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You can learn a lot from "a child"

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...

Beginner_2 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.”                      
                                 —Shunryu Suzuki

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.


Michael Sporer


Thank you for posting such wisdom! I'm doing an orientaton session for the disability organization on which I serve. The wisdom in this post will help me deliver a more powerful message. It also has impacted me at a deep level. Thank you again!


John Windsor

What poise — and conviction — for a 12-year old. And what a well-written speech. The repetition of "I'm only a child (but I know)" was very powerful.

Thanks for posting that, Garr.

Chris Coppola

Thank you for the concept. I think that even us old dogs can keep our minds open to new solutions if we never accept "no", just consider "no" to mean "not this way."

Take care!


David Green

Passionate Power. Thanks to your post, I'm reminded again and again that to speak your passion is to move the world. Thanks for moving mine through your introduction to Severn.


Inspiring speech. Inspiring post. Do you know what Severn Cullis-Suzuk knows now as an adult. I would hope her vision and power has grown.


Inspiring speech. Inspiring post. Do you know what Severn Cullis-Suzuk knows now as an adult. I would hope her vision and power has grown.


Notice in the article and comments some references to a different way of seeing: "eyes wide open" / "seeing things as they are" / "vision and power".

...Although many may take these phrases figuratively, they point to an actual practice of looking at the world in a different way ~ which has been taught via art & scripture throughout millennia.

Some instruction and examples of the art can be found by clicking on "Alancito" below...


Actually, I am quite wary of "idealists". They are the ones most likely, when they get power, to jail or kill those with whom they disagree.


Great post dude!

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Great speech and great performance. We, the adults, are so incredibly egocentric and self-concerned, that even if we would hear that speech over and over again, we wouldn't act in a sustainable way.

I loved that sentence of "I am only a child, yet I know, if all the money spent on war was spent to find environmental answers, ending poverty, ... , what a wonderful place this earth could be."

The repetition of "I am only a child" reminded my strongly at Martin Luther King's speech "I have a dream"... and I guess it is where she got it from. I love it!


I'm only 28 now and after years of college and self-employed work, am starting in the corporate business.

Much of what you say about being closed-minded as an adult seems to come from being employed in an environment that is already settled on how it produces it's outcomes and has stopped to look for new solutions. Reading that post itself was an eye-opener, I wish more people would learn to not lose their curiosity and always play around with things a little so that they actually change something, be it whatever it may be in their life.

Part of that is that we probably must learn to tolerate errors, as in a life without being able to to make errors, we have inherently have no chance to learn from them. Errors will always happen if you do something that you have not done before. The problem is therefore not the error but the way how we deal with errors as adults. Towards a child, you would not punish it for making an error the first time, but somewhere in growing up, errors become inacceptable - and learning from errors diminishes. Again - you cannot protect yourself from errors, all you can do is to keep on trying and doing your best to avoid errors. But to keep people on trying, we have to allow them to make errors.


Thank you for introducing me to Severn Suzuki. What a great soul! What energy, what wisdom!
May that 12-year old girl always remind us to keep an open-mind, walk the talk and get our priorities straight.


What this young girl is talking about requires more than just beginners mind, it requires a little more honest to any hypocrisy I may have become deferential to or accustomed to. This honesty is about fostering compassion and intelligence, not a one-way judgment or finger pointing.

Not many people, adult or child could speak as passionately as this young girl has done, especially in front of such a powerful assembly of people. I hear this young girl telling all of us (not just people in power) to face up to hypocrisy as the cerebral obesity of our world.

Why do children surprise others with their honesty? Why do people open up to life at someone's funeral? Why do many ask key questions at conferences but not follow up on the answers on the way back home?

If I don't possess the spirit of that young girl within myself then what do I really possess?

When I am in possession of that passion, then I have an energy that builds then it can serve only to create more energy, but to find that gift which will keep on giving we must all look at how millions of kids like her are still going through a factory-model education.

In the age of presentation information, great thinking should be a natural part of life, so that I am not simply learning from the presentations we tune into but the gift of learning becomes our kids present.

This is an age for the creation of resilient children and yes she is right, it starts with us but yet most of all it starts with kids of her own age too, for they are finding communicating with each other as natural as going to the park, but where will all this communication go, to the marketer or to create a more meaningful world.

If the word "I" here in my thoughts has substituted the word "we" that that is a deliberate act on my part to underscore that I have not come here to finger point, but to learn, know and grow. If this video isn't making me think, then what am I learning?

If the "e" in the electric age still contains ego then we as adults must must change that "e" into something more intelligent and that I certainly do agree requires beginners mind, for this is an "e" that gives us eyes to see, and an "e" that gives us ears to hear.



This is a great speech -- very impressive for someone of any age.

Incidentally, while Severn remains a powerful Canadian environmental activist, it is interesting to note that her father, mentioned in her presentation, is by far the most famous Canadian environmentalist -- David Suzuki. He is also a well known broadcaster, professor, and government advisor, and has been for decades. He hold the Order of Canada and has been mentioned as a potential future Governor General (Canada's Head of State).

While I don't doubt Severn's contribution and talent, I think it's essential to factor her family history and well-versed father in any evaluation of this speech.

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