Way back when I was a bright eyed hopeful biologist, I got a common greenhorn biologist job, The Construction Monitor. This entailed me standing behind a bulldozer the size of a house all dressed up in my orange safety vest and hard hat with a snake stick and a bucket. At first I was so excited, my job was to ‘save’ wildlife. After the first week I realized that I was only there to save whatever mauled creatures made it through the first pass of the land clearing squeegee and shredding tank-tracks from being killed by the second pass. While I took my job seriously, I realized that I was a formality of environmental law; my real job was to keep them ‘inside the lines’ of the construction boundaries.
To make things worse, I worked with people that hated me (the bulldozer drivers and developers). Seen as just another roadblock to their work, non unlike a young punk kid that suddenly became their manager, I was there to tell them how to do their job. I could see their frustration and rather than fight it, I instead took an interest in what they were doing. While the younger operators seemed to have a child-like attraction to this kind of destruction (who didn’t love bulldozing their Lincoln Log creations once they were done?), the older guys took more pride in their work – creating a clean and clear blank slate canvas for the developer to display their artwork.
Maybe it was because I understood them that they better understood me. It opened the lines of communication, allowing a comfort that we were all human with the same struggles and I was no better than them. I began to see a shift not long after. The younger operators, who used to go after the snakes, trying to cut them in half as they attempted to escape (partly out of fear) now saw them as a fascinating living creature. They would holler to me when they saw one from their high vantage point, jump down and we would catch them together. I would tell them all about the snake, what they ate, how they lived, the cool interesting stuff about all the species we encountered.
By the end of the job I had every operator stopping to look for creatures with me and bragging about what animals they saw, and many they were able to save. I even had one guy approach me at the beginning of my shift with a wood rat in his own personal hardhat an entire litter of babies wrapped in his sweatshirt. He had knocked a tree down and disturbed their nest at the base. It took him about a half an hour to round up the mother, but he was so happy that he had saved this family of rats.
What I learned is that it is the connections we make with people that inspires understanding and ultimately a shift in attitude. They weren’t about to quit their jobs and start hanging banners for Greenpeace, but it was a huge step in breaking down the polarizing barriers we put up.
The following is a guest post from Jean-Paul LaCount, the creator and editor of The Chic Ecologist, a green-living and environmental blog.
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