In my last piece, we explored Sweden’s Greta Thunberg as an example of a new generation of emerging climate change activists – Generation Q. In this article, we will further define this growing global cohort of Questians and their laser focus on advocating for an array of tangible actions required to save this planet and its inhabitants.
On September 24, 2021 Greta and her ilk around the world took to the streets demanding action to address catastrophic climate change. Protests occurred in more than 1,500 locations organized by Thunberg’s youth movement, Fridays for Future. From Asia to the Philippines to Europe, South America and Africa, climate change advocates are organizing, becoming more audible, collaborative, while boldly proclaiming the urgency for change – now.
As world leaders prepare to gather in Glasgow on October 31 through November 12, 2021 for COP26, advocacy groups like the UK’s Extinction Rebellion (aka XR) are pledging "mass civil resistance" declaring the group will "support disruptive action" at COP26. What are the objectives of XR? “Life on Earth is in crisis and facing a mass extinction. It wants governments to declare a "climate and ecological emergency" and take immediate action.” According to the BBC, XR’s supporters are primarily those in the 18-24-year-old demographic cohort, with substantial support from those aged 25-49. However, the group had remarkable support in those aged 50+ as well. On Monday October 24th, police in New York City arrested 45 climate protesters from the Sunrise Movement and Extinction Rebellion for blocking traffic on the FDR and West Side Highway during the morning commute.
U.S. President Joe Biden has essentially bailed on his proposed climate agenda, unable to garner the essential support for the proposed costs, in the U.S. Congress. According to the NY Times, “people in Washington close to the negotiations called the clean electricity program “dead.”
The point above is that it is quite evident that the emergence of climate change advocacy groups attracting the participation of millions around the globe is a reality. Who are these people?
The Questians, who are they?
They’re among us — Millions and millions of them! Look around yourself as you’re reading this sentence. There may be several of them in the same vicinity of where you’re reading this passage right now. Don’t be too obvious looking around just yet. Keep your eyes glued to the page in front of you. Ah-Ah-Ah! — No quick glances either. If there are any of these folks around you, whether you recognize them or not, they’re already aware that you’re reading this book. Keep reading. They’re happy for you, whether you realize it or not.
The phenomenon we’re referring to above has yet to be formally acknowledged. Recently, I made a rather profound discovery. That’s what this article is about; sharing the dimensions of this discovery with you. Trust me… I understand your next few questions:
- What do they look like?
- How might I recognize one?
- Where did they come from?
- Should we fear them?
- Do they go to school, have jobs and make positive contributions to society?
- Are they safe?
- Am I safe?
- Can we trust them?
- What do they sound like?
- Can they fly, float, sing or dance?
- Do they glow in the dark?
For the sake of this brief introduction, let’s just say that you might live next to one. You’ve heard their voices before and were unable to distinguish between them and yourself. One could be sleeping in your home or playing with your children at this very moment. They’re not bound together by race, sexuality, creed, color, language, religion, political persuasion, or ethnicity… they inhabit every hemisphere, nation, and neighborhood. They have not appeared recently on this planet by virtue of some random Darwinian evolutionary mutation.
They’re not aliens. We have discovered they’ve been here since man first walked out of the cave (or realized she/he was in one and thought about exploring beyond their current confines). They eat and drink everything you can imagine. They drive. They reproduce. You or someone you know could be pregnant with one at this very moment. They’re employed in virtually every occupation known to man (including the new emerging occupations). The overwhelming majority are not celebrities…fame or the lack thereof has nothing to do with this reality or recognition of their existence. They do not carry special credentials or a strange stamp on their passport. Some have tattoos. If you’re reading this piece on an airplane — the flight attendant or the pilot might be one. They have no physical characteristics that would allow you to immediately recognize them. You might be in the midst of dozens, perhaps hundreds, where you work! One of them might be babysitting or coaching your children or your grandchildren. Don’t be frightened, but — your spouse, family members, friends, acquaintances, colleagues, or your child’s music teacher might be one — and you’re not even remotely aware of it.
In regard to the climate crisis, Questians populate the advocacy organizations whose objectives are to persuade those in power to save this planet – and its inhabitants.
Interested? Concerned? Curious?
I am a practitioner, writer, reader and thinker. I care deeply about our world. My career has been in the private sector. Writing helps me assess what I think (at the moment). I make my home in Mexico. Most of what I read and write as a result of my thinking I share via intense bursts of dialog. That’s where I met you – where we ran into each other – in the midst of an array of terribly important questions facing our community, our organizations, our world — wrestling with questions facing us. From my side, there appeared to be a theme that we both began to explore rather accidentally, yet, simultaneously. We started to share emails, bantering back and forth, asking each other questions about the essence of what we were thinking, reading and writing about – about life and the future of this planet.
