Leadership Blog Part 4: The ‘Nature’ of the ‘Environmental Professional’

The ‘nature’ of the National Association of Environmental Professionals (NAEP) – is that of an organization with national and chapter members spread out across a multitude of disciplines, generations, stages of career development, employment, education, and experience. Surprisingly, this diverse membership often comes together ‘under one roof’ to embody the mission of NAEP in developing the highest standards of ethics and proficiency in the environmental professions, and promoting excellence in decision-making related to environmental, social, and economic impacts of those decisions. It is the effort of many ‘individuals’ and ‘thoughtful individual actions’ that bring validity to this organization. In other words, NAEP would not exist without the people who make the difference by ‘living’ their profession and upholding the values and high expectations of NAEP.

So...that is the organization...what about the individual…that one environmental professional. What is his or her ‘nature’? What does the ‘one’ professional do when confronted by those with differing opinions, beliefs, and values? I believe we have two choices. One is to ignore or discount their differing thoughts. We justify that course of action by saying that they do not understand the issue, or that they are blinded by their passion, or they have the wrong set of values. When we do this, we distance ourselves from the other person, and we begin to see that person as an ‘object’ and not as a ‘person’ ... someone that gets in the way … presents conflict with us … and our profession … and the things that we believe in. When that person becomes an ‘object’, it is much easier to discount their opinions and values and justify our actions.

As environmental professionals and members of NAEP, I believe we have a better choice. We have the responsibility to uphold the ‘nature’ of NAEP as described above ... that means we must be willing to listen and be receptive to the opinions and thoughts of others … to see people as ‘people’, not ‘objects’. Listening allows and fosters understanding … understanding their points of view, their goals, and the challenges they may be facing. Whether a manager, peer, staff report, or customer – we know the right action is to be open, to understand their needs, their objectives, and their challenges. We can learn a lot by just listening and reflecting on what we have heard.

As an environmental professional, we need to guard against seeing people as objects. How can we tell we are doing that ... one way to tell we are ‘viewing’ people as objects is when you hear and observe yourself justifying your actions and discounting their actions. Another way is when you begin to feel that you are the ‘victim’, that you are imposing judgements, that you or your work is ‘more important’ or I am the ultimate ‘good guy’ in this story. It is when ‘I’ begins to justify ‘my’ isolated actions while not being inclusive of others or undercutting others to achieve ‘my’ goals.

It’s at this moment when we recognize we are beginning to justify ‘our’ actions at the expense of someone else (i.e., turning them into an object rather than a person). It’s then we simply must stop ... back up a step or two and take time to listen and become aware. You may or may not find common ground, but you at least part knowing that you did not demean someone just because their opinions, beliefs, and values do not align with yours. And in the best of worlds, you may find that common ground that will foster understanding, agreement, openness and change.

To conclude, remember that we have a choice … we do not have to accept the choice to ‘self-justify’ or to think we are better than others just because there are differences in opinions, beliefs, and values … or even in our goals. Let’s make the choice to listen, to understand … to view others as the humans they are. As environmental professionals, we make the choice to embrace our true ‘nature’; we make the choice to listen and dialogue.

Now, let me bring it back to the ‘organization’ … this is why I believe NAEP is a great organization. My 24+ years of experience with NAEP is that ‘we’ do listen, we do treat others as people, not objects, and we look for, what I call, clarity of awareness in the moments we share with other people. Great job NAEP Environmental Professionals!

John Irving, NAEP Fellow

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