“You care about the environment, right?.. Hey there! You’re wearing blue because you love our oceans!.. High-five for the planet!” One after another, I attempted to flag strangers down with various lines. Most passed by, a few gave their best annoyed response (along the lines of “No! I’m an environmental terrorist!” or “I blow whales up for fun!”), many laughed and some actually stopped to chat with me. A few decided the cause was great enough to support the ogranization.
When I took the job as a Greenpeace canvasser, people commented it was one of the hardest jobs to have. I feel like that is over exaggerating but it can be an overwhelming position. There is much information to learn in addition to figuring out how to work with people of any background. A Greenpeace canvasser is outside for hours in rain, shine, snow, etc. It doesn’t matter. The point is to be out there; to do something. This is how I feel life should be handled and I learned a lot from this “lowly” job.
Don’t take it personally.
Initially, one of the hardest parts about attempting to talk with many people is the constant rejection. Greenpeacers are taught to smile, wave and wish those people a nice day. The obvious reason is to keep up a positive face for Greenpeace. The flip side of wishing every person well is that the canvasser protects their mentality. “You get what you give,” so to speak. If the canvasser makes a snarky comment under his/her breath in any kind of interaction, or lack thereof, the canvasser is dealing with his/her own attitude and is prolonging their bad mood which in turn affects the next person they interact with.
The other thing is people are just people. None of us can say what another individual is concerned with at that moment. Sometimes people really are in a rush; sometimes people say they are in a rush because they really could care less about what the canvasser has to say and it is best to let those people go. The passerbys who wish nothing but ill will on our rainforests might be saying that to give themselves a little chuckle; remiscent of teasing family members because its amusing, right? So let them laugh.. let them have fun. Have fun and tease them too. One man said to me he was all for the forests burning down. I replied, “You said that too sarcastically for me to believe you.” He smiled, turned to look the other way and then turned back to me grinning like a cat with these words following, “Oh.. and also, I could care less if little kids fall sick and die.” If it were to be taken literally it would be an obnoxious and disgusting thing to say but he was saying rotten things to make me upset: he failed and I wound up chuckling with him.
Listen and Connection
On a rainy Seattle afternoon, I stopped a young photographer who told me he was in no mood to talk today. He looked distressed so I aksed what was wrong. He told me, “I misunderstood where my friend wanted to meet me. I was late and she had to cancel the plans. I’m sorry. You don’t want to hear this.” I told him it was fine and wound up listening to him for a few minutes while he vented. Being late really made him upset because he felt he let his friend down. He continued to apologize and tell me I didn’t want to hear it (even though I was standing there for a few minutes giving him my full attention). Minutes later he left. I think he felt better for having a chance to talk about what was bothering him and I felt good for having a simple human moment.
I stopped an Egyptian-Turkish cellist one day. He wound up telling me he became an American citizen the prior week. There were tears in his eyes and I congratulated him since it was something he was very happy about. He told me how beautiful and accepting America is, how much it has meant to him to live here. He said, “People ask me are you a Muslim or a Christian? I say to them, I am a cellist!” I couldn’t help but laugh at such an answer. He later told me to not stop smiling because my “beauty will change the world.” It is a grandiose statement but a truthful one: beauty does change the world. Appreciating something beautiful can lift the entire day and inspire hope. He inspired hope in me too, so I kept on smiling.
Sometimes that bond with a stranger is very strong for a short while. Reach out for a hand you might not want to take initially because it might be the hand that gives the most. Take a risk with your time. It is likely you have at least one moment to spare.
Initiate, Engage and Unite
The most obvious part of the job is that the canvasser is not only actively participating but initiating. There are very famous and honest words spoken by Gandhi, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” It is one thing to be aware and to form an opinion on an issue and an entirely different ball game when an individual decides to act. Each step, no matter how small or large, counts toward shaping the future. What a person chooses to do, or not do, matters.
Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on your perception, we are not super heroes and cannot do everything alone. Lucky for us there are people in the world who care about the same things we care about and about many other things we, as individuals, need to be introduced to. It can be overwhelming but remember that in numbers we have power and you believe in power of the people, right?
Discussion is a powerful tool for learning. It is good to hear opposition and opinions different from yours but it is equally important to articulate your own ideas. Bringing an idea outside of yourself, speaking it out loud, is needed to comprehend and process. Giving a voice to internal thoughts can be very surprising! It may turn out the things an individual held fast and true sound trite when speaking it out loud; or the individual might discover a strong feeling for something not yet known. It is a mystery until you test it against the elements of discussion!
“There is no shame in not knowing, only in refusing to learn.” I don’t know who said that but they are wise words. My 2nd day on the job, I was located outside the Central Library in downtown Seattle. In response to my prompt, a middle aged man stopped and replied, “I don’t think you want to speak with me.” I inquired as to why. He said, “I might change your mind.” We spoke for 10 minutes and I can safely say two things were taken away from the dialogue: 1) I learned another solution that is applicable and a book was recommended to me. 2) He walked away happy he spoke with me because he met someone who wasn’t an out-of-touch-tree-hugging fantatic. His perception changed just a little and so did mine. It was truly wonderful and when I get around to reading The Resourceful Earth, I will remember it was because of that man I will probably never see again but he educated me and I am grateful.
Even more than before, I value that which I have taken for granted. Like most people I spoke with on the street, I thought “Why worry? Won’t the Earth replenish itself? The Earth has always taken care of itself and we’re just along for the ride.” By the time Mother Nature rights all of our wrongs, it will be too late for us. Worry because there is power in numbers.
Human beings are marvelous, intriguing and frightening creatures. We have gone through many changes, and dare I say progression, over our existence. Let us reapply one more thing to the multi-faceted spectrum that is humanity: honor and respect for the Earth in our actions, again. This isn’t a new concept to us but somewhere along the way in our greed for temporary lusts over Nikes, Kit Kats and soft tissue paper to blow our noses on, we lost sight of the simple rule: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
When I took the job with Greenpeace, I thought, “Great. I’m going to be working with a bunch of whacked-out tree-hugging hippies.” The only appealing aspects of it were money and learning. I gained much more out of it than I ever thought I would: a perspective and light to shine back on the world. Thank you for the opportunity, Greenpeace.