Several years ago, I began to realize that several questions always seemed to arise during dialog with people. I didn’t bring them up – they did. This happened in all types of social settings; business relationships, cocktail parties, on hikes, people we met while traveling, the grocery store, faith communities, schools, etc. Here are a few of those questions:
- What is your view of the climate crisis?
- What’s your political affiliation?
- What do you do for a living?
- What country are you from?
- Where do you live?
We humans attempt to see others around us. Always have. Always will. Yet, we use tools beyond our visual capacity to see. We use our verbal, visual, scent, touch and auditory equipment as well. “How people see you matters.”1 How we see others matters as well. We see and are seen. It’s a process that is both conscious and unconscious. It involves placing our assessments of life (and those who populate it) in cognitive compartments – oftentimes for the sake of convenience and ready reference should another similar situation arise. Yet, these cognitive compartments can also be impediments to more productive forms of communication, intimacy, learning, growth and collaboration. How we see ourselves matters.
If your life experience is anything like mine, you encounter questions about you – your beliefs, ethnicity, occupation, religious, social justice leanings, values, attitudes, opinions and/or political party affiliation, by a wide variety of people, in a number of different social settings. Some of these probes are obvious (Incoming! cognitive compartment probe!). Others may escape your recognition. You are both a recipient and a distributor of these probes. It’s simply part of the way we see the world in which we live. Author Sir Ken Robinson shares a pertinent story in his book, Out of Our Minds – Learning to be Creative; “Education is not always a good word to use socially. If I am at a party and I tell someone I work in education I can sometimes see the blood drain from their face. “Why me?” they’re thinking, “Trapped with an educator on my one night out all week.”2
I’ll avoid the ethnic, political and faith stuff here and use the question about occupation as an example from my life. I became tired of answering their questions with, “I’m a Consultant, but…” After the “but,” I would attempt to go on to enlighten the inquirer about my occupation, and the way I approach my professional engagements. Not like some over-caffeinated zealot either. I was simply responding to their question in a subtle, ordinary course, social conversation. By this time, their eyes were usually looking around for a way to escape, or their head had fallen to examine the tops of their shoes. They were clearly prisoners of the pre-conceived definition they had adopted about what I was going to say before I got it out of my mouth. They had crammed me in a readily available mental box right along with everybody else. I had instantaneously become “one of those.” I placed myself at an immediate and distinct disadvantage by using the Consultant label.
The “Consultant” word I innocently uttered had overshadowed anything I had to share with them that actually reflects who I am as a person. Actually, they weren’t listening. My dilemma is quite common today. People are yearning for a different label to apply to themselves, political affiliation or important dimensions of themselves rather than the traditional ones that are infected with all sorts of attitudinal, experiential and socio-political baggage. “Consultant” doesn’t work anymore in the postmodern, western, developed world. The term has become irretrievably corrupted. It’s a conversation killer. It’s as much a polarizing influence as the terms Democrat, Liberal, Conservative, Trumper, Independent or Republican (to name only a few).
I began to think about this phenomenon – intentionally. I adapted. I developed an audible mechanism when people inquired about my faith. I would say, “I’m a Consultant, but…” (audible emphasis on but). Guess what? It didn’t work. I made the firm decision to move beyond being the ‘but’ in response to somebody else’s question.
Questians, bugles of social change
Consider this quote from Charles Handy:
Words are the bugles of social change. When our language changes, behavior will not be far behind.
(Charles Handy, The Age of Unreason. Harvard Business School Press, 1994)
At this juncture, several years ago, I began to study the impact that language and labels have on human relationships, identity and human potential. Throughout this process, I was led to many different topics and domains like genetics, neuroscience, public policy, international relations, social-psychology, organizational behavior, philosophy, theology, economics, spirituality, psychology, sociology, curiosity, innovation, how we learn, human development, creativity, compassion, community, consequences, courage, culture, invention, exploration and discovery. My life has been populated by ideas and ideas people. I have worked both as an independent management consultant and as an executive for several of the Fortune 100 (forgive me). The bulk of my energy during those four decades was helping people see what they cannot see – listening, reading, synthesizing mounds of information, evaluating perspectives, people, and their plans and proposals – then leading them to reconsider their current thinking, their behavior, a strategic plan or an entire business model into a form that is more likely to be successful (and/or less unsuccessful).
