Meaningful Conversations

by Andy P. on December 17, 2013

The “S” Word

Trying to Have a ConversationOver the past 10 years, it seems like everyone has started to talk about sustainability. That’s a good thing. I personally believe we need to take a good, long look at how we live our lives and make sure that we are doing so in a way that will allow future generations to survive and thrive on this planet.

Here’s the bad thing. There is so much baggage connected with the word “sustainability” that after reading that last little paragraph, you have probably had some very strong associations that just triggered in your head. For some they may be good. For others they may be bad. For some, “sustainable” may be a deeply meaningful word and a value that they center their life on. For others, the word may be politically charged or conjure up images of companies trying to convince consumers that they are more sustainable than competitors just so they can make a buck. For other people, myself included, the word “sustainable” may just be used so often that it doesn’t evoke much of a response at all because we’re not even sure what it means anymore anyways.

One of the worst things that can happen if you’re looking to have a meaningful, productive conversation is to start out in such a way that people feel like they’ve been there and had this conversation before. Our brains like to fit things into pre-existing boxes that we already have for understanding the world. “Oh, she’s that kind of person.” “It’s going to be another one of those days.” “Why are all of our meetings such a waste of time?” Once we think we know how something is going to go, our brains are very good at focusing on the details that validate our initial judgment and leave out all the rest.

I have the privilege of spending most of my time talking with folks about how we can help get more people and especially kids outside, active and making meaningful connections with the great outdoors. I consider this a privilege because I’m yet to run into someone who has strong objections to this idea. Partly this is because it is a problem that we can all relate with and see very directly in the world around us every day. Conversations that start with getting kids back outside are very powerful because a lot of people aren’t used to having that particular conversation.

Daniel Currin, President of Greenscape Inc., and one of the driving forces behind the Come Alive Outside Movement in North Carolina, told a story the other day that reiterated the power of fresh conversations. Daniel and one of his sales managers were on the way for a meeting with a property manager for a large commercial property that they had been trying to secure as a client for years. The property manager had only agreed to a 15-minute meeting and from past experience with him, they knew that they’d be lucky to get that. In the car, they started talking about what they could do differently this time. Neither really expected to accomplish too much, so the question came up, “What is a win?”

Two Women Having a Good ConversationDaniel decided that all he wanted to accomplish was to get the property manager to lean forward in his chair. Instead of having the typical conversation about the property, the Greenscape Team and how they could do the job, Daniel went in and talked about this initiative that they were involved with to get kids off the couch and back outside. Not only did the property manager lean forward in his chair, they got into an hour-long conversation that revolved around working together to make a positive impact on the world. I don’t know if Greenscape won the contract yet, but you can be sure that they’re no longer just another landscape company coming in and talking about the same old stuff.

Whether you’re trying to get your kids to keep their room clean, pique the interest of business clients, or get into more productive conversations about some of the deepest problems that we face as a society, keep trying to find new ways to start the conversation. And, the next time you get into a conversation that feels like you’ve already had it a thousand times before, just keep listening and you might find that there is a lot more that is worth hearing than you initially thought.

Help Start Some Conversations

Community Food Lab is a design firm that is dedicated to getting more food growing in urban areas. There are a lot of different ways to get into the conversation on why it’s a good thing to grow food where we live. Through Come Alive Outside, we’ve talked about the incentive that edible plants add in drawing people out into their landscapes and getting them interacting there. In conversations with Erin White, principal at Urban Food Labs, I’ve gotten a deeper understanding of the other very practical ways that farms and gardens build value in urban areas.

Open FoodThe local food conversation is one that some small groups of people might have all the time, while others may have never thought of or even know where to start in talking about the subject. Erin and the Community Food Lab are currently launching a project to help start more conversations about how we can get more folks outside and interacting with the land that they live on in meaningful and productive ways. If you’re new to this conversation or if it’s something that you care a lot about, take a look the Kickstarter campaign that is currently underway to produce a serious of booklets called Openfood, which are designed to help people start talking about food, outdoor spaces and healthy urban living!

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