Severn Cullis-Suzuki, now in her late 20s, started the Environmental Children's Organization (ECO) when she was only 9-years-old. ECO was a small group of children committed to learning and teaching other kids about environmental issues. In 1992 they raised their own money and attended the UN's Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. A then 12-year-old Severn closed a Plenary Session with this amazing speech that received a standing ovation. She received a lot of praise for her talk then—even Al Gore called it "the best speech at Rio." My friend Patrick Newell, the Vision Navigator and founder of the Tokyo International School sent me the link. The video quality is not great but her message and delivery are—remember she was "just a kid." Watch the video below (includes Japanese subtitles).
Severn Cullis-Suzuk at age 12 in 1992. (Click to watch video)
The people who are crazy enough
to think they can change the world...
You may watch this and think she is too naive—others will think she was almost prophetic. She may be too idealistic. So what? The problem with adults is not that too many of us are idealists, it's that too many of us are not. While watching her speech I was reminded of one of the teachings in Buddhism: The beginner's mind/the child's mind. The beginner's mind, or the child's mind, is really just about seeing things as they are. The meaning of the beginner's mind does not mean to retreat to the naiveté of a child. It is not about being simplistic or ignorant, it is about approaching life and its challenges with curiosity and enthusiasm. "It is the mind that is innocent of preconceptions and expectations, judgments and prejudices" (learn more). The point is that we adults should maintain our curiosity and that sense that anything can be done, that sense that anything is possible. A sense that we all had as children but eventually all but lost as people mocked our enthusiasm and optimism. Those who succeed and change things are the ones who do not let the world change their mind. I am not talking about blind faith. Quite the opposite. I am talking about having eyes wide open to the possibilities. Wide open like that of a true beginner. A child or a beginner says "why not?" An "expert" says "it can't be done." Shunryu Suzuki put it best in Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind:
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities,
in the expert’s mind there are few.”
We forget that sometimes not knowing that "it can not be done" can be a wonderful liberator. Weaning our world off fossil fuels? Who says it can't be done? Yes, not in 10 years, but 50? Who knows? Many people thought it crazy and impossible that the US could go from where it was in 1962 and put a man on the moon and bring him back before the end of the decade. It was crazy. It was impossible. But they did it. Surely that same spirit can be put to the challenge of saving the planet and finding alternative energies *and* allowing the peoples of the world to grow economically. Humans are the smartest animal on the planet, but we're also the dumbest. Perhaps if all of us smart experts, with our massive intellects, tried to approach problems with "the beginner's mind" we could get much better at solving problems.