Monday, September 25, 2006


August 4, 2003

At church yesterday, the guest speaker was the Rev. Fletcher Harper. He is the executive director of Partners for Environmental Quality, Inc., “an interfaith coalition seeking to strengthen the commitment of the religious community for environmental stewardship and justice.”

His topic was “Nature, Stewardship, and Spirituality,” and like all good public speakers, he had funny, insightful anecdotes to tell. He talked about his 7-year-old son willingly relinquishing a tightly-gripped Nintendo at the breathtaking sights, sounds and smells of the Montana wilderness.

He described Jane Goodall’s eye-opening grasp of the perspective non-humans (chimpanzees) bring to their experience with the world and with humans. He reported on the people of Long Branch, New Jersey, struggling to regain their community’s health, by painstaking, time-consuming negotiations with the corporation that owns the sickening toxic site in their midst.

And he described his own encounter with a young African woman at the World Conference on Sustainable Development that took place last year in South Africa. She was 16 or 17 years old, he said, and when a group of experts at a round table discussion had finished congratulating each other, and the conference organizers and attendees, for the wide variety of populations and perspectives represented in Johannesburg, she stood up.

She said there was one group that had no voice, no place at the table, and couldn’t be heard, and yet would be more affected by the decisions made at the conference, that week, and around the world, these decades, than any other group.

“Those who are not yet born,” she said.

I was thinking of her courage and insight today, while I took the Could You Make It to CEO? quiz. I did well on the test, missed only one question. But the questions and guidelines seemed more geared to good living – once known as ethics – than to being a CEO.

  • Take seriously the gift of your own life, and build it carefully while remaining aware of the context and relationships in which you do.
  • Persistence pays off, and reframing personal views to be intelligible and relevant to others with different backgrounds will help you be, and feel, more understood.
  • Say thanks, and try to do kindnesses for others.
  • Don’t brood about possible setbacks; do a reality check so you can plan your next steps with accurate information.
  • Look for, choose, and follow role models, while continuing to build your own life as your own, not as imitations of theirs.
I have many role models. Jane Goodall has been one for a while; her picture hangs above my computer, and Alice Walker’s poem about her moves gracefully through my mind when I look at it: “She never seems to have heard of a makeup that wasn’t character.”

The girl at the Sustainability conference is another hero to me, because she stood and “spoke her truth quietly,” as Max Ehrman urged; she refused to number herself among Thoreau’s mass of men leading lives of quiet desperation.

And these two, Jane Goodall and the Girl-Who-Reminds-of-Generations-to-Come, point to the missing elements in the CEO quiz, the transcendent questions of what kind of person wants the power a CEO has, and just what are the goals of those above you in the Organization?

Are they worthwhile goals, goals you should be helping your superiors achieve? Are they goals Those-Not-Yet-Born would share with Those-Choosing-For-All, right now?

I doubt that the goals of the two People converge; there is no profit in sustainability, and to be a CEO is to be a profit-generator, by definition.

I don’t know what drives CEOs; each one is different and complex, like each worker at the bottom of the hierarchy. And I don’t presume to judge them as a class, even though I am deeply concerned, and occasionally frightened, when I see environmental degradation and environmental racism, and the breakneck global race to find the lowest-paid labor, to fuel ever-increasing consumption, all at play in my neighborhood and around the world.

I was home from work today, watching Star Wars movies with my 4-year-old son, who was taking a sick day. I don’t judge CEOs for the same reason Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda warn Luke Skywalker not to come at Darth Vader with hatred, while they urge him to use the Force only for defense, never for offense.

Just as Luke discovers Vader is his father, and therefore the Dark Side is inextricably within Luke himself, I know there is a part of me that craves the form of “power” CEOs wield, and would fall victim to the same short-sightedness that plagues those in the business of business, were I to gain that form of power.

I also know there’s is a Jedi Knight in every CEO: I know that at the core of these decision-makers, whose choices level ancient forests, and poison streams, and scatter families to search for work, there is a man or woman. I know those men and women are aware, at a very deep level, of their duty to choose wisely, not merely cleverly, on behalf of the born and unborn generations, on behalf of the human and non-human creatures of the Earth, and on behalf of their own souls.


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