with a baseball in his hand and turned to my daughter. “Excuse me,” he said, “but I caught this foul ball today and I come to these games all of the time, so I already have a few. Would you like to have it?” With wide eyes, my daughter gratefully accepted the ball and we both thanked the gentleman as he turned to go. It was the ending to a perfect day.

Years later, when my daughter was home from college, we were reminiscing about things we had done when she was a kid. I recalled my fond memory of that first baseball game we attended together and, out of curiosity, asked her what she remembered about it. She immediately responded with, “I remember that old guy that gave me the baseball!” Not the game itself, not the shiny new ballpark, not the players or the hot dogs or the organ music, but some random guy we bumped into in the parking lot.

Which made me think: sometimes the most meaningful things about the events we go to end up being experiences that weren’t necessarily on the program—it’s the personal interactions we have with other people who are attending the same event. Many times those exchanges lead to unforeseen learning, opportunities and lasting connections—all unexpected benefits of just being in close proximity with people who may start out as strangers, but they share a common interest with us.

It occurs to me that this is certainly an under-valued aspect of live events. And as experience designers, it’s worth giving some though to how we can build events that will facilitate those connections that lead to unpredictable but memorable conversations–to increase the chances that each attendee will take a few new “baseballs” home with them when they leave. What’s your favorite story about how you’ve seen this happen?


The Starfish Story: one step towards changing the world

You may have heard this one, but I find that it doesn’t hurt to be reminded of it every once in a while.  First let me tell you the story, and then we can talk about it. 

Once upon a time, there was an old man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach every morning before he began his work. Early one morning, he was walking along the shore after a big storm had passed and found the vast beach littered with starfish as far as the eye could see, stretching in both directions. 

Off in the distance, the old man noticed a small boy approaching.  As the boy walked, he paused every so often and as he grew closer, the man could see that he was occasionally bending down to pick up an object and throw it into the sea.  The boy came closer still and the man called out, “Good morning!  May I ask what it is that you are doing?”

The young boy paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can’t return to the sea by themselves,” the youth replied. “When the sun gets high, they will die, unless I throw them back into the water.”

The old man replied, “But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.”

The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled and said, “It made a difference to that one!”

adapted from The Star Thrower, by Loren Eiseley (1907 – 1977)

 
We all have the opportunity to help create positive change, but if you’re like me, you sometimes find yourself thinking, “I’m already really busy, and how much of a difference can I really make?”  I think this is especially true when we’re talking about addressing massive social problems like tackling world hunger or finding a cure for cancer, but it pops up all of the time in our everyday lives, as well. So when I catch myself thinking that way, it helps to remember this story.  You might not be able to change the entire world, but at least you can change a small part of it, for someone. 

They say that one of the most common reasons we procrastinate is because we see the challenge before us as overwhelming, and that a good way to counter that is to break the big challenge down into smaller pieces and then take those one at a time–like one starfish at a time.  And to that one starfish, it can make a world of difference.

 

“A single, ordinary person still can make a difference – and single, ordinary people are doing precisely that every day.”
Chris Bohjalian, Vermont-based author and speaker


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