Ask For What You Need and Treat Everyone Like A Rock Star

I met my best friend in a parking lot about 11 years ago.

The situation that drew me there we can skip. The important thing to tell is that although there were others around, he was the only one I was immediately attracted to. I don’t know if it was how he stumbled toward me after our eyes met, the rebel way his hair was askew, his half smile, or maybe all of it. Regardless, I’ve always been drawn to divergent spirits, individuals who know exactly what they want (most of the time), but have a tender vulnerability right below the surface – like this guy.

Have you ever connected with someone so quickly it felt like you’d known them for years? That’s what happened to me. A few minutes after we met, we had our arms around each other, looking like long lost friends. The warmth he generated within the center of my body was intoxicating.

He ended up coming back to my place that night. He had no where else to go.

After I helped him into a spare bed, he rolled onto his side, let out a long sigh, and fell fast asleep. Considering the evening’s events, I figured he wouldn’t wake until noon. Wrong. He was up early the next morning as if the day was made for him. He was running around the kitchen getting ready for breakfast, chattering and smiling the whole time. I’d never seen such positive energy, especially for guy who had just been kicked out by his family.

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What’s Public Testimony Worth?

A few things have changed in politics since the days of the Roman Senate and Assemblies. Assassinations of one’s opponents are generally rare. And the chance that a great orator can move an assembled body to vote in a particular way, as Cicero could, is next to nil. But that’s about it. The same motivations, the same drama, the same hubris are alive and well.

Cicero in the Roman Senate accusing Catiline of conspiracy, October 21, 63 BC. Painting by Cesare Maccari, 1889.

If the California Legislature, the California Coastal Commission, the San Diego Board of Supervisors, and the San Diego County Planning Commission have taught me anything, it’s this – commissioners, politicians, and board members typically endure, rather than embrace, public testimony. And sometimes, with obvious contempt or boredom, they disappear into a back corridor during the process. After being mostly consumed by her phone, former San Diego County Supervisor Kristin Gaspar walked away while citizens were offering testimony against a proposed development during a June 26, 2019, board meeting – a development Gaspar and the board later voted to approve.

Such behavior reveals a fatal flaw in our republic – public representatives often have their minds made up prior to public hearings. Like environmental impact reports (EIRs) that have become treatises of Orwellian doublespeak in order to mask the harm projects will cause, public testimony is just another constraint on power that politicians, developers, and public agencies have learned to hobble in pursuit of self-interest.

This realization dawned on me after I naively thought that if I presented the science to the San Diego County Board of Supervisors after the 2003 Cedar Fire, the board would incorporate that science into policy. Not only did that not happen, but the board approved policy that was contrary to the science. Our testimony accomplished one thing, however. It helped the California Chaparral Institute establish legal standing to challenge the policy in court. We did, and won, saving 300 square miles of habitat the county intended to clear. The entire adventure was serialized by the Independent Voter Network.

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Inspired by John Muir: The Eternal Conflict Between Right and Wrong

Every day greets us with another wonderful opportunity to rejoice in and save another acre of wildness. While we can not control what others think or do, or determine the results of our actions, we can choose to live in the light and celebrate our efforts to speak for all the indigenous plants and animals that call earth their home – Nature deserves nothing less.

John Muir chose the light and provided the wisdom that we must remind ourselves of every morning.

The battle we have fought, and are still fighting for the forests is a part of the eternal conflict between right and wrong, and we cannot expect to see the end of it. … So we must count on watching and striving for these trees, and should always be glad to find anything so surely good and noble to strive for.


The joyous, never-ending fight. That is our charge as environmentalists. Without hesitation. Without doubt. Without exhaustion. The plants and animals will always need us to speak for them. We must move forward through both defeats and successes, with the clear understanding that the fight is eternal, being renewed by the preciousness of life every single morning, because there will always be more. We must be forever vigilant to reject whatever challenges the temple destroyers throw at us, whatever discouragement, and be joyful for the honor to do so. We can never let Nature down.

I’m hoping someday the Sierra Club, the organization that Muir founded in 1892, will rediscover how to live in the light. The Club has recently lost its focus on celebration and preservation, but as with all challenges in life, its path into the abyss provides multiple opportunities to reach even higher summits.

But before we dive into the Club’s drama, the important story here is about how we can maintain our courage to live in the light.

It’s a challenge. We have evolved to react to immediate danger above almost everything else. This is why negative news sells, warnings of impending doom raises the most donations, and why it has proven extremely difficult to address climate change, something that requires us to think beyond the immediate (a quality our species constantly struggles with).

There’s also a tendency, or a cultural script, that demands a measure of grief for those who fight for a just cause. Wallowing in sorrow from time to time confirms the commitment. And if you lose the fight, you should be torn up about it, filled with regret and sadness. “He was never the same.” Otherwise, your heart must not have been in it. “I can’t believe he was laughing at the party less than a week after his loss!” Knowing other people are suffering too, can validate our own. This is one reason why I avoided the teacher’s lunch room while teaching high school biology for 20 years.

There’s a story about Muir that was created by our tendency to focus on the negative, reaffirming the power others think they have over us in determining our emotions.

After losing his long battle to stop San Francisco from damming the precious Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park, the Park Muir had pushed Congress to create, we are told the defeat was so crushing that it caused Muir to die of a broken heart a year later, on Christmas Eve, 1914.

What image of Muir does this story create for you?

The truth provides a different one.

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