What became apparent during these years of study was that domains (identified above) or idea spaces don’t communicate with one another as well as they might. This is particularly true when we are dealing with a subject matter regarding the unseen within the human experience. The challenge becomes one of integrating and connecting the idea spaces within disparate domains and generating a new vantage point – a bridge or connection if you will – based upon a collection, integration and application of the findings and writings of those who reside in these spaces. Author Steven Johnson captures the essence of this phenomenon when he writes: “You can’t step back and reflect on your own thoughts without recognizing your thoughts are finite, and that other combinations of thoughts are possible.”3
Social-psychologist Mihaly Cszikszentmihalyi has written: “Most creative achievements depend on making connections among disparate domains.”4 Enter, the metaphor – the connection: the Questians. Consider the words of a theologian regarding the magic the metaphor provides:
The simple fact is that life is mostly invisible, inaudible, untouchable. Life may be ultimately inaccessible to our five senses, but without the evidence supplied by our five senses, it would for the most part elude us. It turns out that the quickest and most available access to the invisible by means of language is through metaphor, a word that names the visible (or audible, or touchable). A metaphor is a word that carries us across the abyss separating the invisible from the visible. The contradiction involved in what the word denotes and what it connotes sets up a tension in our minds, and we are stimulated to an act of imagination in which we become participants in what is being spoken. Metaphor is our lexical witness to transcendence – to the more, the beyond, the within – to all that cannot be accounted for by our microscopes and telescopes, by our algebra and geometry, by pulse rate and blood pressure, by weights and measures. . . when used as a metaphor, a word explodes, comes alive – it starts moving. 5
In this piece, I am going to give you what I sincerely hope is a gift – a gift many of you reading this piece have yearned for: It’s the gift of permission. From now on, if your experience is anything like mine when people ask you about your faith, political affiliation, or any outright or veiled attempt to place a label on you, or put you in an existing compartment of their mental wallet, purse, or travel bag – you can now respond, “I’m a Questian!”.
Of course, they’ll look at you either dumbfounded or with an expression of a distinct degree of the quizzical – so be prepared to spell Questian. They’ll still be perplexed so tell them “I’m on a quest. I’m a unique human being whose beliefs about climate change, God, politics, and life are not neatly packaged in a box that somebody else has manufactured to put me in. I believe in more of life. My view of life is being formed and reformed. I’m on a journey exploring the wonderful, awe-inspiring transformation that inhabits the possibilities for this life – outside somebody else’s box.”
Instead of answering somebody’s question about your position on climate change, faith, occupation, worldview, social consciousness, ethnicity or political affiliation with the quip, “I’m a Consultant, Buddhist, Muslim, Jew, atheist, lawyer, banker, straight, truck driver, liberal, moderate, conservative, Chinese, South African, gay, Brit, Texan, Aussie, housewife, house-husband, business owner, Democrat, Independent or Republican,” which may end the conversation before it starts, maybe we should reconsider the response we so readily provide. I have.
If you respond to an inquirer question with either “I’m a Buddhist, Republican, Democrat, Vegan, Independent, Liberal – or I’m a Questian,” which response do you think will engender the curiosity of the inquirer and provide you with a less biased basis upon which to have a fruitful, authentic dialogue?
I suggest to you that a ‘Questian’ is a bridge builder to new frontiers whereas faith, occupation, ethnicity or political party affiliation (and a myriad of other terms and phrases endemic to our many cultures) have become a negative, widely held, deeply embedded social stereotype from which we must emerge. They serve to compartmentalize people and principles – artificially restricting the power of possibility that we all possess. You and your life deserve more than either the restrictive confines these labels create, or the unfortunate identity they impose upon you and those around you. It’s not just a term or a word, as author Eugene Peterson says, “Words—spoken and listened to, written and read—are intended to do something in us, give health and wholeness, vitality and holiness, wisdom and hope.”6 Yet, it’s more than that.
This reality, the Questians, is vastly more than simply introducing a cute term or phrase you might throw into a social conversation. The characteristics that comprise the Questian, include the following that we will explore in future pieces on this topic:
Questians are ubiquitous – they’re everywhere.
Questians are essential – they serve an incredibly valuable personal and cultural function.
Questians possess a relentless desire to do whatever it takes – to save our planet.
Questians recognize the urgency of the catastrophic threat the climate crisis represents.
Questians yearn to learn.
Questians are both curious and creative.
Questians are compassionate.
Questians are people in process – who embrace the quest with courage and conviction.
Questians are people of the possible.
Questians create new forms of communication, organization, collaboration, and protest.
Questians create consequences.
Questians create common ground – fertile for new forms of community to emerge.
Questians speak truth to power.
Questians are shaping the future.
To count yourself a Questian is an inspiration. It provides one with direction – a new approach to daily living – or a lifestyle. The awareness of the intrinsic value of life as a Questian can oftentimes be reinvigorated, reformed and renewed – with new, refreshing meaning. Let me share a final personal story with you to illustrate a bit further.
One day, I published an interview I completed with author & activist Brian McLaren regarding a new book he wrote that was about to be released. Here’s the interview question that served as a decisive moment in my journey to explore this reality in-depth:
Symbols speak to us. Is this one poignant for you?
