If you have been reading/watching the news or on social media lately, I’m sure you have come across Greta Thunberg: the 16-year-old, Swedish climate activist.
She’s hard to miss, not because of her looks or age, but because of her powerful message and strategy. We are at a tipping point with climate change and something must be done immediately (some would argue we are beyond repair, but better to try than not). Many current and future lives – humans, animals, and plants - will be stolen if something is not done now. You may not agree and that’s your prerogative, however, I do and believe Greta has things to teach us outside of climate as well.
Here are three things I am convinced that we can learn from Greta:
1. Take a Stand and Speak Up
Apparently, Greta first learned about climate change when she was eight-years-old and could not understand why so little was being done about it. She withdrew and became down. Her first hope for change came from her parents’ career and lifestyle alterations to reduce their carbon footprint after she took a stand and advocated for her future. This was not easy at first, but they eventually came around realizing how important it was for their child and other people too.
She continued to advocate and educate on climate change (learning many scientists’ stances) and received international recognition when she started to strike. She first got the idea of a school strike from the strike by some American students back in February 2018 after a school shooting in Parkland, Florida. She started alone because no one else was interested and, in front of the parliament, demanded that the Swedish government take effective actions to reduce her country’s carbon emissions as agreed upon in the Paris Agreement. Once her picture and message were posted on her social media accounts and others on and/or after August 20, 2018, she began to acquire a following of like-minded individuals who would also initiate and participate in school strikes and regularly protest for the climate action internationally.
Greater attention to climate change happened because she was willing to take a stand and speak up (and continues to do so). This said, I am not saying she is the only one as there are many environmental activists who contribute to the cause such as David Suzuki, David Attenborough, Ridhima Pandey, and for the past few weeks, Jane Fonda, who participates in demonstrations every Friday in Washington, D.C despite the threat of arrest.
Now, the question needs to be asked - what do you believe in that you will speak up and take a stand for? What areas can you advocate for in your life? Are there inequities at work? In your relationship? You can start small as Greta did, that’s how it usually starts anyway. Never forget that one small ripple can lead to a mighty storm that can overcome naysayers and orthodoxies.
2. Think Outside the Box
During several interviews, Greta attributed her innovative thinking to her Aspergers. She is willing to do what others are not because she sees things differently, and does not feel that she needs to play into a scripted social game. Although she has this self-acclaimed “superpower,” I don’t believe you need to be diagnosed on the spectrum to think outside the box. We all have the capacity to “shake things up” and creatively think. And when you do so, you inspire others to take similar journeys of invention, resourcefulness, and collaboration.
What are some areas that you feel are in a funk and need to be re-thought or imagined? What are some different things you can try to get different results? I believe we all heard the definition of insanity, so perhaps it is time to switch things up. This could look like relocating at work for more focus and productivity or starting a side hustle to pay off your debt. There are many ways to get things done - what creative ideas can you come up with to overcome the obstacles blocking your progress?
3. Keep Going
Greta has received a lot of positive attention and support, but she also has been the recipient of a lot of hate and criticism too. One can say that is expected of a public figure, however, she seems to get more shade than most for her beliefs and actions because they believe she is a kid who is being manipulated by others or suffers from “mental illness” and has no comprehension of what she is saying or an ability to understand science and facts.
Some politicians, media figures and leaders denigrate her, but she continues nevertheless and has the amazing ability to convert their contempt into a positive. She doesn’t let their animosity stop her and has rapidly learned to turn that to her advantage. One of her best refutations is “don’t listen to me, listen to the science.” She continues to spread her message and stance internationally. In an August tweet, she wrote, “When haters go after your looks and differences, it means they have nowhere left to go. And then you know you’re winning!” This is true wisdom learned at an early age, and she has the courage to not give up even when some of the terrible things hurled at her really hurt.
When we change or inspire change we tend to encounter ‘change back’ or ‘counter moves.’ This is overt or covert resistance or sabotage to the change because individuals or vested interests feel threatened. It’s usually subconscious, but the effects are still the same. Greta experiences a lot of change or pushback, however, she recognizes it for what it is and does not let it sway her or keep her small.
Where can you continue despite setbacks or counter moves? How can you persevere on a goal you had in mind no matter how difficult it is or may seem?
Without a doubt there are other things we can learn from Greta (i.e. rethinking normalcy), however, these are the ones that immediately struck me and thought to share.
What do you think? What lesson or lessons would you say you could apply from her example and experiences? Whatever it is, I hope you can advocate, innovate and continue.
 Terms discussed by Dr. Harriet Lerner in her book The Dance of Intimacy