When someone says, "I leave this event confirmed in my responsibility to leave this world in better shape than it is at present," you know something went right. Eighty per cent of the returned evaluations from the recent Suzuki Elders and Environment Forum agreed that "Yes, the forum purpose was met for me."
"Start where you are" was the November 24, 2011 forum theme, developed to answer the often-asked question, "What can we elders do about environmental issues?" Speakers and workshop topics, selected to build elder environmental awareness, supported elders to take action on environmental issues as informed and empowered citizens. The forum brought many new members into the Association of Suzuki Elders. Forum-generated ideas and insights are rapidly being incorporated into Suzuki Elder 2012 work plans.
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The 113 forum registrants came from cities and towns throughout the Lower Mainland, as well as Haida Gwaii, Vancouver Island, the Interior and Sunshine Coast. Ages ranged from 40 to mid-80s, with most between 60 and 75.
"Start with your message," said media expert Terry O'Reilly in the opening keynote. Know your business — it might not be what you think it is. Do your research. Know your demographic. Deal with fears. Be creative. Sell the positive. Make the personal/emotional connections. Don't reprimand. Use surprise and humour. Be a strategist. Have a big idea.
Listeners responded to his powerful presentation with comments such as: "An inspired choice...gave me powerful insights...I was so invigorated by all he said...His message of honesty, surprise and joy is the message for our time and our task."
Small group discussions centred on elders starting where they are to develop education and action on the politics of food, green initiatives in our cities and towns, storytelling as a way to spark behavioural and attitude change with friends and families, and dealing with the personal sadness often felt about the planet's future. The results? "Good experiential work...clarified on focusing the message to our hearts...good information about Vancouver City's Green plans...good 'big picture' stories about food....made me think....great learning from each other in the dyads."
In his closing address, Dr. David Suzuki was, as one attendee said, "speaking truth with passion—vintage David Suzuki!" He reminded us of the critical link between the environment, social justice, politics, and economics, and of the vital insights that emerge when elders develop environmental analysis and action informed by their own life experience.
Making elders with similar environmental values visible to one another leads to powerful synergy. The conversational buzz heard in small groups during breaks and lunch showed people taking advantage of the opportunity to interact with others of like mind in heartfelt exchanges. According to attendees, this resulted in "not feeling as alone with all the world's problems...feeling respected for my ideas...getting the inspiration to make a difference."
If you missed the Forum, you can watch clips of most presentations online.