Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Be Cool

I spent a couple of hours today gathering ideas and advice from 16 and 17 year olds.

The Friends School down the road in Wilmington had their Earth Quaker Day today.

The day has been so named by students from the Upper School Peace and Ecology Club as a way of connecting the Quaker testimony of stewardship with the environmental challenges before us all...The focus of the speakers and breakout sessions will be looking for ways that our school community can put into place sustainable and green ideas and practices.

The faculty advisor to the Peace and Ecology Club knew of me through a friend and called a few weeks ago. He asked me to lead a couple of discussion groups, and I thought it would be fun. It'd be an opportunity to test some ideas on some unpredictable audiences.

My farmer uncle and I (he was on the Buy Local panel) rolled in a little early. We chatted it up with some P&E Club members and the other panelists and discussion leaders as they trickled in. We watched the keynote speech. And then we broke it on out and started discussing.

In both of my sessions, I kicked off with my little rave about my loyalty to certain Chinese bike mechanics. I reminded everyone that every purchase is an act in support of a business. I talked about the incredible amount of choice we have. I talked about identifying what it is that we want from businesses. I talked about figuring out which businesses provide those things. I proposed that we have an enlightenment problem. And I asked the students how they think we should go about solving it.

The conversations spun off nicely from there. The kids reminded me that people are lazy. They brought up the importance of price and price differences. They liked the Energy Star, and they expressed a desire for more labels. They weighed the pros and cons of recognizing and applauding businesses' successes rather than condemning their shortcomings. They discussed the conditions necessary for a race to the top.

And, finally, they spent the last ten minutes of the last session solidifying one extraordinarily unanimous agreement.

In order for proactive or mindful consumption to ever take off in any meaningful way, it will have to become cool.

It'll have to be fashionable.

It'll have to be THE thing to do, the ONLY way to be.

And they make a good point.

It's shocking sometimes to remember just how ambitious this project is. But it's all good. I wouldn't want it any other way. Back to work...