It’s so relevant, Bill, because as you know, the book is based on a simple observation: Statements create a debate that can lead us to a new state (and sometimes create, as a byproduct, hate), while questions create conversations that can lead us on a new quest. So my book is very much about the power of questions, and about seeing our faith less as a tradition we inherited from our ancestors, and more as a quest which both they and we are on … the quest for truth, the quest for beauty and goodness and love…the quest to save our planet.
What’s a climate Questian?
I see this symbol, as a framework for inviting people of the quest (Questians) to a place where we can celebrate this dimension of the reality of our lives together. It is an invitation, rather than a label. It is a festival about coming out and coming together. It’s a celebration of the human creative capacity. Rather than solely an individual characteristic, it is also a way of living. For organizations, Questians hold the promise for the realization of the potential of the enterprise. We notice the novel. We exude the excitement essential to experiment. We’re listeners and observers. The quest inhabits the ways we serve, the reverence we exhibit for the gift of life, and the compassion that dwells in our hearts. We are those who cherish our endowment to ponder, wonder, question, and stand in awe. We possess perspectives on the prospects.
Questians are propelled by the courage to move beyond man-made boundaries. We’re a curious lot. Our kind provides the inertia for innovation, the energy for exploration, and the drive for discovery. We possess the audacity to advocate for the potential of mankind. We ask why, when, what if, and what about? We’re nuts about networks where nodes of ideas knock noggins. Dialog and discourse are precious to us. Conversations are cherished along with the dignity deserved by those who share viewpoints contrary to those we currently cradle. We’re typically suspect of certainty and comfortable with the contrary. We’re apprehensive about answers that come in a box. We treasure learning and the privilege to be a part of the ongoing positive transformation of our species, and the civilizations and cultures we’re creating; including imagining and moving toward new iterations of the same that can and must emerge. We’re all about erecting bridges; constructing and connecting new and essential relationships that have heretofore eluded us. We appreciate the intrinsic value of sacrifice and sharing. We’re willing to be wrong and concede the need for concession and reconsideration. Hope fills our veins as creativity throbs through our brains. We know there is more to be known.
Ours is a symbol of permission. It’s an expression of acceptance, adoration and gratitude for the precious privilege and responsibility that inhabits our daily breath. It is a tangible image embodying the realization of who we are and what we can become. It is a representation of those who cherish the freedom of learning to become the one’s dedicated to freely living more fully today – while making the essential sacrifices to advocate for the immediate changes essential to save the Earth. It is a symbolic expression of the gift of learning and the comrade to curiosity. It is the heartbeat of the hopeful and the icon of the inquisitive. It is the source of desire within the dreamer, the designer, the demonstrator, and those dedicated to visions of a better destiny. Questians are the people of the possible. They are leading today’s climate change advocacy. This writing is about using a symbol, language, experience, history and vision to put legs, feet, hands, hearts, faces, pulse, breath, eyes, ears, actions, motives, mindset and voices to this reality.
The quest to bring meaningful, immediate and ongoing global action to the issue of the climate crisis priority is being led by Questians across our globe. Greta Thunberg and her ilk are splendid examples. However, unlike other symbols and terms that characterize demographic cohorts, Questians and those I have referred to as Generation Q are inter-generational; they are human beings of every age group, culture, and country. Questians are dedicated to the most consequential challenge ever confronted by any human civilization: generating essential change that will preserve and protect our planet from our dependence upon fossil fuels and the greenhouse gases emitted therefrom.
I will close with a pertinent quote from author David Wallace-Wells at it relates to the climate crisis:
The emergent portrait of suffering is, I hope, horrifying. It is also, entirely elective. If we allow global warming to proceed, and to punish us with all the ferocity we have fed it, it will be because we have chosen that punishment – collectively walking down a path of suicide. If we avert it, it will be because we have chosen to walk a different path, and endure.
(Wallace-Wells, David The Uninhabitable Earth – Life After Warming, Tim Duggan Books/Crown Publishing/Random House NY, NY. © 2019 p. 220)
1 Wilkinson, Richard and Pickett, Kate, The Spirit Level – Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger Bloomsbury Press New York, NY Copyright © 2009 by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, p. 40.
2 Robinson, Ken, Out of Our Minds – Learning To Be Creative, Capstone Publishing Ltd. (A Wiley Company), 2011 Edition – Copyright © 2001 & 2011 by Sir Ken Robinson, p. 7.
3 Johnson, Stephen, Emergence – The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities and Software, Scribner New York, NY Copyright © 2001 by Steven Johnson, p. 200.
4 Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly, Creativity – Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention, Harper Perrenial, Harper Collins Publishers, New York, New York Copyright © 1996 by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, p. 338.
5 Peterson, Eugene, Eat This Book – A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company Grand Rapids, MI/ Cambridge U.K. © 2006 by Eugene H. Peterson, p. 21.
6 Trilling, Lionel, The Liberal Imagination, A New York Book Review Book – published by The New York Review of Books, Copyright © 1950 by Lionel Trilling, p.303.