It Would Be Nice if Nice Were Enough

    I am still mulling an experience I had last week.

     I was invited to address the student body at a private high school here in Virginia.  

I accepted the invitation eagerly, since I am on a mission to speak with audiences wherever I can, about climate disruption and the urgent need to act.  

While most of my talks have been to adult groups like Rotarians and Lions Clubs, I have recently begun seeking opportunities to talk with younger people.  Despite my motherly hesitation to burden young people with such a heavy message, I decided that since young people are the ones who will be spending most of their lives on a dangerously warming planet, it is not doing them any favors to refrain from helping them understand and deal with the difficult situation they are facing.

     I looked forward to addressing the group of 120 freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors.  It would be my second time addressing high school students.  My previous talk, with a group of bright seniors, had been well-received.

     In my talk to these students, I focused on the fact that 97% of climate scientists are telling us that the earth is warming, due largely to  human activity, and that we must take urgent action to avoid the most catastrophic impacts.  I also discussed a key reason why we are not making much headway in dealing with this emergency–the deliberate misinformation campaign, being waged by the fossil fuel industry, to sow doubt in the minds of the public.  This strategy is succeeding, in that it lulls a large proportion of our citizenry into a false sense of security.

     Also, there’s no way of explaining our nation’s continuing inability to act responsibly in the face of this crisis without saying something about how this same well-financed force is being served in the arena of political power.  Even knowing that some of the students in the room identify themselves as Republican, I described some of the obstructive actions being taken by today’s Republican Party, efforts that help keep our country from dealing effectively with climate change.

     Looking about the room as I spoke, I could see that most of the students were listening.  And during Q and A, there were plenty of questions, none of them hostile.

     Later, however, I heard from one of the teachers that there had been more going on with some students than I’d realized.  While some were so inspired, they were ready to call the White House immediately, I was told, others were enraged.  At least one teacher had to spend some of the next class period defusing those students’ anger.  Some felt I had unfairly blamed Republicans for everything.  And there is talk, I was told, of bringing in another speaker to represent a conservative perspective.

     I felt bad to hear that some of the students were angry.  By nature, a pleaser, I want everyone to like me.  I would much rather be exchanging friendly vibes than engaging in conflict.  In fact, I have sometimes been criticized as ‘nicey-nicey.’ 

My first response to the feedback was to try to figure out some way that I could deliver my message so that everyone would respond to it favorably.

But then I thought about the truth that must be spoken, and the political pathology that afflicts our nation right now.  We live in a time in which a sizable proportion of the American people are being sold a false picture of our climate situation, and are encouraged to think that anyone who speaks otherwise is the ‘enemy.’

If I were pleasing everybody, I came to realize, I wouldn’t be doing my job.  We’re in a situation where it’s not just a matter of filling the void of ignorance with knowledge, but of helping the truth to push aside a well-entrenched lie.  While it saddens me to cause any of these young people distress, I also recall that the healing of our sicknesses sometimes entails, in the short term, greater discomfort.

That connects with something I’ve learned about teaching young people.  What really matters is not the immediate impact of a teaching, but how it gets absorbed.  Who knows how my message, which angered those students the day they heard it, will affect what they are thinking in a year, or in five years?–April Moore

 

 

 

    

   

6 Responses to “It Would Be Nice if Nice Were Enough”

  1. Diane Says:

    Thank you for the speech April. You did the right thing. Yes, and who knows where these young people will take the information? For all you know, there was a future leader there who will take the message and promote healing.

  2. James Says:

    You would appreciate it if all of the students would agree with you, for your message is confirmed by 97% of climate scientists – a consensus, so-to-speak. Heaven forbid, that everyone would not agree with them, and you, of course. Conflict is not part of you. In trying to be helpful and informative, you are confirming your self-image as an educator and advocate to the misinformed. Anger can be constructive if real change based on investigative action, leads to a real-world reality image based on the truth. Knowing that truth is only half the truth, we rest in the knowledge, that we will never be absolutely correct in our conclusions.

  3. Tony Dorrell Says:

    Hi April,

    (1) You gave an excellent talk with correct information.
    (2) The negative response by some shows that you did a good job of communicating.
    (3) Keep it up!

    Tony Dorrell

  4. Tanya Says:

    How unfortunate that those young people who were angry did not raise their concerns during your Q&A rather than expressing their anger, after the fact, in the classroom. Perhaps the air could have been cleared and if agreement had not been possible, at least perhaps the 2 sides could have achieved some degree of understanding.

  5. Ira Shorr Says:

    There’s also the point that many Democrats are part of the problem–those from coal states, those against a carbon tax–those Dems who just don’t get the seriousness of the crisis.
    And I too am glad you’re out there April–especially speaking to young people who need to arise and save their future.

  6. Katharine Layton Says:

    Good job April!
    Being the bearer of bad tidings is never easy because we wish everyone well and long for unity, but in situations such as the climate corner we have collectively painted ourselves into you and other truth-tellers are doing the good deed. Conflict produces anger, but from that can come a new level understanding and hopefully positive action. Keep it up!

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