When editor Jay Walljasper started talking about doing a cover story on what he called social inventions, I was doubtful. Too abstract, I said. I’m interested in ideas that can be practically applied in the world today: What specifically can each of us start doing differently in our lives? What are the basic actions that we all must commit to if we’re going to shift the course of our society and our planet?
Social inventions are not only practical, Jay responded, they are also the important step that precedes action. They represent a new kind of thinking that could lead to an epidemic of creativity and conceptual breakthroughs. Still, I was skeptical until he mentioned Julia Butterfly Hill as one example of a social inventor. Julia Butterfly is the young woman who spent 738 days on a tiny platform in the branches of a thousand-year-old redwood tree at an altitude that makes me dizzy to even think about. She climbed the tree, which she named Luna, to prevent it from being logged, and she is, in my opinion, a genuine heroine for our times.
I recently had the honor of being invited to join a group helping Julia Butterfly strategize about how to use what she calls her "celebrititis" most effectively. Frankly, I was hoping a little of her courage and clarity of mission might rub off. When I think of her achievement, I know myself to be made of much timider stuff.
But then, as Julia Butterfly says, she didn’t spend 738 days up a tree all at once; she lived them moment by moment, breath by breath. Initially she, like most of us, rationalized that her lack of technical knowledge and limited experience disqualified her from active engagement on issues she cared about. But when she realized that her silence made her complicit in the ruin of our ancient forests, she felt no choice but to start working on this issue, which eventually led her to her odyssey atop Luna.
IN HER NEW BOOK, One Makes the Difference (HarperSanFrancisco), due out in April, she suggests that all of us have our own personal tree. And if each of us begins by taking a few small steps toward something we deeply believe in, there is no telling where the journey will lead. The book is filled with compelling environmental information, concrete actions anyone can take, and profiles of people of all ages and backgrounds whose incremental efforts led to results beyond their wildest imaginings.
Explaining her idea of everyone’s own personal tree, she writes, "For me this means committing to waking up every morning and asking, ‘What can I do today to make this world a better place?’ and then doing the best we can to live our beliefs. As we are human, some days our best will be better than others. We will make mistakes and then we can give thanks for the lessons they teach us. One breath at a time, one step at a time, we will find we have crossed our own perceived boundaries and limitations into a whole new divine way of living and being. Life is a circle in which all energy flows. Every positive choice, no matter how big or small, touches all other life with healing and beauty. . . . Begin today. Today is the day in which every moment counts. . . . One does make the difference. You are the one."
To help all of us who want to make a difference in the world, Julia Butterfly has distilled some of her ideas into a simple list of five R’s (respect, rethink, reduce, reuse, recycle). To me, these are the foundation of the conceptual breakthrough we need in order to make the changes necessary to save our planet. To hear more from Julia Butterfly and other social inventors, see our cover story on page 50. You can also check out her Web site: www.circleoflifefoundation.org.
Actually, Jay and I think there ought to be seven R’s: We would add rejoice and reprint.