The joy of meaningful connection

Collage of five images including a lake in summer, Mike Harley with a fish, Mike Harley and Halston Sleets, Sustainable Growth Coalition members, and a boy on a rope swing on a lake.

Putting Environmental Initiative’s mission, vision, and values into practice is joyful work. I believe this is because humans are made for relationships. We are happiest and healthiest when meaningfully connected with family, friends, and community, including both to those who we see as similar and those who we see as different.

This organization’s purpose is to foster powerfully transformative relationships, especially between people who see themselves as different, in tension or even in opposition. When I use the word relationships in this way, I am not talking about acquaintance, familiarity, or even agreement. What I mean is an experience of interdependence and the worldview that each of us is connected to everyone and everything else. I mean that we are in this together and only by embracing that reality can any of us truly thrive. I mean that things that seem separate or divided are, in fact, part of a functioning whole. I mean that the sense of separation of humans from each other and from the rest of nature is not only harmful, but it is an illusion.

Our work is to invite people into living this kind of interdependence. A friend recently told me that she sees me continually inviting everyone I meet and everyone I know into new relationships and as a result, inviting them into new ways of seeing the world and into new ways of doing work for environmental health and for social justice. She hit the nail on the head for me. Not only is this how I see my personal work in the world, but it is also how I understand the essential work of Environmental Initiative.

When we accept the invitation to release ourselves from the comfort and privilege of perceived separateness, the gift we receive is relationships across difference that ground us, inspire us, and make it much more possible to do our life’s work.

There are many examples from our organization’s current work that vividly illustrate the benefits of saying “yes” to that kind of invitation. Here are three:

  • As recently as a year ago, I would have told you that youth engagement is not our work, and now many of staff, board, and donors see our Northside Safety NET internship program as essential to who we are and where we are going.
  • I am honored that Black environmental justice leaders have partnered with our predominantly white, mainstream environmental organization to accelerate and expand the work of Environmental Justice Coordinating Councils in North Minneapolis and in St Paul.
  • We overcame concerns about our Minnesota-based identity and reach to provide the Midwest Row Crop Collaborative a powerful new home in our organization, and as a result we are catalyzing the climate change and conservation work of a growing number of farmers across the Mississippi River Basin.

A coworker recently offered me an image that reflects the importance of bringing people into our work. On the surface of a lake on a sunny summer day, the light dances and the water invites you in. It’s the surface that invites, and the real gift comes when you get into the water.

I am happy to share that as I continuously welcome people into the water of transformation, the response is overwhelmingly positive. Even though there are barriers and often costs the vast majority of people find a way to say yes. As a result, more people are deeply committed to our work, and Environmental Initiative has been able to take on bigger and bolder work for systems change.

As always, I want to end by inviting you into relationship and interdependence. What you can see from the surface is nothing compared to the richness of being deeper in the work with us and our partners. I am grateful for whatever ways you can say “yes” to that invitation – small or large. I see that for those who accept the invitation, the gift received in return is a powerful opening of purpose, of power for positive change, and of a connection to something bigger than ourselves. And I see that those who say yes in turn invite others, many of whom also say yes. As the movement builds, we are more and more able to live into our vision of relationships that foster an inclusive, just, and thriving world for all beings. Join us!