The Problem with a Moral High Ground

Posted on behalf of Dineen O’Rourke, Community Outreach Coordinator for the Western MA team

I’ve been spending my entire summer doing climate organizing work. I’m traveling exclusively by bicycle and living my values by not spending money on anything other than the pure necessities. I’m working to stop the Tennessee Gas pipeline that’s threatening to take land and community away from thousands of people in Massachusetts. I’m trying to encourage action to stop our impending climate crisis.

So what?

I’m not uncommon. I’m one of 151 who have done this program before me, one of hundreds upon hundreds working to stop this pipeline, and one of millions working for a better world in a time of global climate warming.

Here I am shucking corn at the home of our community partners through whose property Kinder Morgan's NED pipeline is proposed.

Here I am shucking corn at the home of one of our community partners, Polly, through whose property Kinder Morgan’s NED pipeline is proposed.

Yet lately I hear comments such as “Oh, you’re much better than I am. I’m just staying at home this summer.” Or “You’re going to change the world… so proud of you!” Or “I wish I was young enough/old enough/had your willpower/had the energy … [insert here any debilitating reasoning]”

I’m grateful for what I know is intended to be kind words of encouragement – that emotional support is an important factor in keeping people motivated and in no way do I want to undermine that. Yet, on a deeper level, these words and ideas can unintentionally place people on a pedestal that I believe shouldn’t exist.

Even in this time of urgency and climate crisis, for me being a climate organizer does not equate to any sense of moral purity. This sense is deeply exclusive and to my beliefs, incorrect. It doesn’t allow for the global-sized scale of the movement that we need and creates a false sense of heroism among people who are simply acting on their beliefs. By placing those who act on their beliefs on a pedestal, we’re making it seem like those people are rare, even though they are really all around us.

Climate change is a global, systemic issue that requires globally-scaled action. If our goal is an all-inclusive and globally-sized movement, we won’t get there with pedestals that glorify certain people and types of organizing over others and thus exclude others from getting deeply involved.

My teammates Stephen and Ben and I plan a public narrative (storytelling) training for community organizers fighting against natural gas infrastructure.

My teammates Stephen and Ben and I plan a public narrative (storytelling) training for community organizers fighting against natural gas infrastructure.

If people are inspired by the work we are doing, my hope is that they will join us in some way, whatever way makes sense for them, rather than only praising us.

It’s important to realize that not everybody is in a position to do climate organizing. It’s important to realize that this work is not for everyone; some are called to do other, also crucial tasks. It’s also important to realize that climate change is a problem like no other; a global problem on a scale never experienced nor fathomed – thus requiring a large, global movement. In no way am I saying we should all be biking around and working on climate campaigns. Not at all. But we do need more people to be active in the movement that’s arising around the world – in whatever way is comfortable, realistic, and personally useful and empowering for them.

This work is not defined by age, intelligence, or physical strength. It’s defined by ambition and a deep determination to create change. I truly believe that if certain emotions are unearthed, that drive for change will be found within anyone.

You’re all my heroes too – everyone. Each person has a spark inside of them that has a great amount of potential. Let’s kick that pedestal out of the picture; no one person is going to do this alone – that’s the true beauty of community and people power.

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