In 1992, at the UN Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, 12 year-old Severn Cullis-Suzuki delivered a passionate speech generative of the quality of moment when time seems to stand still, and cannot help but imagine a large booming voice ringing out with a command of, “LISTEN!”. She spoke on behalf of a small group of children united in the struggle to defend our earth home. Her message was a punctuated call to world leaders to awaken to the reality that we have collectively created a system in which greed colors too strongly the quality of our social matrix. Speaking of her experience growing up in Canada, she said, “In my country, we make so much waste, we buy and throw away, buy and throw away, buy and throw and away. And yet, northern countries will not share with the needy. Even when we have more than enough, we are afraid to share, we are afraid to let go of some of our wealth.”
As a result, we have a lopsided world that has manifested suffering on both ends of the spectrum: at the resource-heavy end, consequences include extreme stress, obesity, heart disease, loneliness, feelings of meaninglessness; at the resource-deprived end, we know full well about widespread hunger, war, child exploitation, homelessness.
Twenty years later, another Earth summit “Rio+20” took place last week. Severn is now the age where she could hypothetically be among the leaders of nations, listening to a different child speak a similar message as she did twenty years prior. What strikes me is the swift current of the system that we have been born into, and that perhaps many of us share the sorrow and frustration of the 12 year-old, and wish we were around to have breathed a more expansive perspective into the leaders who made critical decisions to set us on a trajectory of narrow-focused, exploitative development. But alas, here we are.
In a grand sense, considering our lives are but a blink in time, we are all newcomers here… no matter what our age. At different points in each respective lifespan, we come (or not) to recognize the harsh reality of what our collective animal species has created. It all seems daunting to me, and it is in that stuck space that I particularly appreciate a 12 year-old voice for her ability to inspire courage to speak our truths.
Severn’s message is a call to us all to challenge and expand our understanding of the ‘rules’ as we have established them. She said, “I’m only a child, yet I know we are all part of a family, five billion strong—in fact, 30 million species strong. And borders and governments will never change that. I’m only a child, yet I know we are all in this together and should act as one single world towards one single goal.” Borders and governments are designs of human creation, and declarations of what is mine and what is yours. Are we courageous enough to expand into a space beyond the divisions that have imprisoned us?
For that to be possible, we each need to discover that expansive space within ourselves. I wonder if we might dare to turn off our cell phones, close the screens, get out for a walk and look around. In these small acts of coming back to the basics, we might return to gaze on the structures we have imposed on this miracle of a planet and…well, laugh in bewilderment, and then move each day toward an integrity where our daily actions walk in confidence toward the wisdom in our gut that pounds a resounding “LISTEN!”.